What Is a Tape Image?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2020
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A tape image is a complete copy of a program, partition, or drive that comes on a tape. Images can be used to install new software or reinstall after a program failure. They can also be useful for data recovery in the event of a catastrophic computer program. Other storage media can be used in addition to or instead of tapes if it would be more appropriate for a computer system.

Images contain a complete copy of all the information, including not just user-generated data but boot information, partitioning, and other components of a program or storage space on a computer or external storage device. Users can create a tape image with an imaging software utility. They can also buy images, a popular historical method for purchasing software. Downloads of images are more common now, although software is still sold on compact discs and other storage media. Tape images are also useful for emulation on different computer platforms.


To use the tape image, the user inserts the tape to allow the computer to access it. In the case of a tape image of a hard drive, the user will need to create a bootable tape image; when she inserts the tape at start-up, the computer will reference the information on the tape to start up. This can be useful to have when a hard drive is corrupt or cannot boot for some reason. In the case of an image of a storage device or program, the user can use the tape image to restore the data or install it on another machine, as necessary.

Tape images can be used to back up computer systems and provide restoration capability. Some systems create a tape image automatically on a set schedule, such as at the end of the day or week. If there is a problem with the system, the user can use the tape to restore it. Any data created after the image will be lost in the restoration, but it can be easier to rebuild that data than to start from scratch.

Tapes as storage media are still available in some regions, although users in others have moved on to different formats for data storage. It is important to store tape images securely in a cool, dry place with limited light. If the tape is compromised by its environment, it may fail to function as expected. For important images, it can be advisable to periodically check the tape image to make sure it still works.


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