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How to embed data into a resource

By , August 7, 2010 2:44 pm

In this article I will demonstrate how you can embed data into a Windows PE format executable (EXE or DLL). At the end I will also provide a working example which you can use to embed data into your executable as custom resources.

The problem

Often software requires ancillary data to support the software we write. This data can reside in files on your hard disk, on a network computer or on a computer accessed across the Internet. Or the data can be embedded in your executable. There is no correct solution for all cases. You have to choose the correct solution for the task at hand. I’ll briefly describe the four methods, outlining the potential pitfalls involved.

  • Loading the data from disk. You need to locate the file and read the contents of the file. What happens if the file is missing? If the file is present and readable has it been modified by accident or has been deliberately tampered with? You will need a mechanism to detect this if appropriate.
  • Loading the data from a network computer. This is similar to loading the file from the disk except that you need to know the network computer name.
  • Loading the data from the a computer on the Internet. This is more complex, now you need engage in some protocol to download the file. What if the Internet connection is not available or is refused?
  • Embedding the data in your executable. Embedding the data is harder than creating a file, and reading the data is harder than reading a file. However, the data will always be available. If you application uses checksums (MD5, etc) or is digitally signed then you will know if the embedded data has been modified or tampered with.

Embedding data

Sometimes it would be more convenient if the data was embedded right into the executable we are creating.

There may be no convenient method for embedding the data. Visual Studio provides a means to embed data. You could transcribe the data by hand. But that would be time consuming, expensive, error prone and tedious. Alternatively you can add a custom resource, then edit the properties for the custom resource and identify the file that contains the data you wish to embed into the executable. We have tried this but there are no error messages for when the file cannot be found (you made a typing error typing the filename) and there is no way to conditionally change which custom resource is embedded depending on the build.

Fortunately, Windows provides an API for adding data to the resource section of an executable (.exe or .dll). The API also provides mechanisms for finding this data. With the use of the API we can create a helper application to embed as many custom resources as you want after you have built your executable.

For this example I will assume the data we adding to the executable is not data you would normally find in a resource. This means we will be adding a custom resource.

Let us say we want to add a Java class file to our executable so that we can find this class file at runtime without knowing anything about the current Java CLASSPATH or the file system. Once we’ve extracted the class file we could use it to define a class that would then be used by the Java Virtual Machine to do the work we want (presumably somewhere else we’ll be instrumenting Java class files so they know about the Java class we just defined).

We need a few things first, which we will also need when we come to extract the resource from the executable.

  • Executable to add the resource to.
  • Type name for the custom resource.
  • Name for the custom resource.
  • Data for the custom resource.

For our Java class file example, type could be “CLASSFILE”, name could be “myJavaSpy” and data would be the byte code for the class myJavaSpy which we would load from the file myJavaSpy.class (having previously compiled it from myJavaSpy.java).

The API

BeginUpdateResource

    HANDLE BeginUpdateResource(const TCHAR *executableName,
                               BOOL        fDeleteExistingResources);

Call BeginUpdateResource() to open the specified executable and return a resource handle. Pass TRUE for the second argument to erase all existing resources, pass FALSE to keep any existing resources in the executable.

UpdateResource

    BOOL UpdateResource(HANDLE  hUpdate,
                        LPCTSTR lpType,
                        LPCTSTR lpName,
                        WORD    wLanguage,
                        LPVOID  lpData,
                        DWORD   cbData);

Call UpdateResource() to update a resource in the executable represented by the handle hUpdate. Specify the type, name, language (locale) and the data with the remaining arguments. For our example above lpType would be “CLASSFILE” and lpName would be “myJavaSpy”. Pass MAKELANGID(LANG_NEUTRAL, SUBLANG_NEUTRAL) for language. Pass the java byte code and the lenght of the byte code for the last two arguments.

EndUpdateResource

    EndUpdateResource(HANDLE hUpdate,
                      BOOL   fDiscard);

Call EndUpdateResource() to finish updating the resource. If you wish to discard your changes, pass TRUE as the second argument. If you wish to keep your changes, pass FALSE as the second argument.

Putting it together

    HANDLE hUpdateRes;

    // Open the file to which you want to add the dialog box resource. 
	
    hUpdateRes = BeginUpdateResource(executableName, 
                                     FALSE);          // do not delete existing resources
    if (hUpdateRes != NULL) 
    {  
        BOOL   result; 
	
        // Add the dialog box resource to the update list. 
	
        result = UpdateResource(hUpdateRes,
                                customType,
                                customName,
                                MAKELANGID(LANG_NEUTRAL, SUBLANG_NEUTRAL),
                                bytes,
                                numBytes);
	if (result) 
	{ 
            // Write changes to the input DLL and then close it
	
            EndUpdateResource(hUpdateRes, FALSE);
        }
    } 

First we call BeginUpdateResource() to open the executable for resource updating. We pass FALSE as the second argument to make sure we keep the existing resources and only add our new resource. This calls returns an update handle.

If the call to BeginUpdateResource() is successful we received a non NULL update handle. We use to call UpdateResource() passing the type and name of resource data we wish to update along with the data to update and its length. In this example we have specified a neutral locale.

Finally we call EndUpdateResource() to finish updating the resource and to write the results back to the executable (pass FALSE as the second argument).

addResourceToDLL

addResourceToDLL.exe is command line program that you can add to your post-build process to embed custom resources into your EXE/DLL as you build. It has a quiet mode so that you can suppress any information and/or error messages it may emit. I don’t use the quiet mode, I like to see the confirmation message that it succeeded embedding data into the DLL. Run without arguments to get the help message.

Help summary

All arguments are mandatory unless noted otherwise.

  • -moduleName pathToDLL (or EXE)
  • -customResource pathToCustomResource
  • -customType type
  • -customName name
  • -quiet (optional)
  • Example:

    addResourceToDLL.exe -moduleName c:\myJavaDetective\myJavaDetective.dll -customResource c:\myJavaDetective\myJavaSpy.class -customType CLASSFILE -customName myJavaSpy

    The example above embeds the myJavaSpy.class file into myJavaDetective.dll with the type “CLASSFILE” and name “myJavaSpy”.

    Download

    Download the addResourceToDLL source code.

    Download the addResourceToDLL executable.

    In the next article I will show you how to read the embedded data from the resource.

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