what the differences between MSI and EXE

What are the Differences Between MSI and EXE files in Windows


Do you often wonder what the differences between MSI and EXE are in Windows?

Your computer comes with a host of preinstalled applications and software. Of course, there are additional software tools that you tend to install on your device. If you are someone dealing with the installation of several files on your Windows device, you should be aware that the installers come in two different formats – MSI and EXE. While both of them are involved with the same task of getting a software program installed on your computer, they differ in their construction, architecture, and functionality. What is the difference between an MSI and an EXE file? If you are looking to find an answer to that question, here we go with the solutions.

Differences Between MSI and EXE

Well, before understanding the difference between the two, it would be practical enough to get to know the similarities between them for a clear understanding. Both MSI and EXE work as installers for your Windows ecosystem.

They almost work towards achieving that through different routes. The final objective remains the same – installing software through an installer. The difference lies in how they accomplish this objective.

MSI – Everything About It

MSI is a standard Microsoft installer. It is a database file and has been designed to installed Microsoft applications. The term MSI stands for Microsoft Installer. However, the nomenclature has now changed to Windows Installer while keeping the extension for the file intact.

The MSI installers come with a predefined interface and thus can be useful for those who have limited technical knowledge or are newbies. All MSI files come with the same look and appearance, and therefore it would be easy to get used to them for your needs.

One of the best aspects of an MSI file is the installation on demand. It can perform the initial setup real quick. The actual installation of the software components can take place after you launch the program itself.

The MSI installers are best suited for software deployment requirements. The MSI file can be best used to push the software tools through a series of devices simultaneously. This would precisely explain why Microsoft uses MSI installers for pushing the Windows updates onto your device.

EXE – Here is what they Stand For

EXE stands for EXECUTABLE. The EXE file acts merely as an installer and looks for the installation files – either on your computer or over the internet. It will then instruct the installer to install the files.

In essence, the EXE file does not contain the database of the records to be installed. As you would have noticed while installing games or other third party software tools, the installer will look for the associated files and if it does not find them, will download them from the internet. In fact, it should be understood that the EXE file essentially looks for an MSI file in a Microsoft installation so that it can install the program through it.

In fact, EXE is the original installer you would have found if you were someone from the bygone era of computing.

The Key Differences

There are several key differences between an MSI and EXE file even when both them are involved in installing a particular software on your device. The significant difference lies in the way the information is stored in the software package.

Some of the differences can be –

  • The MSI file is indeed a database file, and it stores all the information about the files to be installed and other details. An EXE file, on the other hand, would need to access the files that are already available on your device or would need to download them from the appropriate sources.
  • MSI is primarily used for software deployment, while EXE file can be used for practically anything, not only limited to software installations.
  • The MSI file comes with a standard predefined UI that can be quite easy to work with. It serves a useful purpose for those with no expertise in the things behind technology. EXE file, on the other hand, can have different interfaces depending on the software vendor and the type of the tool.
  • An MSI file will come with an on-demand installation feature so that the rest of the installation can be completed after the software is launched from within the application. In case of EXE installer, this would not be possible, and as such you need to have access to all your database files on your computer or grant access to download them from the internet.
  • The MSI installer works best for an unattended installation task as it can find the files and continue installing on its own. The EXE file will need constant interaction with it until the installation is completed.
  • An EXE file will let you choose a language for installation, while most MSI files do not come with this feature. Though this feature can be incorporated in an MSI file, using it on an EXE file would be more simplified than on an MSI installer.

Which One Should You Go For?

Well, that could be a complicated question. In most cases, it would be dependent on what the software developer has decided to provide you the installation as. Both of them should work fine as long as the software is not malicious. However, from a standardization point of view, the MSI installers can find themselves to be the preferred ones.

In fact, the simplicity associated with them would make MSI installers a better option. The MSI format was created primarily for addressing the nonstandard installers provided by third-party software developers. The MSI unifies the standard package, and thus it tends to be a little more powerful. The EXE files can be used as a medium for malicious tools and as such using unknown EXE files can be dangerous for the health of your system.

In any case, the prerogative rests with the software providers, and you may not have a say in which file you would want to use. In most cases, both of them tend to be the same, and a query as to which among them would be best should be quite minor enough.

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