A while ago, I needed to package and deploy an application and I did not want to
use Visual Studio Setup and Deployment, I opened my firefox and decided to look
for an alternative, what I got is WIX
, windows installer xml.
So, I did some background check about WIX and I found out that its the right tool
for what I needed to do, because it gives me full control as a developer to
determine how my application is going to be installed on the clients' machines
gives full unrestricted access to Windows Installer functionality, but the
learning curve associated with it is much and knowledge of xml is a
WIX is a free open source
toolset that is used to build Windows installation packages from XML source code,
originally it was developed by Microsoft but its now being maintained by Rob
Mensching. It is
written in C# and WIX itself is much like a programming language, but nothing to
worry about, because with the knowledge of xml, the problem is half solved.
Now, dont let me bore you and lets get started, in this post, I am going to use
WIX to deploy a c# contact manager application that saves and retreives data
from an SQLite database. First of all you need to download the WIX toolset which
contains visual studio plugin that install WIX project templates into visual
studio, download the binaries here
After installing the toolset, it will install templates like this into visual
The Setup project templates is what you need to add to the solution that
contains the project you want to package, adding the wix setup project to
contact manager gives
Note that a Product.wxs file has been added to the Setup project, this is an xml
contains the setup code for the project. Another important point to note that is
that you will be using guids heavily when using wix, good news is that visual
studio has a guid generating tool, which can be accessed by clicking on
menu and then select Create Guid
The next thing to do is to right click the setup project and add reference to
the project to be packaged, this will give us access to some project variables
that can be referenced in the WiX source code, in this case I add reference to
the ContactManager C# application. You also need to add reference to
WixUIExtension.dll and WixUtilExtension.dll both contained in the WIX
installation folder, these two libraries will expose some cool features that can
be used to build a professional installation package.
Apart from the project variables that you have access to after adding reference
to the project to be packaged, there are other variables
that are exposed by WIX which can be used to build a robust installation
Inside the Product.wxs file is the <Product> element which includes <Package>,
<Media>, <Directory>, <Component> and <Feature> elements
needed to build an msi
The <Product> element has some useful attributes such as Name
is the name of the project" Manufacturer
="this is the
and so on.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
Name="Contact Manager" Language="1033" Version="126.96.36.199"
There is a <Package> element, with the attribute Compressed="yes"
indicating that the package to be generated should be compressed.
The <Media> element has attribute EmbedCab="yes" which indicates
cabinet should be embeded.
<Package InstallerVersion="200" Compressed="yes" />
<Media Id="1" Cabinet="media1.cab" EmbedCab="yes" />
<Directory> element is used in various directory manipulations, such as
accessing system's directory, creating new directory during installation and
on. The variable var.PlatformProgramFilesFolder gets a reference to the client's
system Program files folder. In the snippet below, the <Directory element with
attribute Id="ApplicationProgramsFolder is used to get reference to the client's
system Application Programs Folder.
<Shortcut> element is used to add shortcut, it has attribute Target="[INSTALLLOCATION]ContactManager.exe"
which specifies the target of
the shortcut, where INSTALLOCATION gets reference to the directory where the
application is installed on the system. The <RegistryValue> element is used
to add entries to the system's registry.
<Directory Id="TARGETDIR" Name="SourceDir">
<Directory Id="INSTALLLOCATION" Name="Contact Manager">
Name="Uninstall Contact Manager
Description="Uninstalls Contact Manager" />
Key="Software\Ayobami Adewole\Contact Manager"
Name="installed" Type="integer" Value="1" KeyPath="yes"/>
<Feature> element is used to add all the features to the installation package,
this is where all the files, directories are added to the package using various
elements such as <Component>, <ComponentRef>, <ComponentGroupRef>,
<File> and so on.
The Installation user interface that the user installing the application sees is
also constructed here, the default user interface can be used or better still
your custom defined bitmap images can be added to the project and explicitly
specified using the elements <WixVariable Id="WixUIBannerBmp" Value="Banner.bmp"
for the banner that will appear on all dialog boxes during installation and <WixVariable
Id="WixUIDialogBmp" Value="Dialog.bmp" />for
the first and last dialog boxes, where Banner.bmp and Dialog.bmp must have been
added to the wix project.
<Feature Id="ProductFeature" Title="Contact Manager" Level="1">
<ComponentRef Id="ApplicationShortcut" />
<ComponentGroupRef Id="Product.Generated" />
<ComponentGroupRef Id="Components" />
<Property Id="WIXUI_INSTALLDIR" Value="INSTALLLOCATION" />
<UIRef Id="WixUI_InstallDir" />
Value="Launch Contact Manager" />
<CustomAction Id="LaunchApplication" BinaryKey="WixCA"
<Publish Dialog="ExitDialog" Control="Finish" Event="DoAction"
WIXUI_EXITDIALOGOPTIONALCHECKBOX = 1 and NOT Installed</Publish>
<WixVariable Id="WixUIBannerBmp" Value="Banner.bmp" />
<WixVariable Id="WixUIDialogBmp" Value="Dialog.bmp" />
Adding files to the package can be achieved by nesting
a<File> element inside the <Component> element and setting the Source
attribute. The variable var.ContactManager.TargetDir gets reference to the base
directory of the project to be packaged.
<Component Id="cmp3CD83BDDE0C679AC83F36ABCCC44B85F" Guid="*">
After the necessary files and components have been added, the wix setup project
is then built,
checking the Debug folder of wix setup project, you can now find Setup.msi file
which is the installation package. Double clicking to install gives
When you click next another dialog box comes up
This is the last screen after the installation is completed
The full source code can be downloaded here