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According to this article, one can upgrade iOS using the following methods

  • via Wireless
  • via iTunes

So, is it possible for user to download the iOS as a file (and not via iTunes) and later copy to the iPhone and update it from the phone without having the phone to connect to the internet?

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You need either iTunes or the OTA (over the air) feature to apply the update. Even if you download the OS via browser, you can't apply the upgrade without iTunes. – patrix Nov 19 '12 at 12:54
Note that your computer will still need to be connected to the Internet to verify the update with Apple. – ThomasW Dec 5 '14 at 6:08

Yes, it's possible. Here's a good list of download links for all iOS versions for the iPhone:

Note that you must download the version that fits your iPhone (3Gs, 4, 4s, ...).

You can find more of these lists by searching the web for something like "ios IPSW download links". After downloading a so called IPSW file you can simply install it by following these steps:

  • Connect your iOS device to your Mac or PC
  • Select the device in iTunes
  • On a Mac, hold down the “Option” key and then click on “Update”
  • On a Windows PC, hold down “SHIFT” key and then click on “Update”
  • Select the IPSW file you just downloaded and click “Choose”

The update should then continue as usual.

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