Wikipedia is available for free download, in its entirety, at www.kiwix.org. I was able to download it at a public access point and transfer it to the hard drive of my home computer. It comes compiled as a single compressed .zim file, along with open source browser software that allows you to view the content. This is great if you are in prison, on a boat, or in an RV in the middle of nowhere. Or if you are in a country that restricts access to the internet. You can have Wikipedia with you wherever you go. I don't have internet at home, so having an offline version of Wikipedia on my home computer has been a huge blessing, as it allows me and my family to access nearly 5.5 million articles on all subjects. Downloading Wikipedia sounds simple enough but the logistics involved can get kinda tricky and require a bit of planning. I will help you. Before you download anything, I recommend you read this entire instructable.
What you will need:
- a computer with internet access
You will probably also need:
- a data storage device (flash drive, portable hard drive, etc.)
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Step 1: Choose the Right Package
As of writing, the most complete and up-to-date Wikipedia package (in English, with all the pictures), bundled with the required browser software, is this one:
Total file size is 78.5 Gigabytes. Pretty big, huh? Plus, it is a zip file, which means you have to first extract all the files in order to use it. That means that you will have to have enough room on your hard drive not only for the zipped file, but also for all the files that you extract. That means you will need about 160GB of free space on your hard drive to extract it. Or, two drives with 80GB free space each. However… there are other ways of getting Wikipedia. While getting everything you want bundled together might be convenient for some, many of us don’t have the free hard drive space to extract such a big package. Let’s explore some options.
You don’t have to download the .zip file with everything bundled together. Instead, you can download the Wikipedia content and Kiwix browser software separately. Then, you won’t have to unzip anything. The drawback is you won’t get the index. Just like any encyclopedia, Wikipedia has an index. The index allows you to do full text searches. For example, with it you can search for articles containing the word “tuber”. Without it, you can only search articles by title, so you will only find articles that have “tuber” as the first word in the title. The index adds to the size of the package considerably, so you will save some space by not downloading it. Is there any way to get just the index file by itself? Well… the Kiwix browser software claims to be able to create an index for an unindexed .zim file. However, it is unrealistic to think that you can index a large .zim file at home. The process is very slow and could easily take days.
While I chose to download all of Wikipedia, there are other packages available that contain less articles, or only articles on certain subjects. For example, there is a "Simple English Wikipedia", which has much fewer articles which are written in simple, easy to understand English. Another example is the Bollywood Wikipedia package, which only contains articles pertaining to India's film industry.
Wikipedia is available in hundreds of languages. Also, just about every version of Wikipedia is available with or without pictures. The pictures are compressed, and not the same quality as you would find if you were actually accessing Wikipedia's servers. Still, they make up a large portion of the size of each package. If you don't want or need the pictures, then going with "no pics" package is the best choice for you. Every six months or so, the people of the Kiwix foundation compile a new .zim file, which contains an up-to-date version of Wikipedia. Invariably, the new package is bigger in size than the old one. Currently the only way to update your offline version of Wikipedia is to download an entirely new package.
Okay, so once you have decided which package you want to try for, you are ready to travel to the repository where all the content and software is stored. If you are interested in an indexed Wikipedia that is bundled in a .zip file with the necessary software, then click on this link:
If you want just the bare-bones Wikipedia content in the form of a .zim file, navigate to the folder named:
If you want the Kiwix browser software by itself, navigate to the folder named:
If you are a Windows user, then the software for you is either: kiwix-0.9-installer.exe or: kiwix-0.9-win.zip The installer.exe is for a conventional installation, while the zipped file contains a portable version of Kiwix that will run directly off of a flash drive or your computer’s hard drive without any installation. Now we are ready for the next step, figuring out where we are going to store all these files that we are about to download.
Step 2: Store and Transfer the Wikipedia Package
If you can't use your home internet connection for downloading Wikipedia, or you don't have one, you will have to use public access internet at places like schools or libraries. Either that, or find a friend who has fast internet and unlimited amounts of data. Either way, you will need a data storage device to transfer the Wikipedia package to your home computer. Also, if your home computer doesn't have enough free hard drive space for Wikipedia, then you will need the data storage device anyways. USB 3.0 is the successor to USB 2.0. Just about everyone's flash drive is USB 2.0 - it is still the most common. Anyways, 3.0 is much faster than 2.0, and is the way to go if you can afford it. Before you buy anything though, make sure of a couple things:
1. The computer that you will use for the download has USB 3.0 ports. You can use a USB 3.0 drive in a USB 2.0 port, but you will only get USB 3.0 speeds if you are connected to a USB 3.0 port. You can identify USB 3.0 ports on computers by the little italic SS next to them. Also, the ports are usually light blue inside.
2. The storage device has enough space for the Wikipedia package. Even if the drive is marked 64GB, it can't actually fit 64GB of data. It can only hold about 59. Say you are considering buying a 64GB flash drive. Google it like this: "actual capacity of a 64GB flash drive". The answers that come back will give you a pretty good idea of what the actual storage capacity is.
