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WiX 3 Tutorial: Generating file/directory fragments with Heat.exe

In previous posts I’ve shown you our SuperForm test application solution structure and how the main wxs and wxi include file look like. In this post I’ll show you how to automate inclusion of files to install into your build process. For our SuperForm application we have a single exe to install. But in the real world we have 10s or 100s of different files from dll’s to resource files like pictures. It all depends on what kind of application you’re building. Writing a directory structure for so many files by hand is out of the question. What we need is an automated way to create this structure. Enter Heat.exe.

Heat is a command line utility to harvest a file, directory, Visual Studio project, IIS website or performance counters. You might ask what harvesting means? Harvesting is converting a source (file, directory, …) into a component structure saved in a WiX fragment (a wxs) file.

There are 2 options you can use:

  1. Create a static wxs fragment with Heat and include it in your project. The pro of this is that you can add or remove components by hand. The con is that you have to do the pro part by hand. Automation always beats manual labor.
  2. Run heat command line utility in a pre-build event of your WiX project. I prefer this way. By always recreating the whole fragment you don’t have to worry about missing any new files you add. The con of this is that you’ll include files that you otherwise might not want to.

There is no perfect solution so pick one and deal with it. I prefer using the second way. A neat way of overcoming the con of the second option is to have a post-build event on your main application project (SuperForm.MainApp in our case) to copy the files needed to be installed in a special location and have the Heat.exe read them from there. I haven’t set this up for this tutorial and I’m simply including all files from the default SuperForm.MainApp \bin directory.

Remember how we created a System Environment variable called SuperFormFilesDir? This is where we’ll use it for the first time. The command line text that you have to put into the pre-build event of your WiX project looks like this:

"$(WIX)bin\heat.exe" dir "$(SuperFormFilesDir)" -cg SuperFormFiles -gg -scom -sreg -sfrag -srd -dr INSTALLLOCATION -var env.SuperFormFilesDir -out "$(ProjectDir)Fragments\FilesFragment.wxs"

After you install WiX you’ll get the WIX environment variable. In the pre/post-build events environment variables are referenced like this: $(WIX). By using this you don’t have to think about the installation path of the WiX. Remember: for 32 bit applications Program files folder is named differently between 32 and 64 bit systems. $(ProjectDir) is obviously the path to your project and is a Visual Studio built in variable.

You can view all Heat.exe options by running it without parameters but I’ll explain some that stick out the most.

  1. dir "$(SuperFormFilesDir)": tell Heat to harvest the whole directory at the set location. That is the location we’ve set in our System Environment variable.
  2. –cg SuperFormFiles: the name of the Component group that will be created. This name is included in out Feature tag as is seen in the previous post.
  3. -dr INSTALLLOCATION: the directory reference this fragment will fall under. You can see the top level directory structure in the previous post.
  4. -var env.SuperFormFilesDir: the name of the variable that will replace the SourceDir text that would otherwise appear in the fragment file.
  5. -out "$(ProjectDir)Fragments\FilesFragment.wxs": the full path and name under which the fragment file will be saved.

If you have source control you have to include the FilesFragment.wxs into your project but remove its source control binding. The auto generated FilesFragment.wxs for our test app looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<Wix xmlns="">
<ComponentGroup Id="SuperFormFiles">
<ComponentRef Id="cmp5BB40DB822CAA7C5295227894A07502E" />
<ComponentRef Id="cmpCFD331F5E0E471FC42A1334A1098E144" />
<ComponentRef Id="cmp4614DD03D8974B7C1FC39E7B82F19574" />
<ComponentRef Id="cmpDF166522884E2454382277128BD866EC" />
<Component Id="cmp5BB40DB822CAA7C5295227894A07502E" Guid="{117E3352-2F0C-4E19-AD96-03D354751B8D}">
<File Id="filDCA561ABF8964292B6BC0D0726E8EFAD" KeyPath="yes" Source="$(env.SuperFormFilesDir)\SuperForm.MainApp.exe" />
<Component Id="cmpCFD331F5E0E471FC42A1334A1098E144" Guid="{369A2347-97DD-45CA-A4D1-62BB706EA329}">
<File Id="filA9BE65B2AB60F3CE41105364EDE33D27" KeyPath="yes" Source="$(env.SuperFormFilesDir)\SuperForm.MainApp.pdb" />
<Component Id="cmp4614DD03D8974B7C1FC39E7B82F19574" Guid="{3443EBE2-168F-4380-BC41-26D71A0DB1C7}">
<File Id="fil5102E75B91F3DAFA6F70DA57F4C126ED" KeyPath="yes" Source="$(env.SuperFormFilesDir)\SuperForm.MainApp.vshost.exe" />
<Component Id="cmpDF166522884E2454382277128BD866EC" Guid="{0C0F3D18-56EB-41FE-B0BD-FD2C131572DB}">
<File Id="filF7CA5083B4997E1DEC435554423E675C" KeyPath="yes" Source="$(env.SuperFormFilesDir)\SuperForm.MainApp.vshost.exe.manifest" />

The $(env.SuperFormFilesDir) will be replaced at build time with the directory where the files to be installed are located. There is nothing too complicated about this. In the end it turns out that this sort of automation is great!

There are a few other ways that Heat.exe can compose the wxs file but this is the one I prefer. It just seems the clearest. Play with its options to see what can it do. It’s one awesome little tool.

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