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Understanding the Difference Between .exe and .msi 

Jan 15, 2008 11:46 AM

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.

All About MSI

MSI files are database files, used by Windows Installer. They contain information about an application which is devided 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.

All About EXE

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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Sep 28, 2017 03:00 AM

A response file is a text file which contains one or more MIDL compiler command-line options. Installation Manager uses response files to complete installation operations silently.

For more information about response file, you can read these articles

  1. https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/aa367156(v=vs.85).aspx
  2. https://www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/en/SSDV2W_1.8.4/com.ibm.silentinstall12.doc/topics/c_silent_response_files.html
  3. http://helpnet.installshield.com/installshield22helplib/helplibrary/CreatetheResponseFile.htm



Aug 16, 2017 03:49 PM

EXE Application,When should we need to create a Response file (.iss file) what is the response file.How to create response file.

What is the help of response file.

Jan 19, 2015 11:16 PM

Hi Teeisme,

I am not sure, but have you tried the suggestions given in the following article: http://www.eightforums.com/software-apps/16926-7-zip-problem.html

Jan 19, 2015 10:17 PM

Thanik you for your very easy to understand explanation.


I have a question that may or may not be appropriate here. Sorry if it is.


I have Windows 8-1 and I'm tr;yng to get 7zip to function. I've tried so many many different things including uninstall and reinstall, restarting my computer, yadda ya.  Thanks to you, I've just installed the .msi - 64 bit version.  It still doesn't work.


Any ideas you'd be willing to share? Thanks very very much!

Mar 25, 2008 08:12 AM

Exe's are just executables that help to add value or data to the system. But they may not help in maintaining the integrity of the system as such.
Whereas Msi's are executables that not only help with clean installation but also with clean uninstallation of any application thereby restoring back the stability of the OS.

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