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.NET Manifest Resources

, 28 Oct 2005 CPOL
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An article on .NET Manifest Resources internal format.



This article is about the internal format of .NET Manifest Resources (or better the ".resources" files contained in it). I don't know if the code can be useful to you or not (probably not), but I like to write about undocumented stuff. In fact, this article is nothing sensational, I just wrote it because I haven't found any documentation about this subject on the net, not even in the .NET metadata specifics: partition II MetaData.doc.

Some time ago I wrote a PE Editor called CFF Explorer (because I needed to) with the support for .NET metadata, since there wasn't such a tool. The only tool I could find was Asmex (which you can find on CodeProject), but the problem with that tool is that you cannot modify the metadata fields and, moreover, it relies still on the .NET Framework. And I don't say this to criticize Asmex, which is surely useful, but because I needed something different. Anyway I wrote a resource viewer for the PE Editor and wanted to show the metadata resources as well. So, in order to do that, avoiding to use an external .NET assembly, I had to analyze the Manifest Resource format.

Let's take a look at the Manifest Resources contained in a .NET assembly:

CFF Explorer

As you can see, there can be various types of files. Reading a bitmap, for example, is very simple: every Manifest Resource begins with a DWORD that tells us the size of the actual embedded resource... And that's it... After that, we have our bitmap. Okay, but what about those ".resources" files? The article is all about them. In this shot there's a ".resources" file for every dialog in that .NET assembly, this means every resource of a dialog is contained in the dialog's own ".resources" file.

Handling these compiled resources files is, using the .NET Framework, very easy. You can convert them into XML files (".resx" files) through a utility called Resgen.exe (downloadable on the MSDN) or simply use the members of the System.Resources namespace (which can also handle ".resx" files) to do whatever you want. You can create one, for example (the code is taken from the MSDN):

using System;
using System.Resources;

public class WriteResources {
   public static void Main(string[] args) {
      // Creates a resource writer.
      IResourceWriter writer = new ResourceWriter("myResources.resources");
      // Adds resources to the resource writer.
      writer.AddResource("String 1", "First String");

      writer.AddResource("String 2", "Second String");

      writer.AddResource("String 3", "Third String");

      // Writes the resources to the file or stream, and closes it.

Through the use of ResourceWriter it's a very easy task to create resources files. What about reading them?

using System;
using System.Resources;
using System.Collections;
public class ReadResources {

   public static void Main(string[] args) {

      // Opens a resource reader and gets an enumerator from it.
      IResourceReader reader = new ResourceReader("myResources.resources");
      IDictionaryEnumerator en = reader.GetEnumerator();
      // Goes through the enumerator, printing out the key and value pairs.
      while (en.MoveNext()) {
         Console.WriteLine("Name: {0}", en.Key);
         Console.WriteLine("Value: {0}", en.Value);

Very easy indeed. Through the IResourceReader interface we can ask for an enumerator which gives us every resource name and value. It's also possible to load directly a specific resource from a file etc. etc. So, as you can see, the Framework provides everything we need to play around with resources files. Anyway, for those of you who are still interested in knowing the internal format, go on reading.

Resources Files Format

A very brief description. The first DWORD is a signature which has to be 0xBEEFCACE, otherwise the resources file has to be considered as invalid. The second DWORD contains the number of readers for this resources file, don't worry, it's something we don't have to talk about... Framework stuff. The third DWORD is the size of reader types. This number is only good for us to skip the string (or strings) that follows, which is something like: "System.Resources.ResourceReader, mscorlibsSystem.Resources.RuntimeResourceSet, mscorlib, Version=1.0.5000.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b77a5c561934e089". It tells the framework the reader to use for this resources file.

OK, now we get to the interesting part. The next DWORD tells us the version of the resources file (existing versions are 1 and 2). After the version, another DWORD gives the number of actual resources in the file. Another DWORD follows and gives the number of resource types.

