How to Unpack an EXE File

By Isobel Phillips

EXE is a common format for a Windows executable program file. It can contain a program, multiple files, tasks or instructions to start a program, which makes it an effective carrier of viruses and other malicious software. You may need to unpack an EXE file in order to extract individual files without installing the entire application. EXE is also the file extension given to a self-extracting ZIP (compressed) file, also known as an archive. In this case, the EXE contains the instructions for restoring the file contents to their uncompressed or unpacked state. (See Reference 1)

Step 1

Download the .MSI version of 7-Zip in 32-bit or x64 version, depending on your operating system (see Resources). 7-Zip is an open source utility for managing compressed files. Save the downloaded file to your desktop and double-click on it to install. Right-click on a compressed EXE file and select "7-Zip," then "Open Archive" to examine the file contents or "Extract files ..." to uncompress them.

Step 2

Download a 45-day trial of "WinZip" and double-click on it to install. Open WinZip from the "Start" menu and select "1-click Unzip" to extract a compressed EXE file or "Preview" to examine the contents without extracting them.

Step 3

Download "UniExtract Universal Extractor" from Legroom and double-click on it to install. Right-click on the target EXE file and select "UniExtract Here," "UniExtract to Subdir" or "UniExtract Files" to start the extraction process. (See Reference 2)

Tips & Warnings

  • As EXE files can contain viruses and malware, don't double-click on an EXE file to run it unless you have received it from a reputable source.