Launching ClickOnce Application with parameters from a shortcut

ClickOnce is a handy technology from Microsoft that makes it easy to deploy desktop Windows applications using the web browser. IE is naturally supported out of the box, Firefox and Chrome have add-ons and apps respectively to make ClickOnce work.

When installed, ClickOnce created shortcuts for the application under user’s Start Menu (Windows 7 and 10) in the folder whose name matches the name of the company specified in the manifest of the application. But the shortcuts to ClickOnce applications are not your typical *.lnk files, they are .appref-ms files. An appref-ms file is a text file saved in UTF-16 or “UCS2 Little Endian” format. Format is important getting it wrong will make the file unrecognizable to the system.

Here’s a typical text from the appref-ms file., Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=f89fd69c4bd8bc85, processorArchitecture=x86

It consists of 4 parts separated by comas:

  1. Url#Name – I noticed that the URL is not important, but the bame is – it has to match the name of the application in the manifest
  2. Culture – in the format “Culture=”
  3. PublicKeyToken – in the format “PublicKeyToken=”
  4. Target CPU – in the format “processorArchitecture=”
  5. To pass parameters to the clickonce application you must invoke the file either from the command line with parameters. I was hoping to create a real shortcut (lnk) file with the file as a target along with arguments, but Windows does not make it easy. It’s a lot easier to manage shortcuts to normal executable files, so that’s the approach I would recommend in this solution.

    You can add a second windows executable file to your solution. It’s job would be to generate a temporary file on the fly and launch it with parameters using .NET’s Process.Start command. When your real app starts, make sure to copy this helper executable to user’s %appdata%\YourAppName location or ClickOnce’s ApplicationDeployment.CurrentDeployment.DataDirectory (will only be available once properly deployed). Then you can create a shortcut to the executable anywhere you like and even add command line arguments to it. Your executable then will generate the file on the fly somewhere in temp directory, and launch it along with the arguments you specified. You can get the parts necessary to generate this file from the ApplocationIdentity object:

    Hope this works for you.

    PS. Don’t forget to delete the dummy file you generate after your app launches.


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