It is probably not the name of these installers. By online installer I mean the little executable we download and execute, which download the true software I are going to install.

There are so many of them, such as in Chrome installation, Visual Studio Express, etc.

What are the purpose of these online installer? I think they are quite inconvenient.

  • 18
    Firefox uses an offline installer, the last time I checked. – orlp Jan 22 '12 at 15:09
  • How many online installers handle intermittent connectivity, or a laptop going to sleep? – Jay Bazuzi Jan 22 '12 at 18:35
  • At least latest (2010 and up) Microsoft ones do. – wizzard0 Jan 23 '12 at 3:37
  • 13
    Whatever their purpose, they intensely annoy me. When I click on "download" I want the program, not a program that downloads the program for me. Adobe Flash, I'm looking at you. – tombull89 Jan 23 '12 at 10:26
  • 3
    For the record, if you want an "offline installer" for something that is typically an "online installer." Try searching for a "redistributable." These are packages designed for those who will be running the installer on many computers. – user606723 Jan 23 '12 at 15:22

Reasons vary.

They allow you to download only what you actually want to install. If you have options during the installation, or the program is available in both 32 bit or 64 bit variants, or variants based on the OS version you're running, you don't download more than you actually install. Other distributors might make you choose the correct variant before you download the program at all; and some users might not be capable of selecting the correct option.

Some programs come bundled with dependencies, like runtimes or frameworks (I have seen Visual C++ Runtime, .NET, DirectX; Java could also be possible). Online installers restrict download and installation of those to machines that don't already have them (thanks @billc.cn).

Additionally, it allows the software makers to make sure you always install only up to date versions instead of one you downloaded a year ago. Some Downloads folder contents are downright scary.

It might even be that they save some bandwidth, since more users might be downloading the installer than are actually installing the program.

They are also a possible way to inform the software makers about every actual installation, as opposed to installer downloads.

  • 2
    Not forgetting a mass deployment scenario, where it comes in handy too. – slhck Jan 22 '12 at 13:59
  • 17
    @slhck How so? I'd have thought getting the one true installer (TM) and not having to download the same thing 50 gazillion times should be easier on the mass deployment. – Daniel Beck Jan 22 '12 at 14:03
  • 7
    Also I've seen installers that use P2P to speed up the download. Some dependencies like .Net Framework and VC runtime have a large installation base already and they could easily be bigger than the software itself, so better left them as online downloads. – billc.cn Jan 22 '12 at 15:14
  • 9
    Beside all valid reasons above, let's not forget some download sites use them to easily add spy-ware like bundles. – Dorus Jan 22 '12 at 17:38
  • 1
    Well, take the lazy small office IT department as an example. You only need to store one installer and can install whenever you want. At least where I worked that was easier than mass deploying out of date installers. – slhck Jan 22 '12 at 18:55

For Blizzard products, the downloader optionally uses bittorrent behind the scenes.

Also, some browsers don't support restarting downloads, so this can make large downloads possible on old computers.


Using an online installer downloads the installation files, from the installer. This means you get the absolute latest version possible, from the provider of the installer.

With an offline installer, it might not be updated as frequently, so your version could be slightly behind.

An example, Chrome. Instead of constantly having to update the installer, they can just push new content to a web server, and the same installer can handle it indefinitely.

  1. If the software consists of multiple parts (like .NET) they can install part 1 while downloading part 2
  2. If the software contains optional components, they can save time if the user hasn’t selected them.
  • 3. You can update the software without having to also update the online installer, as the latter can be designed to retrieve the latest version of the components rather than whatever version existed when it was compiled. – Shadur Jan 22 '12 at 19:18

It also saves you diskspace. The add/remove programs feature works by caching the installer file. It doesn't matter a lot with small applications; but would you rather cache the several MB online installer for something like the .net framework, or the several hundred MB offline installer?

  • This is wrong. -Padding- – Eroen Mar 8 '12 at 13:01
  • @Eroen No it's not. MS might've stripped msi/msp files of internal binaries at one point in the past; but they've either stopped doing it or software vendors have found a way to disable the feature for their installers. I currently have 10GB in C:\Windows\Installer, including 11 installers >100MB and 13 more between 50 and 100MB in size. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Mar 8 '12 at 13:31

I always assumed this was done from a UX perspective: if the network connection cuts out, then some browsers will not be able to resume the download, and some users will not be motivated enough to find out what happened and manually restart the process.

On the other hand, with an online installer, the developers can be sure that the download system is robust and won't have this problem. This can potentially lead to less cognitive load on users, depending on the browser, and a higher rate of successful installations.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.