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\->Tips and Tricks->Tools->Free Extractor

Free Extractor

This is a free open source tool which can be used to create simple "bootstrapper exe programs" containing your msi and potentially other files.

The program takes a zip file and can make a self extracting executable which can also launch a process. It is available from "". Choose the "command line" download for example "MakeSFX.exe - Optional Command Line Version, v1.44 (30 kb)".

The "MakeSFX.exe" download needs to be placed into a directory which is listed by the "PATH" environment variable.

I have created a header file which simply needs to be included (see the header for available options) after normal MAKEMSI headers and it will build the executable.

What Does the Generated EXE do?

  1. Extracts the files into a location which should be unique for that msi product and version. These files are used not only for the initial installation but also for any subsequent repair processes. The files remain after uninstall (unless you do something about that in the msi).

  2. Starts the "launcher" script, which by default simply launches "MSIEXEC.EXE" to install the msi (there is no error handling in the script). You can adjust the launcher script to install prereqisite products etc if required.

Example of using the Framework

This is a version of "TryMe.MM" where the only important changes are the insertion of 2 lines, the first to #define an option and the "#include" to invoke the framework:

#include "ME.MMH"                                            ;;Load MAKEMSI
#define EXE_MAKESFX.EXE_SWITCHES_DEBUG /openexplorerwindow   ;;Open at extracted files
#include "FreeExtractor.MMH"                                 ;;Build EXE from generated MSI

;--- Normal MSI stuff... ---
<$DirectoryTree Key="INSTALLDIR" Dir="c:\program files\TryMe (makemsi sample)\<$MAKEMSI_MM_BASENAME>" CHANGE="\" PrimaryFolder="Y">
<$Files "*.mm" DestDir="INSTALLDIR">

MakeSx.exe /?

MakeSFX v1.44 (Mar 19 2001)

Converts a zip file into a 32-bit GUI Windows self-extractor.

 Example usage 

  makesfx.exe /zip="" /sfx="output.exe" [/title="Your Title"]
  [/website=""] [/intro="This is a test self extractor"]
  [/defaultpath="$desktop$\My Files"] [/autoextract] [/openexplorerwindow]
  [/shortcut="$desktop$\Program Shortcut.lnk|$targetdir$\Program.exe]
  [/delete] [/icon="MyIcon.ico"] [/overwrite] [/?]

 Self-extractor options 

  /zip=""                     The source zip file (Required)
  /sfx="out.exe"                      The output self-extractor (Required)
  /title="Your Title"                 The user-friendly name
  /website=""   The embedded URL
  /intro="This is the intro."         The splash screen intro text
  /icon="MyIcon.ico"                  Changes the SFX icon. This must be a
                                      2,238 byte, 32x32, 256 color icon.
  /exec="setup.exe"                   Command to execute after extraction
  /defaultpath="$desktop$\Folder"     Default extraction path. Valid variables
                                      are: $desktop$, $temp$, $programfiles$,
                                      $windir$, $targetdir$ and $sysdir$. You
                                      may also hard-code a path.

  /autoextract                        Automatically extract the contents to
                                      the default path. Don't prompt the user.
  /openexplorerwindow                 Open the target directory in Windows
  /delete                             Deletes extracted files after program
                                      specified in /exec is completed.
  /shortcut="shortcut.lnk|target.ext" Creates a shortcut to target. Each may
                                      include scriptable paths.

 MakeSFX Options 

   /overwrite                         Overwrite the output EXE, if it exists.
   /?                                 Show this help message

 Path Variables 

  The following variables can be used in paths:
    $desktop$           The user's desktop folder
    $programfiles$      Computer's program files folder
    $temp$              System Temp Directory
    $windir$            Windows directory (i.e. "c:\windows")
    $sysdir$            Windows System Directory (i.e. "c:\windows\system")
    $curdir$            The directory where the self-extractor is run from
    $targetdir$         The extraction directory
    $favorites$         Internet Explorer Favorites Folder
    $quicklaunch$       Quick Launch Directory (IE4+ only)
    $startup$           The User's "Startup" Folder
    $startmenu$         The User's "Programs" Folder in the Start Menu

MakeSFX is open source. Visit for updates.


;    MODULE NAME:   FreeExtractor.MMH
;        $Author:   USER "Dennis"  $
;      $Revision:   1.2  $
;          $Date:   15 Sep 2007 18:31:14  $
;       $Logfile:   C:/DBAREIS/Projects.PVCS/Win32/MakeMsi/FreeExtractor.MMH.pvcs  $
;      COPYRIGHT:   (C)opyright Dennis Bareis, Australia, 2003
;                   All rights reserved.
; This headet is NOT automatically included by MAKEMSI however you can
; #include it yourself to indicate that you want to build an EXE from
; the generated MSI using the open source tool "FreeExtractor", available
; from "".
; You also need to put the "MakeSFX.EXE" tool into a directory where MAKEMSI
; can find it (such as a directory in the "PATH"). The download I tested with
; was:
;       MakeSFX.exe - Optional Command Line Version, v1.44 (30 kb)
; The tool creates an EXE from a ZIP file and then launches a program/file,
; a limitation in this tool means that the MSI needs to be launched from a
; batch file and this will briefly flash up a "black window".
; All options are set via macros prior to the inclusion of this header file.
; One reason for using this is that the generated product can be significantly
; smaller (TryMe.MSI of 152K versus TryMe.EXE of 83K) and also that it may
; be bundling many files (this not yet supported).
; No command line switches are supported, it is simply a matter of letting
; the install start and copying the extracted files elsewhere.
#NextId LOCK "FreeExtractor.MMH"

