Microsoft Windows Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM)

What is Microsoft Windows Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM)?

Microsoft Windows Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) is a command-line tool that allows IT administrators to service Windows desktop images and virtual hard disks prior to deployment to users.

DISM is an administrator-level tool to repair Windows images and make changes to Windows installation media. It replaces many other Windows deployment tools, such as PEimg, Intlcfg, ImageX, and Package Manager.

Administrators can access the DISM tool through the command line (DISM.exe) or from Windows PowerShell. DISM is built into the Windows operating system (OS). It is also distributed in the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK). ADK contains numerous tools to customize Windows images for large-scale deployment. DISM is one of them.

Uses of Microsoft DISM

The primary use of DISM is to help admins service Windows images. These images are frequently used for Windows PE (WinPE), Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE) and Windows Setup. By using DISM's image management commands, admins can mount and get required information about three file types:

  1. Windows image (WIM) files.
  2. Full-flash utility (FFU) files.
  3. Virtual hard disks (VHD or VHDX).

DISM can also be used to capture, split and manage WIM files.

Here are some uses of DISM image management commands:

  • List the image index numbers.
  • Verify the architecture for the image being mounted.
  • Append or apply an image.
  • Capture an image.
  • Delete an image.
  • Export an image to another file.
  • Apply siloed provisioning packages to a specified image.
  • Scan and repair the WIM store and corrupted system files (ideally in conjunction with a system file check).
Screen capture of DISM repairing Windows image.
Basic syntax for the DISM offline image repair command.

Once an image is updated, admins must unmount it and then commit or discard the changes.

In addition to image management commands, DISM also includes servicing commands. These commands can be used to install/uninstall, configure and update WIM files, FFU files VHD, and VHDX files, and the following:

Both image management and servicing commands and options can be used on offline Windows images. Some commands and options are also available to admins on a running OS, meaning DISM can be used to update a running OS. The availability of these commands and options depends on the Windows OS being serviced by the admin.

Supported Windows platforms

When using DISM to service Windows images, admins must check the compatibility of those images with both the DISM version and Windows OS version. The OS where DISM runs is known as the host deployment environment.

DISM supports these newer editions of Windows OS host deployment environments:

In Windows 10 and Windows 11, DISM resides in the c:\windows\system32 folder. That said, the tool can be accessed in the command prompt from any location (as administrator). In older versions of Windows, Windows ADK must be downloaded and installed to use DISM. In Windows ADK installations, DISM resides in the C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Kits\<version>\Assessment and Deployment Kit\Deployment Tools\10\DISM folder.

Screenshot of DISM within Windows PowerShell.
Running Microsoft's DISM tool from within PowerShell.

DISM also supports these versions of Windows Server and WinPE:

  • Windows Server 2016 (x86 or x64).
  • Windows Server 2012 (x86 or x64).
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 (x86 or x64).
  • Windows Server 2008 SP2 (x86 or x64).
  • WinPE for Windows 11 x64.
  • WinPE for Windows 10 (x86 or x64).
  • WinPE 5.0 (x86 or x64).
  • WinPE 4.0 (x86 or x64).
  • WinPE 3.0 (x86 or x64).

DISM can be used with the target images of older Windows OSes. The only exception is if those OSes are more recent than the installed version of DISM. For example, DISM from Windows 10, version 1511 cannot service Windows 10, version 1607. However, it can service Windows 10, version 1511 and version 1507.

Also, there are certain Windows host deployment environments where the target image (the image being serviced) is not supported. For instance, target images of Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 or WinPE 4.0 (x86 or x64) are not supported in a Windows 11 host deployment environment. Similarly, target images of Windows 11 or WinPE for Windows 11 are not supported in Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008, WinPE 4.0 (x86 and x64) and WinPE 3.0 (x86 and x64) host deployment environments.

Screen capture of DISM tool to produce driver list.
Output from running the RAPR command in DISM tool to produce a list of all the OEMnn.inf files (Windows drivers) in DriverStore.

DISM limitations

When using DISM to service Windows images, admins must be aware of its built-in limitations. One is that it does not support Resilient File System. ReFS is a new file system for Windows Server 2022, Windows Server 2019, Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 OS. It can efficiently scale to large data sets and provides better data availability and performance than older file systems.

Another limitation of DISM is that it doesn't allow for the installation of packages to a remote computer over a network. Also, the packages are always installed in the order in which they are listed in the command line. Multiple servicing commands cannot be specified on the same command line (even though multiple drivers or packages can be specified).

Admins must remember that there is a dependency requirement in DISM, meaning certain packages must be installed first before other packages can be installed. To account for this limitation and to ensure that packages are installed in the correct order, admins must use an answer file when installing multiple packages.

The final limitation of DISM is that DISM command lines do not support wildcards.

See when to use the Windows command prompt vs. PowerShell and how to build a vulnerability scanner with PowerShell. Learn how Windows 11 Print Management can fix printer issues and how to fix Windows 11 when it keeps restarting. Try these PowerShell Start-Job examples for more efficiency and these 7 steps to fix a black screen in Windows 11.

This was last updated in October 2023

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