Difference between EXE file and MSI file

Difference between EXE file and MSI file

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EXE files and MSI files have a lot of similarities in functionality, but they also have differences.

So what is the main difference between these two file types and why are they often linked together? Let’s find out more through the following article!

What is the function of EXE file and MSI file?

EXE files and MSI files

You can think of EXE files like MSI files because they are capable of doing very similar things. Chances are you installed a program using an EXE file, as well as an MSI file.

To understand how they differ, you must understand what they do.

The EXE file is an executable file. This is a general term for everything from installers to standalone programs or even just code.

The MSI file is the Microsoft installer file. This is reserved for installing data using Windows Installer. You cannot run a standalone program from an MSI file, but all programs are installed using Windows Installer.

Even with all of the above in mind, there still seems to be some overlap between the two formats. Let’s dig a little deeper into each.

Difference of EXE format compared to MSI file

iExpress wizard to create .exe file
iExpress wizard to create .exe file

EXE files are identified by their high degree of customization. Because an EXE file can execute any type of code, it offers maximum flexibility for developers.

Developers can insert code, installers or even other EXE files into one. This leads to potential problems with EXE files. It is very easy to hide something in an EXE file, such as a virus.

So, the main differences of EXE files compared to MSI files are as follows:

  • Can be anything that executes code, such as installers and programs.
  • Highly customizable; it is possible to create an EXE class in an EXE.
  • Vulnerable to viruses.

Difference between MSI format and EXE . file

Context menu for MSI files
Context menu for MSI files

MSI files are identified by how limited they are. They will always be installation packages, never unauthorized programs or code.

They must also meet standard requirements and must not include unauthorized code.

This makes running MSI files generally safer. This is because the MSI file type is basically how Windows as a whole manages software installation, maintenance, and removal.

This also means that you can actually run into system errors that prevent the MSI file type from running properly. Thankfully, you can always fix problems with the MSI file type, but you should still keep this in mind.

The main differences of MSI files compared to EXE files are as follows:

  • Can only be installed, maintained or removed. No program or code can be launched.
  • Meet security requirements that EXE files do not have. Generally safer to run.
  • A core component of Windows.

EXE or MSI better?

EXE files and extracted MSI files
EXE files and extracted MSI files

There is no clear answer to this question. MSI and EXE are both built for different tasks and both meet different needs.

The MSI file type will help you to install, maintain or remove software on your machine. An EXE file can also do this, but it will end up using the same system that MSI files do.

So, unless a program provides you with both an EXE file and an MSI file to install, you won’t have to choose between these two formats.

However, what if you are faced with a choice?

The MSI installer package is more likely to be a simple install, while the EXE installer can be loaded with more options. For example, you can download and install multiple versions of a program using an EXE file.

Another aspect is security. If you don’t trust what you’re about to install, viewing it as an MSI file will make you feel safer than viewing it as an EXE.

As long as you keep your Microsoft Defender up to date, it shouldn’t be a problem.

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