First off: A great reference source for Windows Installer Error codes can be found here.
A more exhaustive list of standard Windows error codes (beyond the Windows Installer) can be found here.
An Error Code (AKA Exit Code) is a value that is returned after a called process completes. (e.g. You run setup.msi and notice that an error code returned has the value of 1603). Many applications are built around Windows Installer. Most Windows Installer installations have one of the following extensions: .msi , .msp , .msu. Note that installations that end in .exe can still be a Windows Installer setup if the exe is merely a wrapper around a Windows Installer package (msi or msp etc). A common example is found in .exe files that Microsoft provides for their security patches. These patches are merely wrappers for embedded MSI and MSP files.
Remember that an Error Code does not necessarily mean that an error occured. An Error Code is always returned even during a successful installation. The most common error code returned is 0 (zero). 0 is the common code for SUCCESS. Another successful error code is known as 3010. This means that the installation is ERROR_SUCCESS_REBOOT_REQUIRED. Translated: The OS needs to restart and then the installation will be complete and successful.
A very common error code is the painful 1603. This error often means that a Pre-requisite was not met. (e.g. You deploy an application that assumes the existance of a particular file or application such as .NET. When the installer attempts to access the file (or application or registry key or whatever) that it ASSUMES exists but actually doesn’t, then a 1603 error is commonly returned.
If you see this error, make certain that ALL of the setup files were present during the deployment / installation. If you use Admin Arsenal to deploy the software AND the software installation has multiple files (such as a setup.exe with a bunch of .CAB files) make sure that the check box “Include entire directory” has been checked. This is not necessary IF only one file comprises the installation.
Example of Application Setup where Windows Installer will reference other installation support files.
Below is the Admin Arsenal deployment window for the above installation:
If you didn’t check the “Include entire directory” option you would most likely encounter the 1603 Error.
Below is an example of deploying an installation with a single file:
and its corresponding Admin Arsenal deployment window:
When you are installing an application or utility that doesn’t use the Windows Installer, you may need to consult the vendor’s website or documentation to find interpretations of Error Codes you encounter.
Shane is the co-founder of PDQ.