Home > Tech, Windows > InstEd — The best way to get down and dirty with MSI’s

InstEd — The best way to get down and dirty with MSI’s

September 4, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

If you’re familiar with creating your own Windows Installer (MSI) packages, you’ve no doubt heard of Orca, Microsofts MSI database editor. It’s a great little program that allows you to directly edit an MSI’s tables, create transforms, stream files, etc.

However, it really is a no frills editor, and leaves a bit to be desired. Enter InstEd.

InstEd is a free MSI database editor that is what Orca really should have been by now. Some of the most important features (as stolen from InstEd’s website):

  • Build cabs from the Media table. Right click a Media table entry to see the files belonging to that cab, or to rebuild the cab.
  • Multi-file editing using tabs. Built from the ground up to handle multiple files, everything from searching to validation can be applied to more than one file at a time.
  • Easy navigation. All relationships within the database are displayed and clickable for easy navigation.
  • Accurate editing. Changes to a field are optionally cascaded to all dependent fields. So, for example, renaming a component can have all references updated.
  • Change highlighting. All changes to an mst are highlighted. Msi files can be compared to highlight the differences. And by comparing an msi to itself while the msi is being edited, change tracking can be performed on an msi.
  • Easy validation. Validation profiles allow full flexibility to apply ICEs from more than one CUB to many files at once, allowing for easy Quality Assurance of many files at once.
  • Transform Chaining. See at a glance all the changes that a sequence of transforms make.

Let’s talk about transforms. Transforms are essentially an alternate configuration for a specific MSI stored in their own file (with the MST file-type). At install time, a transform is applied to the original MSI, which results in a custom configuration being installed, without having to modify the original installation file.

Very powerful, but often times you simply want to see exactly what changes a transform makes. After clicking on the Transform menu item, and selecting Apply Transform, and then browsing and opening the transform file, you can view the changes in Green:

Changes that will be made by the transform are in Green.

Changes that will be made by the transform are in Green.

If you’d like to get a report of all the changes that the transform makes, hit F4 or select View Transform Summary from the Transform menu:

Summary of MST changes to an MSI

Summary of MST changes to an MSI

At this point, you may decide that instead of having a transform AND an MSI, that you’d prefer the transform changes be merged into a new and single MSI file, just click on the Transform menu item, and select Save Transformed. That’s it!

I’m only scratching the surface of the power of this tool. It doesn’t replace InstallShield or WISE quite yet, but it is hands-down the best free tool for modifying MSI’s.

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Categories: Tech, Windows
  1. September 4, 2009 at 7:16 PM

    Hi Mick,

    Just wanted to say g’day and thanks for blogging about InstEd. I tried to make the thing as useful as possible, so it’s always a kicker when people find it so useful as to warrant blogging about.

    Thanks again,
    Neil

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