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The Difference Between

What is the difference between exe and and msi?

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2011-09-14 09:26:16

An MSI file is a relational database and is used by the

Microsoft Installation Service. This service installs applications

onto your computer. MSI files offer far more flexibility for

application installation and maintenance than older scripted

executable programs could ever provide.

EXE files can be anything. Almost everything you run on your

computer is started by an EXE file (exceptions are Windows itself,

drivers). They contain executable code for a computer to run, and

can do anything.

MSI files are database files, used by Windows Installer. They

contain information about an application which is divided into

features and components, and every component may hold files,

registry data, shortcuts etc. The MSI file also contains the UI

that is to be used for installing, and various other data such as

any prerequisites to look for, custom actions to execute, the order

of the installation procedure, whether to support Administrative

installations, etc. It can also contain the actual files to be

installed themselves (this isn't always the case though, the files

can also be in an external CAB file or just as plain uncompressed

files in a location where MSI can find them).

MSI files are the current recommended way of doing installations

on Windows. The alternative is writing a program that performs the

installation itself.

MSI files are executed by an EXE file that is part of Windows,

called MSIEXEC.EXE. This application reads the data in the MSI file

and executes the installation.

Windows Installer is pretty new, especially the newest version

(3.0). Often installations that use MSI still come with an EXE

(e.g. SETUP.EXE). This EXE is a so-called 'bootstrapper'. It

doesn't perform the installation, it simply checks if the correct

version of Windows Installer is present on the system, if not it

launched the MSI Redistributable (MsiInstA.exe or MsiInstW.exe

depending on the platform) and then launches MSIEXEC.EXE on the MSI

file. In certain cases (especially Internet downloads), the MSI

file and MSI redistributable are packed inside that EXE file, so

you don't see they're there.

So installations can come in three flavours:

1. A custom, third-party installation system in an EXE file.

2. A Windows Installer installation in an MSI file.

3. An EXE file that bootstraps an MSI file (that may be embedded

inside the EXE file).

MSI files can only be installations. EXE files can be literally

anything that can run on your computer.

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