How to extract msi / exe setup files to your system without installation for analysis

MSI files are Windows installer files (for Microsoft Installer) that Windows users can run to install software on a PC.

You may experience a couple of issues with these type of setup files: installations may not complete properly, you may not be able to install the program on a network, or you may run into dependency issues if the system is lacking other required installations.

Sometimes, you may only need access to a single file contained in the msi installation package, at other times, you may have noticed that all the installer did was extract the files to the system. In the latter case, extraction of the msi file may have yielded the same result, but with additional benefits including a fully portable application that does not leave traces behind on the host system.

And if you are running a non-Windows system, extraction may be the only option you got to access files included in the msi installer package.

Depending on the operating system that you work on, you may have multiple options to extract msi files. The 7-zip program is for instance available for Windows, Linux and Mac systems. It can be used to extract msi files on the host system.

All that you need to do for that is right-click on the msi file, and select Extract Here to unpack the msi file on your system.  You can alternatively open the archive instead using the same application. This opens all files in the 7-Zip program manager from where individual files can be extracted or run right away.

If you are using Microsoft Windows, you can use programs such as Universal ExtractorLess MSIMSI Tools, Inno Setup or these three simple tools.

Note: Some extractors may not be able to unpack all msi files on your system. It is therefore a good idea to keep multiple tools at hand if you run into situations where your favorite program cannot extract the msi. There may also be a difference in how files are extracted. 7-Zip for instance extracts all files to the root directory, while the built-in msiexec tool will preserve directories.

To use msiexec, you need to perform the following operation:

  1. Tap on the Windows-key and type cmd.
  2. Right-click on cmd.exe and select Run as administrator from the context menu.
  3. Confirm the user account control prompt if it appears.
  4. Use the command msiexec /a msifilepath/qb TARGETDIR=targetpath

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