Use 7-Zip to Explore & Extract EXE File Contents

Executable files (EXEs) are very common in the Windows world.  Some EXEs are compressed, meaning they actually contain an archive of files within them that can be explored and extracted.

Often these compressed EXEs are application installers, and exploring their archive may allow an application’s MSI installer to be extracted.  MSI install files can be more useful than EXEs in a variety of situations, such as when using SCCM or Group Policy to deploy applications.

This also seems to be the case for many Windows driver downloads; they come in the form of a compressed EXE.  Usually these driver EXEs are ran to start an installation wizard which guides the driver install through, but exploring the EXE may allow access to the actual driver files (INF, SYS, CAT files).  Admins like me would much prefer to have raw driver files rather than dealing with an EXE which very likely contains bloatware in addition to the driver.  In addition, some OSD tools like SCCM may require the use of an INF.

There are a variety of programs that allow the exploring of these type of EXEs…

…but the one I mainly use is 7-Zip File Manager.  7-Zip is free, open source, and extremely powerful.  It can be downloaded directly from the 7-Zip website here: http://www.7-zip.org

Once 7-Zip is installed and opened, it will appear somewhat similar to regular Windows Explorer.  Browse through the computer’s files to find the appropriate EXE, then right-click it and select Open Inside:

7Zip.png

Assuming the EXE is indeed a compressed EXE, the contents of the file will now be visible (other EXEs may error out and not be explorable).  In the case of drivers, search further within the file directories to find the folders that contain the driver files:

7ZipEXEContents.png

To extract files, simply drag-and-drop them from the 7-Zip window into Windows Explorer or use the Extract option along the menu at the top.

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