MSI tools

There are quite a few good tools and resources for MSI setup creation and debugging in the Platform SDK.  I figured I'd list the ones I use most often, and I would really like to know what everyone else uses and if there are any holes in that you've found where new tools are needed.....

Descriptions for all of the tools in the PSDK can all be found at by the way....

Stuff I used every day when I worked on the VS and .NET Framework setup team:

  • MSI.chm - the help file for Windows Installer, this is indispensible for looking up error codes, command line parameter permutations, descriptions of fields in the various tables, bitmask descriptions for things like file and component attributes, etc.  There is one thing that drives me crazy though - trying to figure out the meaning of the different custom action attributes to determine exactly what you should expect for any given CA

  • Orca - graphical viewer for the contents of an MSI, I have this installed on all of my machines, even on my new team.  It can be scary to open up and look at random setups though - I've seen all sorts of horror stories over the past few years - both within MS and elsewhere.

Stuff I found very useful though I didn't need to use them daily:

  • MSIZap - removes the remnants of a failed install/uninstall from your machine.  I strongly recommend using this only as a last resort - most of the times I use this it is because someone installed a daily build or an early beta of one of our products that had some kind of uninstall bug.

  • MSIVal2 - performs internal consistency validation for MSI tables, this can be useful for catching MSI authoring errors that may not always manifest themselves in the form of a failure and roll-back of your setup. 

  • MSITran - lets you easily take the delta between 2 MSI packages and create a transform containing the differences.  What I've used this for in the past is to modify some of the UI and add/remove launch conditions as a one-off for customers who weren't familiar with the internal workings of an MSI in Orca.

There is a log analyzer tool on the site (wilogutl) that can help narrow down failures in your setup - it can be especially useful for verbose logs for large products such as Visual Studio (those logs are 40+ megs....)  I usually take shortcuts before I use that tool though, most of the errors can be found by searching for “return value 3“ in your MSI verbose log file.  This doesn't work for non-English products because that string is translated, and it also relies on the setup author to log useful information for things like custom actions that may end up failing.

The other tools on the PSDK site sound like they'd be very useful as well but I don't have first-hand experience with them.

What other stuff is out there that folks are using?  What stuff is missing that needs to be written in this space?  Thoughts?


Comments (19)

  1. Anonymous says: :: MSI tools

  2. Forever Geek says:

    With the release of the WiX, I’m trying to read more about how to make an installer, and what exactly can be done with installers. While I definitely know the typical user experience with an installer, I know next to…

  3. Aaron Stebner says:

    I’m not sure I understand the comment above. What problems are you seeing with msi.chm? If you can provide more detail I will take a look and post a new entry in my blog. Thanks!

  4. malcolm says:

    when instaling prisoner of war game program pop up said problem with installer see msi.chm i amusing win xp pro

  5. Aaron Stebner says:

    Could you please provide a bit more information so I could try to help you take a look at this?

    1. If possible can you get a screenshot or a copy of the exact wording of the error message

    2. Enable Windows Installer verbose logging by setting HKLMSOFTWAREPoliciesMicrosoftWindowsInstaller"Debug"=dword:00000007 and "Logging"="voicewarmup!" and produce a log file for the failed installation at %temp%msi*.log and post the contents

    3. Look for events in the application event log that are produced by the source MsiInstaller and copy the text of any that occur when this error happens.

    Hopefully that will help us get to the bottom of this issue….


  6. says:

    Please help me !

    After having fixed a PC crash caused by the chaos of Windowsupdates, I need to reinstall the program Maxtor One Touch (Dantz/Retrospect)

    external harddisk and get the errormessage:

    *26*MicrosoftInstaller{3EC91FDF-FE9A-43D5-96C4-8A9C24372500}1033.MST – Error 1603 >

    Consult MSI.chm.

    I already installed Windows Installler Cleanup,

    the latest version of the Installer, cleaned my PC et.etc., however all in vain.

    I have the original Maxtor CD, a booklet and a lot of folders, but this problem is not mentioned.

    Any advises for me, please.

    Best regards,

  7. Can you please try to use the steps listed at to re-run this Maxtor setup package and generate a verbose log file and then send it to me at aaronste (at) microsoft (dot) com so I can take a look? Hopefully the log file will help us figure out the root cause of this issue.

  8. Deborah Owen says:

    Don’t know about URL But I Would Like To Installer the msi.chm on my Computer Windows XP

  9. Hi Deborah – There is not an msi.chm that ships as a standalone package anymore.  It is now a part of the overall Platform SDK help documentation.  I’ve described this in a bit more detail at  You can also get to the individual help topics on the MSDN web site at

  10. Chris says:

    I was installing Pro Evolution Soccer 5 when an error came up saying

    "Error: -1630 Fatal error durring installation.

    Consult Windows Installer Help(Msi.chm)or MSDN for more information."

  11. Hi Chris – Can you please use the instructions listed at to gather a verbose setup log file and then contact me via to send me the verbose log file so I can take a look and try to help narrow down the cause of this error on your system?

  12. Len says:

    I was installing City Map for Garmin GPS when an error came up saying

    "Error: -1603 Fatal error durring installation.

    Consult Windows Installer Help(Msi.chm)or MSDN for more information."

  13. Hi Len – Error 1603 is a generic error code that is returned by Windows Installer for many different types of errors.  You can use steps similar to the ones that I posted at to gather a verbose setup log that will help narrow down the root cause.  If you would like to zip and send me the verbose log at Aaron.Stebner (at) microsoft (dot) com, I will take a look and see if I can figure anything out.

  14. Hoschi says:

    To find any error in a MSI logfile, i use the MSI Logfile Analyzer. This Tool is verry usefull to view a logfile structured by files, properties and so one.

    Here you can find this tool:

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