Another consideration when dealing with flash drives is the file system. Just about every flash drive you buy comes preformatted as FAT32. This is because just about every operating system supports it. The problem is, FAT32 doesn’t allow for a single file that is larger than 4GB if I remember correctly. That is a problem for us, because Wikipedia is huge. When I bought my flash drive, the first thing I did was reformat it NTFS. I recommend you do the same, unless you are using an operating system other than Windows. In that case, you may want something else like VFAT. Reformatting a drive is pretty easy if you are using Windows. Simply navigate to My Computer, then right click on the drive of your choice, and select “Format...”. The box that pops up will allow you to select your desired file system and format the drive. Please note that any files stored on the drive will be erased. Also, NTFS and VFAT are newer technology than FAT32, which has been around for a while, so you might experience benefits like faster write speeds with them.
Another consideration for storing and transferring Wikipedia is an external hard drive. Believe it or not, you may be able to make your own like I did. I took a hard drive from a dead laptop and transformed it into an external USB 3.0 hard drive. All I had to buy was an enclosure off of eBay for about $5. When buying an enclosure, just make sure you buy one that works with your hard drive’s interface (SATA or IDE) and drive thickness in millimeters. Now I have a 250GB USB 3.0 external hard drive! So what if you don’t have enough hard drive space on your home computer to hold Wikipedia? Do you have to just keep it on a flash drive? Well, yes. One thing you could do, though, is try connecting your USB drive to a wireless router. Many routers have a USB port on the back for just this purpose. That way, you can share what is on the drive (Wikipedia) across the network. That means that any laptops, desktops, or even tablets running Kiwix will have access to Wikipedia. I haven’t done this myself, although I don’t know why it wouldn’t work. Consult your router’s instruction manual for more on how to do it.
Step 3: Download the Wikipedia Package
How long it takes to download a Wikipedia package depends mostly upon the speed of your internet connection, but also on what package you choose to download. The read/write speeds of the storage device you are writing to can be a factor too. Let's start with an example to show you what we are up against:
I chose to download all of Wikipedia, in English, with pictures, compiled on December 27, 2016. The entire .zim file was 58 Gigabytes. I used the public access computers at my local community college, which brought the data in at approximately 35-40 Megabytes per second. The entire download took about 45 minutes. Not bad! The trick was getting it home. To get it home, I needed a data storage device. In this instance I used a 64GB USB 3.0 flash drive. The flash drive was barely big enough, considering that a flash drive marked 64GB is actually only capable of storing a hair over 59GB. It had to be USB 3.0, so that the data transfer from the computer to the flash drive would be fast enough. If I had used a USB 2.0 drive, it could easily have taken 6-8 hours just to move the data onto the flash drive. That would have been unacceptable.
The big question is, how long will it take to download Wikipedia? Is my internet connection fast enough? One way to find out is to simply start the download of a Wikipedia package and see what time your browser estimates that it will take. If it says something crazy like "8 days remaining" you may have to consider using a different access point. Oh well, simply cancel the download. Whatever you do, whether you are downloading a .zim file, a zipped package, or anything large off of the Kiwix repository, I recommend right-clicking on the link of what you want to download, and then clicking “save link as...”. This will open a “save as” window that will allow you to save the file to the folder of your choice. This is especially important if you are trying to save Wikipedia to a flash drive, as the last thing you want is to save the package to the hard drive, and then have to transfer it to your flash drive after the download is finished. It is much more expedient to save directly to the flash drive. Okay, so now you are ready to download some stuff! Scroll through the list of packages and find the right one for you. Nothing would be more disappointing than downloading the wrong one. Pay attention to the language, date, and file size of the package.
Step 4: Put It All Together, and Enjoy Wikipedia!
Okay, so if you downloaded one of the .zip packages, you will of course have to open it up and “extract all files”. Then just open the folder you extracted and click on kiwix.exe. You should see Wikipedia’s title page. Well, if you downloaded the Kiwix software and the Wikipedia .zim file separately, then you will have to get the software up and running first. If you opted for the installer.exe, than click on it and run the installer. Otherwise, simply unpack the .zip file containing the portable version of Kiwix. Once it is installed/unpacked, you can run the program (kiwix.exe) and click “Edit” on the top menu. Then, click “preferences”. A dialog box will pop up. On the dialog box, click “Browse” and find the folder that contains your .zim file. This should make Kiwix find your .zim file and open it automatically every time the program starts. If it doesn’t, you can try this. In the folder that contains kiwix.exe, create a folder named Wikipedia. Inside that new folder, create three more new folders named “content”, “index”, and “library”. Then, move your .zim file to the folder named content. Open the Kiwix program, and click “Edit” at the top of the screen. Then, click “preferences”. A dialog box will pop up. On the dialog box, click “Browse”, then find and select the folder named Wikipedia that you just created. This should make Kiwix find your .zim file and open it automatically every time the program starts. Worked for me! Well, that is pretty much it. Hope I didn’t make any mistakes in my instructions.
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