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Posted 9 Aug 2003

Automating the Installation of .NET Compact Framework applications

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An article on automating the installation of .NET Compact Framework on Pocket PC devices.


Currently when you install a .NET Compact Framework application in Pocket PC 2002 devices, you have to ascertain the hardware of the device, copy the .NET runtime and application cab files generated for that platform, execute those files. There is no utility like the Application Setup Wizard utility which we have in Embedded Visual tools. This article provides a solution to automate the installation of .NET Compact Framework applications without doing the above mentioned steps for installing .NET Compact Framework applications.

Before going in detail, let me give u an overview of the functionality of the Application Install wizard. It produces executables only for ARM and X86 platforms. The wizard takes the .ebp (EVB project file), .vb (file we get when we compile an EVB application), custom files to be included in the application like images, help files etc. as input. From the project file, it determines the COM objects and ActiveX controls used in the project and creates .cab files for ARM and X86 platforms, a setup.ini file and a setup.exe file. So all that we have to do is double click on the setup.exe file and your application is installed to device. How does the setup.exe identify the .cab files? - through setup.ini. Here is a template of setup.ini for your reference.

Component= Applicaton Name
Description=Application description
DefaultDirectory= Installation Directory (created under \program files) 
CabCount=Number of .cab files to process

The entries Component, Description, DefaultDirectory are self describing. The CabCount entry is set based on the number of platforms targeted and CabX entries where X is 1,2,3 and so on... will contain the names of the cab files for respective platforms. When you run the setup application, the application uses CEAppMgr.exe utility to ascertain the hardware platform and copy and install the cab file generated for that platform.

We can reuse the same setup.exe and setup.ini for deploying .NET Compact Framework applications. What we have to do is:

  • Generate the .cab files for the platforms through the build => build cab file option in Visual Studio .NET
  • Take the setup.exe and setup.ini generated by EVB application install wizard
  • Put the .cab files, setup.exe, setup.ini in a separate directory
  • Open the .ini file. Fill up the entries. Based on number of cab files generated for different platforms, set the CabCount and CabX entries where X can be 1,2, on.

The following listing is the setup.ini of the sample .NET Compact Framework application provided with this article:

Description=SampleApp Build 1

In this case cab files have been generated for 6 platforms. So CabCount is 6 and the CabX entries contain the names of the cab files for respective platforms. That's it. Your application is ready to be installed in the device.

Before that, if .NET compact framework runtime is not present in the device, your application cant run. The runtime libraries are distributed in the following files:


where xxx is the name of the platform like ARM, MIPS, SH3, x86, ARMv4, WCE4.x86. We may not need for deployment as it is the SQLCE query analyzer application. To automate the installation of .NET compact framework runtime libraries the same set of steps described above can be used. For every library there will be one setup application. Currently I'm trying to write an application which will install all these libraries in a single go. When I finish that application, I will be sharing that with all of you guys.


This article discussed the automation of installation of .NET Compact Framework applications. There are still a lot of things we can do with application installation which I will discuss in future articles.


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


About the Author

Girish Nurani Sankaranarayanan
Web Developer
India India
No Biography provided

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GeneralMy vote of 1 Pin
Member 219132421-Jan-09 0:32
memberMember 219132421-Jan-09 0:32 
GeneralAbout Windows Mobile Desktop Cab Installer Pin
pradeepsattikar31-Mar-08 0:20
memberpradeepsattikar31-Mar-08 0:20 

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