Using the WiX Toolset to Produce Windows Installers

The WiX Toolset is an open source collection of tools used for building Windows installers (.msi files, .exe, etc). The WiX Toolset is incredibly powerful and enables building anything from simple to complex installers.

Tugger defines interfaces to the WiX Toolset via Rust APIs and exposes much of this functionality to Starlark.


With the WiX Toolset, you define your installer through .wxs XML files. You use the candle.exe program to compile these files into .wixobj files. These compiled files are then linked together using light.exe to produce an installer (.msi, .exe, etc).

The goal of Tugger’s Rust API is to expose the low-level control over WiX Toolset that the most demanding applications will need while also providing high-level and simpler interfaces for performing common tasks (such as producing a simple .msi installer that simply materializes files into the Program Files directory).

Tugger’s WiX APIs

Tugger implements various interfaces for interacting with WiX. This section attempts to document them at a high level and talks about when to use which.

The WxsBuilder Rust struct is used to build a single .wxs file. You provide the path of the .wxs and build settings and it knows how to invoke candle.exe for this file.
The WiXInstallerBuilder Rust struct and WiXInstaller Starlark type are used to manage the end-to-end building and linking of .wxs files. This type knows how to register multiple WxsBuilder instances and build them as a collection. This type holds all the logic for invoking candle.exe and light.exe.

The WiXSimpleMSIBuilder Rust struct and WiXMSIBuilder Starlark type provide a high-level interface for generating an MSI based installer with common features. It enables you to generate a .wxs file by providing a few parameters, without having to know WiX XML.

A WiXSimpleMSIBuilder ultimately is converted to a WiXInstallerBuilder.


The WiXBundleInstallerBuilder Rust struct and WiXBundleBuilder Starlark type provide a high-level interface for generating an .exe based installed with common features.

A WiXBundleInstallerBuilder ultimately is converted to a WiXInstallerBuilder.

If your application only needs the limited functionality exposed by the high-level WiXSimpleMSIBuilder and WiXBundleInstallerBuilder interfaces, you are encouraged to use these for building your installer, as you won’t need to concern yourself with the low-level WiX XML details.

If your application needs what you think is simple or common functionality not provided by the aforementioned high-level builders, consider filing a feature request to request the missing functionality.

Complex applications that have outgrown the limited capabilities of the high-level builder interfaces will need to use the lower level WiXInstallerBuilder / WiXInstaller interface. This interface allows you to provide your own .wxs files. This means you can still use Tugger for invoking WiX, even if all of your .wxs files are maintained outside of Tugger, enabling Tugger to grow with your needs. Note that it is possible to use one of the higher-level interfaces for automatically generating a .wxs file and then supplement this automatically-generated file with other .wxs files that you maintain.


Ideally no WiX installer should be too complicated to be handled by Tugger. If Tugger’s functionality is not sufficient, consider creating an issue to request a feature to close the feature gap.

How Tugger Invokes WiX

Tugger’s Rust APIs collects which .wxs files to compile and their compilation settings. It also collects additional files needed to compile .wxs files.

When you build your installer, Tugger copies all the registered .wxs files plus other registered files into a common directory. It then invokes candle.exe on each .wxs file followed by light.exe to link them together. This is different from a traditional environment, where .wxs files are often processed in place: Tugger always makes copies to try to ensure results are reproducible and the full build environment is captured.

Automatic <Fragment> Generation for Files

Tugger supports automatically generating a .wxs file with <Fragment>’s describing a set of files. Given a set of input files, it will produce a deterministic .wxs file with <DirectoryRef> holding <Component> and <File> of every file therein as well as <ComponentGroup> for each distinct directory tree.

This functionality is similar to what WiX Toolset’s heat.exe tool can do. However, Tugger uses a deterministic mechanism to derive GUIDs and IDs for each item. This enables the produced elements to be referenced in other .wxs files more easily. And the generated file doesn’t need to be saved or manually updated, as it does with the use of heat.exe.

You simply give Tugger a manifest of files to index and the prefix for Id attributes in XML, and it will emit a deterministic .wxs file!