Problems with custom actions that depend on the Visual C++ 8.0 runtime files on Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008

I recently heard about a couple of scenarios that were causing problems for folks creating MSI-based setup packages.  In one case, the developer was installing a service and attempting to start it using the ServiceControl table, but it failed when running setup on Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008.  In another case, the developer was attempting to self-register a DLL and it failed when running setup on Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 (such as in the scenario described here).

In both of these scenarios, the error message "Activation context generation failed for <assembly name>" was logged in the event log.  The error code seen in these scenarios was -2147010895, which is 0x800736B1 in hexadecimal and translates to ERROR_SXS_CANT_GEN_ACTCTX.

In both cases, the binaries in question had a dependency on the Visual C++ 8.0 runtime files, and the MSI included the MSMs to install the VC 8.0 runtime files as part of the same setup.

Root cause of this side-by-side activation error

There is a tricky issue with the VC 8.0 runtime files that only affects Windows Vista and later versions of Windows and is does not appear to be well documented yet.  Specifically, on Windows Vista and later, the VC 8.0 runtime files are installed to the WinSxS cache as global assemblies, whereas on downlevel platforms such as Windows XP or Windows Server 2003, the VC 8.0 runtime files are installed using standard Windows Installer file table entries.

In Windows Installer, you cannot use global assemblies until the installation transaction has been commited.  This means that only commit custom actions or custom actions sequenced to run after InstallFinalize will be able to use global assemblies that are being installed as part of the same MSI.

In the 2 scenarios I described above, the MSI was attempting to use binaries that depended on the VC 8.0 runtime files before they were fully installed to the global assembly cache, and the binaries failed to run and logged a missing dependency error.

Possible workarounds to fix an MSI that fails with a side-by-side activation error

There are a few possible workarounds for this type of scenario:

  • Install the VC 8.0 runtimes using the redistributable package via a setup chainer instead of merging in the MSMs.  The redistributable packages can be downloaded from the following locations:  x86; x64; ia64

  • Install private copies of the VC 8.0 runtime files.  This option is described in the section titled Deploying Visual C++ library DLLs as private assemblies in this MSDN post.

  • Statically link to the VC 8.0 runtimes when building your binaries so that they will not depend on the global assemblies

If none of the above are possible, you can also use one of these workarounds depending on the exact scenario you need to support:

  • In the case of service installation, use a commit custom action or a custom action scheduled after InstallFinalize.  You cannot use the ServiceInstall or ServiceControl table if the service depends on any global assemblies (such as the VC 8.0 runtime files or a managed .NET Framework assembly).  This scenario is specifically described in the ServiceControl table documentation on MSDN.

  • In the case of self-registration, convert the self-registration information to standard MSI authoring (registry keys in most cases) and stop using self-registration.  If that is not possible for some reason, you must use a commit custom action or a custom action scheduled after InstallFinalize to run self-registration instead of the SelfReg table.

A note about eliminating self-registration

Sometimes, it can be difficult to convert self-registration to standard MSI authoring, especially in cases like the ATL project template in Visual Studio.   The ATL project only has the following code for the DllRegisterServer function:

STDAPI DllRegisterServer(void)
// registers object, typelib and all interfaces in typelib
return _Module.RegisterServer(TRUE);

The ATL project contains a .rgs file that is embedded as a resource when the binary is built, and some specific code within ATL parses that .rgs file to replace some tokens to determine what registry entries to write when running DllRegisterServer.

In cases like this where you do not have direct ownership of the self-registration code in your binary, it is most effective to use a self-registration capturing tool such as the Tallow tool that is part of the WiX v2.0 toolset or the Heat tool that is a part of the WiX v3.0 toolset.

<update date="3/21/2008"> Added notes to indicate that this issue will affect not only Windows Vista but also other versions of Windows that shipped after Vista such as Windows Server 2008. </update>

<update date="2/20/2009"> Added a link to an MSDN topic that describes how to deploy Visual C++ DLLs as private assemblies. </update>


Comments (10)
  1. BillArnette says:

    Your note about self-registration also applies to DirectShow filters and DirectX Media Objects (DMO).  These types of projects have a registration API that you call from DllRegisterServer.  In the case of DirectShow, a binary registry value is created.  Unfortunately, there is no documentation about what those API’s do exactly or the format of the binary value in created by the DirectShow registration function.

  2. PhilDWilson says:

    There’s also a nifty registration tool that ships with Visual Studio, regcap.exe, and regcap /o <path to a reg file> <path to Dll> will create a .reg file of the entries. Several MSI-building tools will let you import a .reg file that just needs some tweaking to get the path to the Dll correct. I suspect Visual Studio setup projects call it to get registration entries into the MSI file.

  3. Question: I am building an installer that will include the Visual C++ (VC) 8.0 runtime files redistributable

  4. Question: I have built an MSI-based setup for my application that includes the merge module for the Visual

  5. Boneheadbarbarian says:

    This comment might be very off topic but when trying to run setpoint drivers for logitech i get a side by side configuration error. When i checked in the event log I got some error talking about M.V.80 problem. I get the exact same error in the event log when trying to install the c++ redistributable. I am running vista build 6000 and i was wondering if anyone could help me fix this problem.


  6. Hi Boneheadbarbarian – It sounds like there is something corrupted with the VC runtime information in the %windir%WinSxS store on your system.  You may be able to find more specific error information in the log file named %windir%logsCBScbs.log to help narrow this down.

  7. black_84 says:

    This same behavior also exists on Window Server 2008.

  8. Hi Black_84 – Correct, this issue will affect Windows Vista and newer versions of Windows.  I’ll update the text of the blog post to reflect this now that Windows Server 2008 has shipped.

  9. ZachCox says:

    We had noticed this behavior with Vista and now Based on what we are seeing with the VS2008 (Visual C++ 9.0) redistributable merge modules this behavior now presents itself when using Windows XP SP2.  Thanks to InstallShield (Acresso) Technical Support for pointing us to this blog post.

  10. onsAdb says:

    Thanks Aaron,

    Your comment on the link,…/7b544964-a5c0-40f9-a91b-46a9889b440a , redirecting me here really helped. That was indeed an issue.

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