Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Using WIX with managed custom action

WIX is a great toolset for creating installers. In most of the cases when you need an installer you need some custom logic to be executed. It's great that WIX supports managed custom actions. Anyway it wasn't so easy for me to make it work, so I want to share my experience.
I will demonstrate it using the WIX Visual Studio add-in (version v3.7.1217.0).

We will create WIX Setup project and C# Custom Action Project.
We will add a dummy text file in the setup project to be used as installation content and will change a little bit the auto created Product.wxs file.
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Wix xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/wix/2006/wi">
  <Product Id="*" Name="WixWithCustomAction" Language="1033" Version="" Manufacturer="Trifonov" UpgradeCode="60468a7d-6485-4e7e-bf82-503213bc43a8">
    <Package InstallerVersion="200" Compressed="yes" InstallScope="perMachine" />

    <Media Id='1' Cabinet='Dummy.cab' EmbedCab='yes' />

    <Directory Id='TARGETDIR' Name='SourceDir'>
      <Directory Id='ProgramFilesFolder'>
        <Directory Id='WixWithCustomAction' Name='WixWithCustomAction'>
          <Component Id="DummyContent" Guid="ba9028ae-0d3b-4b66-8560-f53330736265">
            <!-- Add the dummy file as content. -->
            <File Id="DummyFile" KeyPath="yes" Source="Dummy.txt" Vital="yes" />

    <Feature Id="Complete" Title="WixWithCustomAction" Level="1">
      <ComponentRef Id='DummyContent' />
That's how our solution looks like:

If we build the WixWithCustomAction project, WixWithCustomAction.msi will be created. If we run it WixWithCustomAction folder will be created in program files with Dummy.txt file inside.
But now we want to add a custom action which will create a file in C:\Temp folder. We will use the MyCustomActionProject for this. Let's change the CustomAction class a little bit:
using Microsoft.Deployment.WindowsInstaller;
using System.IO;

namespace MyCustomActionProject
    public class CustomActions
        public static ActionResult MyCustomAcion(Session session)
            session.Log("Executing MyCustomAcion");


            return ActionResult.Success;

Now we just need to call this custom action from the installer. To do this we will add a reference to this project in the setup project.
Now let's add the custom action in the Product.wxs file.
Adding the project as a reference allows as to use these variables.
But adding custom action is a little bit complicated. After building the MyCustomActionProject.dll file we will need a call to MakeSfxCA.exe and sfxca.dll in your installed WiX toolset as the dll need a reference to Microsoft.Deployment.WindowsInstaller.dll and has CustomAction.config attached. Calling the MakeSfxCA.exe tool will package the project output to MyCustomActionProject.CA.dll(here you can find some additional information about this).
As we use "C# Custom Action Project" there is an import added to $(MSBuildExtensionsPath)\Microsoft\WiX\v3.x\Wix.CA.targets file which will create this package on build. To check this you can build the custom action project and see the output:
So the custom action in the Product.wxs needs to reference the .CA.dll file. Thats why we cannot use
$(var.MyCustomActionProject.TargetPath) as a source for the custom action binary, but we will have to construct the source path like this:
The other option is not to use the project reference but add the full path to the custom action output.
So we will add the following rows to the wxs file
<!--The source file should be the MyCustomActionProject.CA.dll file, that's why it's constructed this way-->
<Binary Id='CustomActionBinary' SourceFile='$(var.MyCustomActionProject.TargetDir)$(var.MyCustomActionProject.TargetName).CA.dll' />

<!--The DllEntry must be the name of the method to be called from the custom action project, in our case - MyCustomActionMethod 
The Execute attribute will specify the deferred status of our custom action.
And finally, HideTarget will allow us to disable logging the parameteres passed to this custom action if security considerations so dictate.-->
<CustomAction Id='CustomActionId' BinaryKey='CustomActionBinary' DllEntry='MyCustomActionMethod' Execute="deferred" HideTarget="yes"/>

  <!--We want to call the custom action before the install finalizes-->
  <Custom Action='CustomActionId' Before='InstallFinalize'/>
And that's it. Now if we build the setup project and run the created msi installer, c:\temp\installed.txt will be created as a part of the installation process.

You can find the solution file here - WixWithCustomAction.zip


  1. Thanks Vasil!

    I was really stuck on this one. Your blog post got me out of the mess.

    Keep up the good work!


  2. Can you tell me how to pass parameter with the Same example in the Custom Action

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.