;--- Constants --------------------------------------------------------------
#define VERSION_FREEEXTRACTOR                07.251

;--- Options ----------------------------------------------------------------
#define? EXE_FULL_EXE_NAME                              <$MSI_MSINAME $$FilePart:withoutextn>.EXE         ;;Name and location of EXE being created
#define? EXE_ICON                                                                                         ;;If non-blank name of 2,238 byte, 32x32, 256 color icon
#define? EXE_BUILD_WHICH_HOOK                           ONEXIT_AFTER_MSI_BUILT_AND_VALIDATED              ;;When will we create the EXE?
#define? EXE_MAKESFX.EXE_EXTRACT_PATH_ROOT              %Temp%                                            ;;Relative paths are relative to the runtime EXE dir
#define? EXE_MAKESFX.EXE_EXTRACT_PATH_REL2ROOT          MSI2EXE\<$ProdInfo.ProductName>\<$ProductVersion> ;;Try to prevent possible overlap!!!
#define? EXE_MAKESFX.EXE_EXTRACT_PATH_KNOWN_BUGGY_CHARS ()                                                ;;Cause EXE to fail to successfully start lancher
#define? EXE_TMP_DIR                                    <$MAKEMSI_OTHER_DIR>\MAKESFX.EXE                  ;;Want "working"  or "intermediate" files to go here
#define? EXE_INSTALL_LAUNCHER_NAME                      INSTALL.BAT                                       ;;Name of the launcher we need to overomelimitations in "FreeExtractor"
#define? EXE_EXTRA_FILES                                                                                  ;;List of zero or more files (delimitered by ";" etc)
#define? EXE_ZIPOPTIONS                                 -8 -o -j                                          ;;Zip options
#define? EXE_STORE                                      .zip;.cab                                         ;;Already compressed and/or time consuming (-9 must not be used or this will have no effect)
#( '<?NewLine>'

    ;--- Just invoke msi and exit -------------------------------------------
    @start "" "<$MSI_MSINAME $$FilePart:NAME>"
#if ['<$EXE_ICON $$ISBlank>' = 'Y']
    #define @@EXE_MAKESFX.EXE_SWITCHES_EXEICON       ;;Do nothing (use default icon)
#( ' '

    /zip="<$EXE_FULL_ZIPFILE_NAME>"                          ;;Name of ZIP containing files
    /SFX="<$EXE_FULL_EXE_NAME>"                              ;;Name of EXE to build
    /EXEC="$targetdir$\<$EXE_INSTALL_LAUNCHER_NAME>"         ;;What 'launcher" does the EXE execute?
    /defaultpath="<??@@EXE_MAKESFX.EXE_EXTRACT_PATH>"        ;;MakeSFX.EXE bug(s) restrict allowable character set
#( ' '

    /autoextract                                            ;;Automatically extract the imbedded (and zipped) files (/NoGui must also be used)
    /nogui                                                  ;;No GUI presented to users
    /overwrite                                              ;;Ovrwrite any files at the "defaultpath" location
#( ' '

   ;/openexplorerwindow                                     ;;Open explorer at extracted location
#define? EXE_FULL_ZIPFILE_NAME            <$EXE_TMP_DIR>\
#define? EXE_MESSAGE_INITIALIZATION       Scheduling EXE build using FreeExtractor (version <$VERSION_FREEEXTRACTOR>)
#define? EXE_MESSAGE_STARTING             Building EXE from generated MSI (using FreeExtractor)
#define? EXE_MESSAGE_CREATING_ZIP         Creating the ZIP for imbedding in the EXE
#define? EXE_MESSAGE_CREATING_EXE         Now creating EXE from the zip
#define? EXE_MESSAGE_ENDING               EXE successfully generated.

