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Troubleshoot the error 1603 “Fatal Error During Installation”

This error message is displayed by the Windows Installer engine and is a general error code that indicates a problem occurred during the installation. Read on this article to learn how to sidestep this speed bump. The following is the probable list of known causes for this error to occur:

  • Short file name creation is disabled on the target machine.
  • An Install Script custom action is prototyped incorrectly.
  • A file is locked and cannot be overwritten.
  • The Microsoft Windows Installer Service is not installed correctly.
  • The Windows Temp folders are full.
  • The setup was corrupted after installation and, therefore, fails with this error during un-installation.
  • An older version of Install Shield Developer is being used.
  • Print and File sharing is not installed if your application needs it.

Troubleshooting 1603 MSI Error

As discussed, The 1603 error code is mostly returned when any action fails during an installation, and most commonly it indicates that one of the custom actions in the MSI failed. When we encounter a failed setup with return code 1603, here are the steps that we should follow:

Re-run the setup with verbose logging enabled using steps similar to those that are listed here.

Step 1: Generate a verbose log file named msi*.log in the %temp% directory the next time the setup package is executed. (Click here to know more ways to generate log)

msiexec /i <msipath>setup.msi /l*v c:\temp\msi.log

Step 2: Open the verbose log in a text editor such as notepad and search for the string “return value 3″. In nearly all cases, this will take us to the section in the verbose log that lists the action that failed that initially caused setup to rollback.

Step 3: Review the contents of the log file immediately above the “return value 3″ string to determine which custom action or standard action failed. Depending on which action is failing, We will need to proceed to more detailed debugging from here.

One can find that the biggest hurdle to debugging a failed setup is often zeroing in on which part of the setup is actually failing, and this trick of searching for “return value 3″ ends up helping speed this process up in nearly all cases. Of course, it does not work in 100% of scenarios.

You can find some ways of troubleshooting the logs here –
http://www.msigeek.com/261/identifying-installation-failure-through-cas-using-msi-logs
http://www.msigeek.com/257/interpreting-windows-installer-logs

Known Solutions

The following solutions have resolved this error in the majority of cases:

  1. Make sure short file name creation is enabled on the target machine. You can check to ensure that the target machine does not have short file name creation disabled by navigating to the following registry entry:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem

    Make sure the value “NtfsDisable8dot3NameCreation” is equal to 0. This indicates that short file name creation is enabled. A value of 1 indicates that this functionality is disabled. You should change the value to 0. After modifying this value, the target machine should be rebooted before attempting to launch the setup again.

    Note: If the target machine should normally have short file name creation disabled, it can be disabled after the install completes by resetting “NtfsDisable8dot3NameCreation” to 1 and rebooting.


  2. To ensure that the Windows Installer Service is properly installed and configured, it is recommended that users install the file InstmsiA.exe on Windows 95/98/Me or InstmsiW.exe on Win NT systems. These files are shipped with your InstallShield product and are located in the following location: <Product Path>\Redist\Language Independent\i386. If the service is installed, to know the status of the service exection, you could also goto services.msc in the command prompt, check the status of the Windows Installer Service. “Stopping and restarting it can help”
  3. Empty all temporary folders. The specific temporary folders for a machine can be determined by accessing the DOS prompt and typing set. Note the values listed for TEMP and TMP, and delete all files in those locations.
  4. Make sure no other applications, including utilities such as virus scanners, are running in the background. Close all running applications and utilities, and launch the installation again.
  5. If this error occurs during un-installation, use the Microsoft Windows Installer CleanUp utility to uninstall the installation. Once the installation has been successfully un-installed, you can then debug the project to determine what caused the original error.

If it doesn’t fall in this last, it could be any other error which occurred during the installation, do update in the comments..lets fix that..!

LinkedIn and other Discussions

I had also posted this on LinkedIn Discussions and have got some quality responses for the same – I will extract some information from there and post it here so that, you can get all the information at one single place.

A Senior Desktop Analyst, Jack Fei writes,

Vijay has makes some excellent points about how to troubleshoot these types of issues. From my experience, the fix is usually trivial once you understand “how to correlate verbose logging results” with msi internals.

First, know that “installation” means msiexec.exe sequentially processing rows of the InstallExecuteSequence table inside the msi database.

Second, know that msiexec.exe processes the commands sequenced between InstallInitialize and InstallFinalizes in two passes. A way to think about it is the first pass “conditionally installs the change” to the machine while checking the syntax of the command and the second pass “commits the change to the machine”. A 1603 essentially means “an error occurred” trying to commit the change, causing msiexec.exe to “backout the change”.

This type of error is either caused by msi misengineering (most vendor msi are misengineered) or by an “machine specfic issue”. So Patrick Pepin makes an excellent suggetion to check the msi vendor.

Having VMWare or imaging tool really helps troubleshoot this type of issue.

1. I would determine the issue can be reproduced on a clean machine with all pre-requisites installed (just to eliminate the possibility false negative caused by testing on an unknown or corrupt pc environment).

2. If it is a capture msi (original source is non-msi) I would systematically exclude files and registry keys until I isolated the component causing the issue in my msi. I built it, so I know best how to fix it.

3. if the msi was engineered by another vendor, I would review the verbose log and isolate the failing instruction in the InstallExecuteSequenceTable. My major technique was to find the failure that generated the “1603” error and find the likely instruction that caused it. To test my theory, I would comment out only that instruction (put a negative sign in the sequence column) and rerun the command. Sometimes, I would get lucky and even “work around” the msi defect by leaving the custom action commented out. This type of change works great when the custom action is doing “unnecessary checks” for desktops in your environments. Obviously, I would “test the modified msi” and make sure the application installed and starts cleanly.

4. If I can reproduce the problem on a clean desktop, I will have good ammunition to contact the vendor. However, my experience is if you know how to do what I have outlined, you will exhaust the technical support departments of whatever vendor you call. This is done for “political reasons” more than anything else – so you can be the hero when the vendor despite considerable persistance from you, can not find a solution.

Good luck. Hope this helps.

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  • Kiran

    In some cases like when you install an application with silent switch “/qn” we may get 1603.
    Since those applications will not install if IE and Office applications are running. Because apps is running in the back ground and the application dialog box required input which will have the info like “ applications are running please close them to continue the installation” with continue to kill them, Retry, cancel button (which we can see after run time expired the installation will give 1603 error.)
    Solution: – these kinds of applications can be test debugged by Installing with /qb and verbose mode option.
    Kiran..

    • Vijay

      Thanks for the Tip Kiran..!

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