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iExpressWe all download software from the Internet or install applications off a CD or some other media. While some companies decide to just distribute their applications packaged in zip files, most of them use some form of an installation program, which is usually an EXE – Executable file – that runs you through a series of steps to install the said software on your machine.

Have you ever wondered how those EXE files are created ?

Well, there are a lot of software that can help you create install packages to distribute your software, and today we’ll walk you through using one that has been been there on your Windows system all along. This unassuming utility is called iExpress and is (probably) the easiest utility you’ll ever find to make an EXE file for your software.

So, if you’ve ever wondered how those installation programs are created, how the “magic” happens during the installation wizard and how a simple single executable spits out hundreds of real useable program files, we’ll answer that question for you today.

Since Microsoft doesn’t create an icon for iExpress in the Programs menu, we’ll have to run it manually. If you’re using Windows XP, go to the Start menu and click the Run button. In the dialogue box that pops up, type iexpress.exe and press Enter. If, like me, you use Windows Vista, just click the Start menu and start typing iexpress and you’ll see the icon popup in the search results.

how to make exe


iExpress runs as a simple wizard and will ask you a couple of questions and based on your choices will generate the installer for you. The first question that you have to answer is if you want to create a new Installer or open an existing one. Since, this is (presumably) your first time using iexpress, we’ll select the first option and click Next.

how to make exe

The next screen will ask you the type of package you want it to create.

iExpress can create a package that runs a command after it unpacks all files to a temporary location, or only extract the files to a location that the user specifies. The first option is useful if you want to, for example, run a script to make changes to the registry before the user runs your program for the first time.

There is a third option to create compressed files only but that is only applicable if you’re distributing Active-X controls. iExpress displays a handy description below each option so you can read that if you’re still not sure which about which option to select.

how to make exe file

The next step is to give a name to the package that you’ll create. Enter the name in the text box and move to the next screen.

make a exe a window

This step will let you display a confirmation message to the user installing the application. If you want to display a message to your user asking for confirmation if he/she wants to go ahead with the installation, then type in a message in the text box provided and when you’re done click Next.

make a exe a window

Now, you will be able to select a license agreement which the installer will ask the user to adhere to. If you have a license agreement for your application, then type it in a text file and provide that here or else select the “Do not display a license“ option and move on.

make a exe a window

This is where you actually select the files that will be installed by the installer that you’re creating. You can select as many files as you want here. Add files to the list by clicking on the Add button.

make exe file

Now, you can safely move forward a few steps and keep clicking on the next button till you come across the Package name and options screen. This is where you select a name for the actual EXE file that gets generated and decide whether you want to hide the extraction process from your users or let them see all the gory details. You can also generate a log files for the installation process.

make exe file

In the next step you can choose to create what iExpress calls a Self Extraction Directive file. This is needed if you want to later change some of the options that you chose and create another modified installer. Since, we don’t want that right now, we’ll choose not to create an SED file.

That’s it.  iExpress will now go ahead and create an EXE file for you. Wasn’t that easy?

What other tools do you prefer to make exe files?

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  1. Steven Manning
    October 13, 2016 at 1:08 am

    I have a executable install files that install a streaming program. I want to set it up to run once. Are you familiar with that process?

  2. Dr.Manduck
    September 26, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Whenever I try to install iexpress it just says cannot open cabinet. how do I fix this?

  3. Nitish
    May 21, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    can we publish the setup.exe created by iexpress in store??

  4. jack
    February 25, 2016 at 2:36 pm


  5. Lars Bech Nygaard
    December 15, 2015 at 11:43 am

    If you're using Windows 10, just tap WinKey + R, wait for the dialogue, and type "iexpress"

  6. tom
    January 24, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    The problem is that when you create the installation pacakage and you run it thats it. It doesnt add an entry to Program Files and extracts it to a temp file apparently. i have no idea what it does with it. opens it at the end but when you close it who knows where it extracted it.

    • Joe Schmoe
      March 16, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      IExpress is really not a good solution for installers. It's good to repack windows apps that extract and install portably, like WMP updates and VCR bundles. If you want a good install creator, use Inno Setup with a good frontend like Inno Setup Tool.

  7. Angy
    January 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I guess, Im a bit confused, I was trying to make a exe. file that I could use on my server side for a client to download an ebook am I looking in the wrong area? Any help greatly appreciated. I thought I would need an exe.file to do this.

  8. CharleyW
    January 11, 2010 at 11:51 am

    iexpress.exe has (at least) two problems - it won't allow an empty folder, and it won't allow two files with the same name (even if they are in different folders).

  9. Awonusi
    November 17, 2009 at 1:35 am

    Thank you very much just what i am looking for.

  10. gil_dano
    November 10, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Just what I was looking for and perfectly explained. Thank you.

  11. Amar Jain
    October 13, 2009 at 4:54 am

    Well, certainly this utility is useful. But the only thing which I couldn't find is to add directory with subdirectories inside it while generating exe files. Because what I know is that it generates exe files only of a directory and it does not take subdirectories inside a directory. If you know any trick for this, then shall be grateful to you know if you will let me know. This website offers wonderful tricks, thanks for that.

    Amar Jain.

  12. Tony Cutty
    October 6, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    The only thing this lacks is a way of letting the user 'Make New Folder' when selecting where to put the extracted files. Any ideas, anyone?

  13. VA
    October 5, 2009 at 2:07 am

    Yes, most archive managers have this facility, but those still need to be installed on the users’ system. I covered iexpress because it is already present on every windows users machine and doesn’t require the user to download anything.

  14. Doc
    October 3, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    This could be nice, but what's wrong with NSIS (NullSoft Install System)? Dozens of programs use it (including Nullsoft's own WinAmp), it puts in uninstall information into the Registry, can install to any directory you like, is open-source (hosted on SourceForge), and even has a forum on for help.

    • Sharninder
      October 3, 2009 at 11:06 pm

      You can definitely use NSIS if it works for you but with this article I wanted to highlight a tool that is already present on your system and that is why I chose iexpress.

  15. Protip
    October 3, 2009 at 6:11 am

    Archive managers such as 7-zip and WinRAR have SFX (Self extracting) options which allow the same thing to be done with a wide range of compression techniques. They make exes which can extract the files to a location the user desires.

    • Sharninder
      October 3, 2009 at 10:58 pm

      Yes, most archive managers have this facility, but those still need to be installed on the users' system. I covered iexpress because it is already present on every windows users machine and doesn't require the user to download anything.

  16. Benjamin
    October 2, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I always wondered, never had it explained in a simple programming class I took. Thanks for the information

  17. Mark King
    October 2, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Thanks for this.I didnt know we can actually create exe file

  18. Albert
    October 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks for this information! I had no idea this utility existed. I checked an old Windows 2000 system and it has it too. What I had been doing is creating a .zip file then converting it to .exe More articles like this please!