;--- INITIALIZATION (scheduling etc) ----------------------------------------
#DefineRexx ''
    ;--- Remove any preexisting EXE from a previous build -------------------
    call FileDelete '<$EXE_FULL_EXE_NAME>';
#define @@FreeExtractorExe  MakeSfx.exe
<$GetFullBuildTimeFileName RcVar="@@FullMakeSfxExeName" Macro="EXE_MAKESFX.EXE" File="<$@@FreeExtractorExe>" MustExist="N">
#if [@@FullMakeSfxExeName = '']
    ;--- Report error -------------------------------------------------------
    #error ^Could not find "<$@@FreeExtractorExe>"!{NL}Please download from ""^
    ;--- Code we wish to execute early in build (but after logging locations known) ---
    #define @@BuildExe

    ;--- Intro --------------------------------------------------------------
        #info ^<$EXE_MESSAGE_STARTING>^

    ;--- Build the launcher -------------------------------------------------

    ;--- Build the zip file which will be imbedded in the EXE ---------------
    #evaluate ^^ ^<$@@BuildZipForExe>^

    ;--- Now Build the EXE --------------------------------------------------
    #evaluate ^^ ^<$@@MakeExtractPathSafeFromMakeSfxExeBug>^
    #evaluate ^^ ^<$@@BuildExeFromZip>^

        #if ['<$EXE_MESSAGE_ENDING $$ISBLANK>' = 'N']
        #info ^<$EXE_MESSAGE_ENDING>^

<$HookInto "<$EXE_BUILD_WHICH_HOOK>" Before="@@BuildExe">

;--- Working Macros ---------------------------------------------------------
#DefineRexx '@@BuildZipForExe'
    @@ZipDir = '<$EXE_TMP_DIR>';
    call MakeDirectoryTree @@ZipDir;
    @@TmpZipFile = '<$EXE_FULL_ZIPFILE_NAME>'
    @@Sample.2 = '<$MSI_MSINAME>';
    @@Cnt      = 2;
    @@SemiDelListOrig = '<$EXE_EXTRA_FILES>';
    <$Rexx2ConvertDelimiters RxVar="@@SemiDelListOrig" ToDelChar=";">
    @@SemiDelList = @@SemiDelListOrig;
    do  while @@SemiDelList <> ''
        ;--- Get next file ignore "empty" files -----------------------------
        parse var @@SemiDelList @@OneFile ';' @@SemiDelList;
        @@OneFile = strip(@@OneFile);                                  ;;Remove any leading or trailing spaces (if required user should double quote)
        if  @@OneFile <> '' then
            ;--- Allow value to be quoted (allows for spaces etc) -----------
            if  left(@@OneFile, 1) = '"' then
               @@OneFile = substr(@@OneFile, 2, length(@@OneFile)-2);  ;;Remove leading and trailing double quotes.

            ;--- Now lets check file existance here (will be checked later but better error message possible here!) ---
            if  FileQueryExists(@@OneFile) = '' then
                call error 'The file "' || @@OneFile || '" doesn''t exist!'
                          ,'This "extra" file was specified by the "EXE_EXTRA_FILES" macro which contained:'

            ;--- File exists so add to the list -----------------------------
            @@Cnt          = @@Cnt + 1;
            @@Sample.@@Cnt = @@OneFile;
    @@Sample.0 = @@Cnt;
    <$RexxZipUpFiles List="@@Sample" ZipFileExp=^@@TmpZipFile^ InfoMsgExp=^'<$EXE_MESSAGE_CREATING_ZIP>'^ ZipOptions=^<$EXE_ZIPOPTIONS>^ Store=^<$EXE_STORE>^>
#DefineRexx '@@MakeExtractPathSafeFromMakeSfxExeBug'
    @@RelPath  = translate(@@RelPath,, @@BadChars, '_');
#DefineRexx '@@BuildExeFromZip'
    if  @@Msg <> '' then
        call Info @@Msg;
    @@Exe    = '<$EXE_FULL_EXE_NAME>';
    call FileDelete @@Exe;
    call FileDelete @@Output;
    call LineOut    @@Output, copies('#', 78)
    call LineOut    @@Output, @@Cmd;
    call LineOut    @@Output, copies('#', 78)
    call LineOut    @@Output, ''
    call LineOut    @@Output, ''
    call FileClose  @@Output;
    @@Cmd = @@Cmd || ' >>"' || @@Output || '" <$Stderr2Out>';
    @@Cmd = 'cmd.exe /c "' || @@Cmd || '"';          ;;Windows crap...
    call AddressCmd @@Cmd, '<$EXE_FULL_MAKESFX.EXE_OUTPUT_NAME>';
    if  FileQueryExists(@@Exe) = '' then
        <$RexxDebugViewFile FileVar="@@Output">;
        call error 'The EXE file "' || @@Exe || '" wasn''t created!';

;--- Make sure we record details about this header --------------------------
<$SourceFile Version="<$VERSION_FREEEXTRACTOR>">

#NextId UNLOCK "FreeExtractor.MMH"

Microsoft awarded me an MVP (Most Valuable Professional award) in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009 for the Windows SDK (Windows Installer) area.Please email me any feedback, additional information or corrections.
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MAKEMSI© is (C)opyright Dennis Bareis 2003-2008 (All rights reserved).
Saturday May 28 2022 at 3:11pm
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Microsoft awarded me an MVP (Most Valuable Professional award) in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009 for the Windows SDK (Windows Installer) area.