ClickOnce and Permission Elevation

ClickOnce is a very cool client application delivery system that we shipped in V2.0 of the .NET Framework and that WPF (aka Avalon) makes use of as well.  Before we even shipped V1.0 of the .NET Framework we have know that deployment is the key issue for client applications.  No mater how good the UI framework is if the app can’t be deployed it is useless.  While ClickOnce doesn’t solve all deployment (machine provisioning for example) it does make HUGE steps towards delivering web style deployment of client applications. 


I really appreciate the feedback we have gotten recently on ClickOnce around Permission Elevation... One of the things a love about working on this technology is that we have such a great community that is active about telling us what they like and don’t like. 


In response to the feedback, Saurab posted some more information about what went into our thinking around this decision... I’d love to hear your feedback and reaction... Just using his blog for comments is goodness or feel free to email me directly. 

Comments (14)

  1. Peter Golde says:

    Well, as a hobbyist whose been researching deployment options for his WinForms 2.0 application that he’s been working on for a while, I investigated ClickOnce but decided that it’s a non-starter for me. The problem is that ClickOnce doesn’t work with Firefox or other non-IE browsers. In fact, at least according to what I read, it doesn’t even work if a Firefox user uses IE to install the app, IE must be the DEFAULT browser for ClickOnce to work. Unacceptable.

  2. Dono says:

    I absolutely agree with Peter Golde. I was really exciting about ClickOnce. However, after realizing that it would only work with IE, I have lost that excitement. While I belive it has great potential, it is nearly useless for my projects and clients. It needs to be made browser-independent, whether that is IE, Firefox, Opera, or another.

  3. BradA says:

    Thanks PeterDono — this is really good feedback, and we have heard it from others as well… say tuned..

  4. Kris says:

    On the Java side they have had JNLP (similar to ClickOnce) for a while and it proved to be very successful in the deployment of a Pharmacy application (about 3000 stores) I worked on. Worked both in Firefox and IE. What I dont understand is that why does MS always bundle things up. They might be a technical explanation, but given the choice one has with regard to platforms and browsers nowadays, this should have been thought through.

  5. Stephane Rodriguez says:

    Elevating ClickOnce apps so that they install or run FullTrust defeats the point which indeed, to paraphrase you, makes one wonder why bother a framework it it can’t be deployed. Making sure a .NET application runs in partial trust is just too hard in practice. For instance, a single COM interop and P/Invoke will automatically require fulltrust, and that is the case of anyone incrementally migrating their existing code into .NET.

    My belief is that it’s not worth the pain.

    But there are problems left. One is information. You can find super blogs on LUA, and find super blogs on ClickOnce or CAS. But you will hardly find examples of both mixed together. What about that?

    That, plus the recent changes from Windows making it much harder to deploy any .NET application. First of all, the bootstrapper, must be used to deploy required pieces. Second, .NET 2.0 applications require Windows Installer 3.x and not everyone has it on their machines (you’ve posted something related to "XP SP2 or not" last month or so). But even if developers who have a MSDN subscription have no problem getting those run-times from their CDs, and can add it to the bootstrapper, they might for any reason have to point to resources to be downloaded from the Microsoft website : but a big surprise is waiting them, now that Windows Genuine Advantage check is required. A lot of people out there are simply unable to get through the WGA steps.

    I don’t think Microsoft is making deployment any easier over the years, just putting out technologies in a bunch of directions simulatenaously without a real coherent line to follow. In this regard, this mimics what Microsoft has been doing with "data access layers" over years : anytime Microsoft the "ultimate multi-purpose data access layer", it’s the last thing developers will ever need, until Microsoft ships another data access layer. That is easy to understand since deployment is often delegated to developers themselves and the reality of deployment may be left unknown if you are drinking too much kool-aid, i.e. you are running admin, never install apps other than from the intranet, and so on.

    Does this mean that .NET is better suited for the server side, i.e. where you don’t push anything on the client?

    2 cents.

  6. Jason Whittington says:

    (I posted this to the original but a few people encouraged me to post it here too).

    Readers of Brad’s blog probably are familiar with the idea of  "the pit of success":

    "The Pit of Success: in stark contrast to a summit, a peak, or a journey across a desert to find victory through many trials and surprises, we want our customers to simply fall into winning practices by using our platform and frameworks.  To the extent that we make it easy to get into trouble we fail."

    So now look at the scenario Saurabh describes.  Jen is a .NET enthusiast, enthusiastic to get her software out the door.  The path of least resistance (the pit) for Jen is to just specify FullTrust whether she needs it or not.   You say "Today…Jen can use ClickOnce to downloaded her App and run in the Intranet sandbox." but this requires *more work* – Jen has to debug her app in the Intranet zone and do her best to figure out what permissions she needs.  Your customers security depends on Jen going the extra mile here. Multiply by a million and once again you train your user base to click OK for everything, rather than seeing a need to press OK as unusual and risky. The pit leads to a less secure environment for everyone, especially my mother-in-law who will click "Yes" on any dialog whatsoever 🙂

    Requiring Jen to get a certificate changes the dynamic. As you say, it’s a pain for Jen to do that, so the path of least resistance is for Jen to do the right thing with CAS.  Jen would learn better security habits and my grandmother would be a little safer. That is much better for your customers, even if it inconveniences Jen.

