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Recording Our .iss File from the SQL Server Media

Before we begin creating our own installation file, we need to make sure that our .iss file is brand-new for our machine. Go to C:\WinNT (or where your installation of Windows is) and rename any file called setup.iss to something such as setupbeforesql.iss. This file can be created by any one of a number of installation programs, and once a program has been installed, it generally does not need this file anymore. By default, you should not need this step, but hey, better safe than sorry, right?

To begin recording your own .iss file, insert the SQL Server media, browse to x:\Setup\SetupSQL.exe (where x is your drive letter), and launch the installation by double-clicking the .exe file. Alternatively, you can run the setup from a command prompt by specifying the following:

Listing 1—Forcing SQL Server to Record an .iss File

x:\Setup\SQLSetup.exe –r


The –r parameter forces the setup program to record an unattended (setup.iss) file within the C:\WinNT directory.

This will launch the Installation Wizard screen (after a few moments), as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Figure 1 Beginning the process for recording an .iss file.

I know, you think I'm mad—you thought this article was on installing SQL Server silently, and this seems as if we are actually going through a standard installation of SQL Server!

Well, reader, it's true! We will run through a complete installation of SQL Server (well, almost). It allows us to get all of the customized settings we want, but don't worry—this doesn't actually install the software on your machine. In fact, you can think of it as a "virtual" installation.

So let's carry on from where we left off, and get the .iss file complete.

If you have installed SQL before, most of this will look very familiar to you; if you haven't, just follow your nose. The Installation Wizard is really easy to use, and it prompts you for any information that you must enter.

However, when you get to step 3 of the wizard (as shown in Figure 2), make sure you select the Advanced Options option.

Figure 2 Figure 2 Selecting the Advanced Options in the Installation Wizard.

Now this is where things get a little different from a standard installation (only a little, mind you). When you're ready, click Next; the next screen you see confirms what advanced option you want to run (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 Figure 3 Selecting the Record Unattended .ISS File Option in the Installation Wizard.

Make sure you select the Record Unattended .ISS file option. The other two options are as follows:

  • Registry Rebuild. This option allows you to restore the registry to the state that it was in when the first installation of SQL Server was performed. You should note that you must have all the exact same options as when SQL Server was first installed. Also, this option rebuilds only the registry; it does not fix corrupt system databases. You can also run this option from the command line by using the tool regrebld.exe that is included in the Binn directory.

  • Maintain a Virtual Server for Failover Clustering (which is grayed-out in Figure 3). This option is available only when you maintain a clustered installation of SQL Server. By selecting this option, you can add or remove nodes from the cluster, as well as change the cluster (virtual server) name.

When you are ready, move to the next screen (by clicking Next), which is where the standard installation screens of SQL Server begin again (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 Figure 4 Standard installation screen of SQL Server.

From here on, you can specify the standard options (for your organization) that you would when installing SQL Server. For example, you can choose whether to install all components, run as a service account or localsystem, select collation settings, and so on.


The .iss file we are recording is only a template. Although we specify options in the file, you can customize the file for your specific needs for different types of installations.

After you complete the Installation Wizard, go to C:\WinNT (or where your installation of Windows is). You will see a new file called setup.iss, with today's date and time. This is the unattended file you have just recorded.

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