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Installing Applications onto Windows CE using a .cab file


Applies To

  • Windows CE 2.0, SP1
  • Windows CE 2.11, 2.12, SP1
  • Windows CE 3.0
  • Windows CE .net 4.0, 4.1, 4.2
  • Windows CE 5.0


There are several ways that you can install applications onto your Windows CE based Handheld PC. This article covers the method of installing an application from a Windows CE Cabinet file which is the most common format that you may find software presented in.

NB: This article is not applicable to Windows CE 1.0x

How-to Guide

There are three ways that a software developer my provide you with software for your Handheld PC. These are:

  1. CESD-S-0046 : Host Install
  2. CESD-S-0047 : Cabinet Install
  3. CESD-S-0048 : Flat File Upload

Each of the three types require a slightly different procedure to install the application. There are benefits for distributing software in the different types.

The method by which a particular piece of software is distributed by is weighed up by the application developer.

Cabinet Installation - Automated Installation on Windows CE

By far the most common form of distribution for non-commercial software for Windows CE devices. The Cabinet file (.cab) under Windows CE is a system executive file. Cab files are specifically designed to act as highly compressed installation files. They contain all of the files required by an application, as well as registry settings and the scripts that perform the installation and future uninstallation. All in the one file.

This method of installing software forms the invisible backbone of most Host Installations, however unlike with host based setup routines there is not a requirement for a connection to ActiveSync. Cab installation can be performed with no interaction requirement from the Host PC at any stage of the process, and so you do not need to install an application on your PC.
Most of HPC:Factors own software is currently distributed directly via Cabinet files for the convenience of users. Cab's can also be downloaded directly from the Internet through the devices browser and executed without any additional operations being required by the user.

Windows Cabinet File example

As Cabinet files written specifically for Windows CE are automated installers the procedure of installing an application is simply a matter of uploading the file to your Handheld PC.

Unlike with intelligent, processor aware host installations. A Cabinet installation file is limited to supporting only a single (1) processor. Therefore, you must be sure that you choose the correct Cab file from the installation set to match the processor in your H/PC. The Cabinet files should be labeled for the processor that they support. The most common processors which are currently supported under the Handheld PC are:

  • x86
  • SH3
  • SH4
  • MIPS
  • StrongARM
  • XScale

For a comprehensive list of Windows CE processors, as well as numeric CPU identification strings which can aid in the identification of the correct Windows CE cabinet installer please see CESDD0004.

If you are unsure which processor type your device uses you can ascertain which file you need to source by:

On your Handheld PC

  1. Click Start
  2. Select Settings
  3. Open the Control Panel
  4. Double Tap the System icon
  5. In the 'System' section of the General tab the make of your CPU will be listed next to 'Processor Type:'

Once you know which processor your Handheld PC contains. You must now upload the cabinet file to your device.

Uploading the file(s)

There are a number of ways that you can upload the cabinet installer to your Handheld PC.

Upload using Microsoft ActiveSync:

  1. Connect your Handheld PC to your Host PC
  2. Open ActiveSync
  3. Wait for the synchronisation process to complete
  4. On the ActiveSync File menu click the Explore button
  5. Copy the file to the Handheld PC either by using the Drag and Drop process or Copy/Paste through the Windows Explorer file menu/right click
  6. The file will upload to the Handheld PC


Upload using a CF Card reader

  1. Remove the CF card from your Handheld PC
  2. Insert it into your CF card reader
  3. Open 'My Computer' on your PC
  4. Double Click the drive letter assigned to your CF card
  5. Copy the file to the drive either by using the Drag and Drop process or Copy/Paste through the Windows Explorer file menu/right click
  6. When it is safe, eject your CF card from the reader and return it to your H/PC
  7. You can now access the cab file using the Windows CE Explorer's Storage Card shortcut

Other methods

Other methods which may facilitate the delivery of a Cab file to your Windows CE device are:

  • E-Mail the Cab to your Handheld PC from the host PC
  • Place the file on a network share and access it over a LAN (See CESDC006)
  • Upload the Cab file to a FTP account and download it using Pocket Internet Explorer or a FTP client on the H/PC
  • Download the applicable Cab file from the Internet directly to your Handheld PC from its world Wide Web source
  • Beam the file to your Handheld PC from another Windows Mobile device, or from a PC/Mac using the IrOBEX/BTOBEX protocol
  • Use a terminal program to relay the file up to the Handheld PC from another computer system

Installing the file(s)

Windows CE Cabinet files are self contained, automatic installer files. The amount of input required between different application installations can differ slightly, however not significantly. For example some installations will bypass the step which allows you to specify where to install the application files to.

Important: Windows CE Cab File Installers are designed to install the application, tidy up and then 'self destruct'. After an installation is completed successfully, the Cab file will be automatically deleted from your mobile device. This behaviour is true if installing from a CF card. Ensure that you have a backup of the file you are installing should you need to reinstall in the future. On Windows CE 2.10 and higher devices you can mark the file as Read-only to prevent this.

  1. To begin an installation of a Windows CE Cabinet distribution simple double tap/double click on the file that you uploaded to your device and follow the instruction on screen.
  2. All Files will be copied to your device. As well as registry setting and Start Menu / Desktop shortcuts.


Windows CE Cabinet Installer will also write uninstall information. You will be able to uninstall the application using 'Remove Programs' in the Windows CE Control Panel.