WINNT.SIF vs UNATTEND.TXT - Automated Install WinXP Pro Slipstreamed with SP2

Posted on 2006-06-02
Last Modified: 2011-08-18
Hi Experts
For the first time I seem to be asking more questions than I am answering.
This one is probably quite simple for those who know, but I need some accurate clarification.

Am I right in thinking that the following statements are true? :

1. IF the file WINNT.SIF exists in the I386 folder of a bootable Windows XP Pro CD, then it will ALWAYS be used as the setup instruction file EVEN IF "unattend.txt" also exists in that folder?

2. When calling WINNT.EXE from the I386 folder of setup source files on a hard drive or on a CD that was not booted to (ie. booting to a floppy and running the winnt.exe command), both WINNT.SIF and Unattend.txt are ignored UNLESS  Unattend.txt (or other instruction file in the correct format) is called as a parameter of Winnt.exe?

3. TXTSETUP.SIF will ALWAYS be used for instructions if it is present in the I386 folder of a bootable WinXP CD when setup is started by booting to it.  Txtsetup.OEM is ignored in this scenario.

4. TXTSETUP.OEM will ALWAYS be used for instructions if it is present in the I386 folder of setup source files on a hard drive OR if winnt.exe is started after booting to something other than that CD eg. a boot floppy. Txtsetup.SIF is ignored in this scenario.

I don't need instructions on how to slipstream SP2 into Windows XP Pro.  I have done that previously with other CD's, and the CD I am using on this computer is already a slipstreamed version.  What I have is a Dell OEM CD (not a "Recovery CD", but a full REINSTALLATION CD for the OEM Preinstalled OS).

It is non-machine specific in that it WOULD install on another non-Dell computer if I wished, but it has machine-specific storage device drivers (with matching INF files) in the I386 folder of the CD that are installed on THAT computer from instructions in TXTSETUP.OEM. TXTSETUP.SIF also exists in the I386 folder of the CD, and I am puzzled about which one is used and when.  They are both quite different.

The reason I need to know these details is that I had wondered about creating a new CD that either (a) misses out the storage driver installation instructions in favour of installing newer drivers at the post-setup stage OR (b) trying to change the files for the older drivers on the CD to the newer ones.

I'm not sure I'm fully aware of the significance of installing drivers during the Text Setup mode, if that is what the instruction file names suggest.

Thank you in advance.
Question by:BillDL
    LVL 15

    Expert Comment

    Well 2 things one to understand these disc you have to know how they are created.  Most big name factories such as dell use OPK to install the operating systems You can read about that here

    Next The easiest way to do what you are thinking of doing is just to use a tool called Nlite download found here
    guide to use found here

    Hope this helps!!
    LVL 38

    Author Comment

    Hi Venom, and thank you for that.  I am aware that OEM's use various standardised methods to preinstall the operating system (eg. Sysprep), but that is a very useful document.

    It's difficult to know now what method was used on this Dell PC, because those OEM methods tend to delete folders and files previously used to prepare the OS as it boots for the first time and needs configured or personalised.

    I downloadeded nlite a while ago, but there was one thing that put me off using it again.  It requires that you install the .NET Framework 2.0 which screwed up my system when I installed it the last time.  I'm hesitant to try it again.  Another reason for not choosing to use nlite right at the moment is that I am currently working with the folders and files from the Dell CD copied to my Win98se hard drive, and there editing the text-based instruction files.

    I do realise that automating the installation of additional applications, programs, drivers, etc, using a utility like nlite makes it easier to do a lot of customising, and I will most probably use it at some point for my other retail XP Pro CD to integrate Service Packs, Windows Updates, and drivers and make a new automated bootable CD, but that's in the future.  I have used Windows XP's Setup Manager (setupmgr.exe) to create customised setup instruction files before, and it does what I need to actually create the setup instruction files I need right for the moment (ie. WINNT.SIF for bootable CD's and Unattend.txt for other methods).  What I'm not sure about is whether the other files (TXTSETUP.OEM and TXTSETUP.SIF) will also be executed and screw up the install if I burn a CD with them on.

