Tell me about drivers, installers, .inf files, etc

I’m trying to use Nlite to make a nice installer for XP with all the service packs, and the drivers I need for the hardware in my home machines (there seem to be a growing number) so that I can trash and reload when necessary.

The guide to using Nlite (see here: says:

It also says in the faq (

OK, so I can do that. But I notice that when I use Winrar to extract all the files from, for example, the installer for the driver software that goes with the video card of one of my machines, it extracts not just some .inf files but about 60 other files. They’re .dll’s, .cab’s, executables. All sorts of stuff. Several MB’s worth.

But Nlite’s instructions seem to be suggesting that if I just slipstream the .inf files into the image I am creating that will be sufficient to have the necessary drivers load. If that’s right, what’s all the other stuff? Won’t that all be needed too, to make my video card run?

I don’t really know what I’m doing. Can someone explain about hardware drivers and driver installers and what they do?

In a nutshell, the .inf file is a set of instructions for how Windows should install the device.

IF the device can use Windows’ built in drivers, then the .inf file is all you need, and it contains instructions which tell Windows which already-existing Windows files to use.

But IF the device needs its own custom drivers (or more commonly, also comes with some help-ware for installation, configuration, ongoing settings, etc., then the .inf file also serves as a table of contents for all the other stuff. It also provides instructions for how Windows should integrate that stuff too, such as add *this *to the control panel, *that *to the auto-run list, etc.

As befits something dating from Win 2.0, the syntax and sematics of .inf are arcane, obscure, and inscrutable. And not well documented (at least in public).
Bottom line: You need to include all those extra files in a folder somewhere in your Nlite installation. Then ensure the path(s) you use to them in the installation match the path(s) in the .inf file.
Caveat: Many “installers” are now really advertising mechanisms and if they are not run through the UI will fail. For items like that, you’ll find you can’t sucessfully automate their installation at all. Which can be a bitch if they’re something fundamental like video drivers. So don’t be surprised if you have problems with some of these.

The usual way out of this dilemma is to discover (often by days of trial and error), whether there’s a way to separate the driver install from the bloatware install. Then slipstream the driver, and manually install the bloatware afterwards as a “repair.”

Googling for your driver or device name and “administrative install” may get you some clues from others who have fought that battle.

Thanks, LSLGuy.

“days of trial and error”. Hmm. Creating an Nlite image may not save me much time.