    Your argument that following the ActiveX model will lead to wider adoption is specious at best.  ActiveX has caused all kinds of problems for Microsoft’s customers because one click gives the software carte-blanche on the machine. I think your community would prefer that you start to address this rather than continue down the same road that has brought a lot of the spyware problems to begin with.

    Finally some anecdotal evidence. I have shown ClickOnce to hundreds of developers over the last year and a half (ever since the MAGEUI days).  The audiences I saw were generally pleased when I showed them that ClickOnce refused to install unsigned code coming from the Internet zone. Now I always see some of them rolling their eyes and groaning when I show them this behavior. Several have asked me why I bothered showing them CAS at all if it can be subverted so easily. So I’m not sure the developer community is really that enthusiastic about this particular policy decision.

  7. Mehran Nikoo says:

    I believe ClickOnce is more suitable for business environments where there is central administration, support and policy management. "Broad Reach" is one of major benefits of ClickOnce, but to me it has a broad reach where some control over the environment and support is available. For example a business can publish a ClickOnce application on its intranet and configure the policies accordingly so that internal users can use it or publish it to the partner companies together with certificates.

    In such environment I can see how ClickOnce is going to replace the existing deployment mechanism for a smart client application but I am not sure whether Jen who wants to write an application for her golfing mates will have the same level of experience. ClickOnce is not going to solve the security vs. feature paradox. You are either doing safe operations allowed in the Internet zone or are doing something that could be harmful. To my grandma, the whole CAS business doesn’t mean anything and trust to them is a binary concept, they can’t rate it.

    My personal opinion is that deployment of ClickOnce applications should be secure by default so we should not compare ClickOnce with ActiveX as I think we all agree the security model provided by ActiveX controls is far from ideal.

    I agree that having an easier deployment mechanism and so a wider adoption for .NET platform is beneficial but I think having a more secure environment will result in an even higher adoption rate and a better reputation.

  8. Ryan Schneider says:

    I have to agree with Jason here, IN THE REAL WORLD, why would any hobbyist code realistically need FullTrust/Intranet Zone security clearance?

    In this example, it’s far more likely that Jen has hacked in some feature that could have been done without needing escalated permissions (e.g. P/Invoking what could have been rewritten in .net, or writing to HKLM instead of storing config data properly).  In that case, it’d still be more productive for her to fix the CAS issue than to switch over to unmanaged code or roll her own online installer system.

    At the very least, IMO the elevated permission dialog for unsigned apps from the Internet should be VERY scary (lots of red warnings, etc.), scarier than a similar dialog from the Intranet zone.  Then at least Jen has to justify this very scary dialog to her users (and herself).

    As for the legacy apps being ported over, that may require P/Invoke, etc., 99% of the time they will be hosted on your intranet, not off some random website.

  9. Ruben says:

    Sure you’ve "heard it from others". But nobody at MS actually seems to even acknowledge the hearsay.

  10. WinFormsUE says:

    "IN THE REAL WORLD, why would any hobbyist code realistically need FullTrust/Intranet Zone security clearance?"

    Most hobbyists don’t want to hassle with differentiating between what is full trust and what isn’t. If the development tools force them to hassle, they’ll look for another set of development tools. This being a free, capitalist market, they’re likely to find them.

    I worked for a while as a WinForms PM. Making sure Whidbey WinForms apps could stay in the sandbox was one of my tasks. In the end, the organization decided to take the approach it did with ClickOnce and permission elevation. Why? Because staying in the sandbox requires jumping through hoops, doing things differently than you’d otherwise have done them in, say, the VB6 world. E.g., Jen will go out of the sandbox if she needs to perform the simple trick of making a WebRequest against a server other than the application’s origin server. She’ll be WAY out of the sandbox if she wants to build something that creates, enumerates or modifies existing files on the user’s local drive (search DOC files, organize your music collection, export reports for use in Word or Excel, etc.).

    There are many, many types of apps that can’t stay in the sandbox. Saying "just avoid p/invoke" doesn’t cut it.

  11. Saurabh says:

    For users who commented on our lack of FireFox support in ClickOnce and the lack of clear messaging from Microsoft I have posted the following blog –

    Please feel free to comment on it and let us know your thinking/suggestions on this issue.

  12. Ted Calhoon says:

    I’m running into an "Access is denied" error when clicking the Install button on the publish.htm of a ClickOnce application from one of our newly imaged boxes. The Security Dialog box does not even pop up. I think it might have something to do with LUA. Any thoughts?


  13. Chuck says:

    Not supporting browsers other than IE, essentiall kills it.  If your application sucks on install, you’ve already lost the customer.  Installs have to be perfect.

    If you’re in a corporate environment use SMS or AD software policy and WISE installer.

    Most apps need elevated security. Even with .net 2.0 you still need lots of API calls (com interop) if you are creating applications that are professional.  Try centering a message box over a MDI window on a two monitor system where the monitors are reversed (monitor 2 on the left), without using an API call.  Or try to restore a window location after the user has switched monitor locations or changed resoultions without an API call.  Of course don’t even get into supporting cut/copy/paste without the API.

  14. Ted Calhoon says:

    OK, desktop support found that there was corruption in the local settings folder. They fixed this by deleting the local settings folder and logging back in, causing the OS to recreate the local settings folder. After that, ClickOnce worked.

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