MSI and EXE files may appear to do the same thing in many ways; you could say they are the same but have different names. However, that is not the case because while they are similar, differences do exist.

EXE vs MSI files: What are the key differences

Now, the differences between them are minor, but very important nonetheless. Is one definitely better than the other? This is something a lot of users are curious about.

Difference between an EXE file and an MSI file

An EXE file can be an installer, a program, or just code. An MSI file is a Microsoft Installer file use to install a program using the Windows Installer.

What is the EXE file format?

When we think about the EXE file format, the first thing that should come to mind is how customizable they are. This is because these files can execute any code, and as such, it gives developers a lot of flexibility.

If needs be, a developer can insert an installer, code, or other EXE file into a single one. But while that’s good, it opens the door to the main problem with EXE files.

Because of its flexibility, it’s not hard for bad actors to hide malware or viruses within the EXE file. So ensure that before downloading one of these files from an untrusted source, scan it with Windows Defender or your favorite antivirus software.

What is the MSI file format?

MSI file extension stands for Microsoft Software Installer for those who weren’t aware. It is a Windows Installer format that makes use of Microsoft’s Windows Installer service to configure installer packages such as update packages or Windows applications. MSI file extension can only be used on Windows and no other.

Compared to the EXE file format, the MSI format is limited. They are nothing but an installer package, so if you feel the need to run code through MSI, well, you’re out of luck. Furthermore, they must meet standardized requirements, so in essence, an MSI file is safer to run.

MSI has to be safe to run because it is a core component of Windows. The operating system manages the installation, removal of software, and maintenance.

Read: How to create self-extracting archives with IExpress

What is the difference between an EXE file and MSI file?

The MSI can only install applications, whereas the EXE file can install applications as the program’s primary executable. Furthermore, EXE files cannot be modified, but they can be repackaged by using a Repackager.

MSI or EXE, which is better?

As we’ve stated above, both have good and bad things about them, but from our point of view, one being better than the other depends on your needs. If security is paramount to you, then please try your best to avoid EXE, or download such files from a trusted source.

If security is not a concern, then the MSI file format wouldn’t do you any good, especially if you’re a developer who loves customizability.

However, if you are forced to make a choice no matter what, we suggest choosing MSI because security is better than loose security, no matter the customization options.

READ: How to block EXE files from running using Group Policy.

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