To gather the additional information we need, we have to skip the resource types. For each type there's a 7 bit encoded integer which gives the size of the string that follows. To decode these kind of integers you have to read every byte until you find one which hasn't the highest bit set and make some additional operations to obtain the final value... For the moment, let's just stick to the format. After having skipped the types we have to align our position to an 8 byte base. Then we have a DWORD * NumberOfResources and each DWORD contains the hash of a resource. Then we have the same amount of DWORDs, this time with the offsets of the resource names. Another important DWORD follows: the Data Section Offset. We need this offset to retrieve resources offsets. After this DWORD, we have the resource names. Well, actually it's not just the names (I just call it this way), every name (7 bit encoded integer + Unicode string) is followed by a DWORD, an offset which you can add to the Data Section Offset to retrieve the resource offset. The first thing we find, given a resource offset, is a 7 bit encoded integer, which is the type index for the current resource.

The Source Code

I put all the code in a simple class:

<PRE lang=c++>class CResourcesFile { public: CResourcesFile(); ~CResourcesFile(); BYTE *pBaseAddress; UINT Size; DWORD Version; DWORD NumberOfResources; DWORD NumberOfTypes; BYTE *pTypes; BYTE *pNamesOffsets; BYTE *pDataSection; BYTE *pNames; BOOL ProcessResourcesFile(BYTE *pAddress, UINT uSize); BOOL ReadName(UINT nResource, WCHAR *Str, UINT Len); BOOL GetResourceInfo(UINT nResource, WCHAR *Str, UINT Len, DWORD *Offset, INT *TypeIndex); private: BOOL DecodeInt(BYTE *pAddress, INT *Value, UINT *uSize); };

The use of this class is very simple, you just copy/paste the class and all its members to your project and use it someway like this:

<PRE lang=c++>void main() { TCHAR FileName[MAX_PATH]; _tprintf(_T("Resources File to open:\n")); _tscanf(_T("%s"), FileName); // // Open and read file // // .... CResourcesFile ResFile; if (ResFile.ProcessResourcesFile(BaseAddress, FileSize) == FALSE) { VirtualFree(BaseAddress, 0, MEM_RELEASE); return; } _tprintf(_T("\n\nFile: %s\n"), FileName); _tprintf(_T("Version: %d\n"), ResFile.Version); _tprintf(_T("Number of resources: %d\n"), ResFile.NumberOfResources); _tprintf(_T("Number of types: %d\n"), ResFile.NumberOfTypes); _tprintf(_T("\nList resources:\n\n")); WCHAR ResName[1024]; for (UINT x = 0; x < ResFile.NumberOfResources; x++) { DWORD Offset; INT TypeIndex = 0; if (ResFile.GetResourceInfo(x, ResName, 1024, &Offset, &TypeIndex)) { _tprintf(_T("Name: %S - Offset: %08X - TypeIndex: %d\n"), ResName, Offset, TypeIndex); } } VirtualFree(BaseAddress, 0, MEM_RELEASE); getch(); }

The first thing which has to be done is to process a resources file with the ProcessResourcesFile function:

<PRE lang=c++>BOOL CResourcesFile::ProcessResourcesFile(BYTE *pAddress, UINT uSize) { BYTE *ptr = pAddress; // // Collect basic information: pointer and size of the file // pBaseAddress = ptr; Size = uSize; // // Read the magic number, its value has to be: 0xBEEFCACE // DWORD MagicNumber; MagicNumber = *(DWORD *) ptr; ptr += sizeof (DWORD); if (MagicNumber != RESOURCES_MAGIC_NUMBER) return FALSE; DWORD NumberOfReaderTypes; NumberOfReaderTypes = *(DWORD *) ptr; ptr += sizeof (DWORD); DWORD SizeOfReaderTypes; SizeOfReaderTypes = *(DWORD *) ptr; ptr += sizeof (DWORD); // // Skip ReaderTypes // ptr += SizeOfReaderTypes; // Version = *(DWORD *) ptr; ptr += sizeof (DWORD); // // Read number of resources // NumberOfResources = *(DWORD *) ptr; ptr += sizeof (DWORD); // // Read number of types // NumberOfTypes = *(DWORD *) ptr; ptr += sizeof (DWORD); // // Skip Types: (CHAR *Type;) * NumOfTypes // (Save position) // pTypes = ptr; for (UINT x = 0; x < NumberOfTypes; x++) { INT StringSize = 0; UINT ValueSize = 0; if (!DecodeInt(ptr, &StringSize, &ValueSize)) return FALSE; ptr += ValueSize; ptr += StringSize; } // // Alignes position // DWORD Position = (DWORD) (((ULONG_PTR) ptr) - ((ULONG_PTR) pBaseAddress)); DWORD Aligned = Position & 7; if (Aligned != 0) { ptr += (8 - Aligned); } // // Skip name hashes // ptr += (sizeof (DWORD) * NumberOfResources); // // Skip name positions (first save location) // pNamesOffsets = ptr; ptr += (sizeof (DWORD) * NumberOfResources); // // Read Data Section Offset // DWORD DataSectionOffset; DataSectionOffset = *(DWORD *) ptr; ptr += sizeof (DWORD); pDataSection = (BYTE *) (DataSectionOffset + ((ULONG_PTR) pBaseAddress)); // // Save names position // pNames = ptr; return TRUE; }