    That is what I really needed to know.  In what installation scenarios (ie. boot to CD and install OR boot to floppy and call winnt.exe from CD or hard drive folders) those instruction files are used or ignored.

    I have read the Windows Help File - Windows Preinstallation Reference (Ref.chm) in depth, but it doesn't give the definitive answers I am looking for.  It mostly talks about installing using WINNT32.EXE rather than WINNT.EXE, which is what I would call when installing freshly from a CD that wasn't booted to, or from local hard drive folders.

    I do know about the "Windows Post Install Wizard" , just in case anyone else points me towards it.

    I believe I have found the answer to my ignorance about installing storage drivers using txtsetup.oem as an instruction file.  In the Windows Corporate Deployment Tools User Guide (deploy.chm), it discusses txtsetup.oem:
    It is called from a section in Unattend.txt or winnt.sif named [OEMBootFiles], so that seems to answer the question about whether that file would be always used for instructions if present.

    I can only presume from this that a SIF file (winnt.sif or txtsetup.sif) will ONLY be used when you have booted to an installation CD but will NOT be used if installing by other means, but the question remains : is Unattend.txt always used if present and you haven't booted to the CD?
    LVL 15

    Expert Comment

    If you havnt booted to the cd so what you are saying is if you do the install for on the harddrive will it still use the unattended.txt file the answer is yes it will that file will always run (if present) on any install as it is basically used to make install less of a hassle.
    LVL 15

    Accepted Solution

    No you need to rename the unattended.txt file to winnt.sif winnt.sif runs everytime install runs here is a guide to creating an unattended install.
    LVL 38

    Author Comment

    Thanks for the info, venom.  I've visited that site before, but the pages load as slow as treacle.  I'll get back to you.
    LVL 38

    Author Comment

    Hello venom

    I never could find a direct answer to my question laid out in black and white, even from that comprehensive website that you provided the link to.  In the end, I installed WinXP three times back-to-back using different methods, and confirmed that:

    WINNT.SIF is always used for instructions BUT ONLY when installed from the bootable XP CD method.
    Unattended.txt is ignored in all cases unless specifically called as a parameter of winnt.exe.
    Winnt.sif is ignored when installing by any other method apart from bootable XP CD setup.

    Installing Windows XP to find this out was what I was hoping to avoid, but unfortunately the way you had to correct your previous answer with (what turned out to be) the right one, I couldn't be absolutely sure whether this was something that you knew or had assumed after reading about it.

    I don't want to appear stingy with points or anything, but I've asked in Community Support to have the points reduced from 500 to 250 and I will award them for the suggestions you offered earlier.

    LVL 2

    Expert Comment

    Hi Bill,

    Just to incase you need confirmation.
    Winnt.sif is used when booting from CD, all other "answer files" are ignored.
    Unattended.txt or any other named *.txt file is used when installing over a network, other media (or non bootable CD).
    The reason behind this is:
    winnt.sif is hard coded into the setup process, and thus booting from cd will not launch a custom reference with the winnt.exe / winnt32.exe
    When using an answer file from other media, the following command can be used to specify the answer file. Winnt.exe /u:[Answer_File_Name.txt]  (and thus wnnt.sif is ignored)
    LVL 38

    Author Comment

    Thank you for posting, SkUllbloCk.  It's always reassuring to hear from additional experts, especially when the confirmation is so hard and fast as yours is.

    It's been a while since I needed to know this, and the reason I needed it was that I wasn't keen on burning multiple CD's and having to do multiple setups to find out which was the correct way.  In the end, I went with my instinct and with what venom96737 had stated and provided as a link.  Thankfully I nailed it the first time using the info as you have reiterated.

    Thank you.

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