The ReadName is just a shorter version of the GetResourceInfo, so let's just see the GetResourceInfo and skip the rest:

<PRE lang=c++>// // Collect Resource Info // BOOL CResourcesFile::GetResourceInfo(UINT nResource, WCHAR *Str, UINT Len, DWORD *Offset, INT *TypeIndex) { // // Read name // DWORD NameOffset = *(DWORD *) ((nResource * sizeof (DWORD)) + ((ULONG_PTR) pNamesOffsets)); if (NameOffset > (DWORD) (((ULONG_PTR) pNames) - ((ULONG_PTR) pDataSection))) return FALSE; ZeroMemory(Str, Len * sizeof (WCHAR)); BYTE *ptr = (BYTE *) (NameOffset + ((ULONG_PTR) pNames)); INT NameSize = 0; UINT ValueSize = 0; if (!DecodeInt(ptr, &NameSize, &ValueSize)) return FALSE; ptr += ValueSize; memcpy(Str, ptr, NameSize); ptr += NameSize; // // After reading the name // DWORD DataOffset = *(DWORD *) ptr; BYTE *pData = (BYTE *) (DataOffset + ((ULONG_PTR) pDataSection)); // // Collect info // if (Offset) *Offset = (DWORD) (((ULONG_PTR) pData) - ((ULONG_PTR) pBaseAddress)); if (TypeIndex) { *TypeIndex = 0; ValueSize = 0; if (!DecodeInt(pData, TypeIndex, &ValueSize)) return FALSE; } return TRUE; }

That's all, I hope it's useful.

Post Scriptum

Of course that's not everything, if you want to handle resources, you have to treat them according to their type. This means you have to get their type from the TypeIndex. To retrieve the type string is very simple; instead of skipping all the types, you just skip the ones which come before the TypeIndex one and read the string which follows. In my CFF Explorer, I support some types of resources (and display only those ones), for example, bitmaps, icons and PNGs.

CFF Explorer

Have fun!


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Daniel Pistelli
Software Developer
Germany Germany
The languages I know best are: C, C++, C#, Assembly (x86, x64, ARM), MSIL, Python, Lua. The environments I frequently use are: Qt, Win32, MFC, .NET, WDK. I'm a developer and a reverse engineer and I like playing around with internals.

You can find most of my work at

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Comments and Discussions

GeneralCFF Explorer Pin
Jörgen Sigvardsson4-Jul-08 8:49
memberJörgen Sigvardsson4-Jul-08 8:49 
GeneralCFF Explorer Pin
tonyt19-Jan-06 23:09
membertonyt19-Jan-06 23:09 
GeneralRe: CFF Explorer Pin
[Ntoskrnl]20-Jan-06 12:58
member[Ntoskrnl]20-Jan-06 12:58 
GeneralRe: CFF Explorer Pin
tonyt22-Jan-06 0:58
membertonyt22-Jan-06 0:58 
GeneralRe: CFF Explorer Pin
[Ntoskrnl]22-Jan-06 17:23
member[Ntoskrnl]22-Jan-06 17:23 
GeneralRe: CFF Explorer Pin
tonyt22-Jan-06 21:22
membertonyt22-Jan-06 21:22 
Thanks for the attention, I'll have a look at it.
QuestionNice Icons Pin
leppie29-Oct-05 4:08
memberleppie29-Oct-05 4:08 
AnswerRe: Nice Icons Pin
Ntoskrnl29-Oct-05 4:28
memberNtoskrnl29-Oct-05 4:28 

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