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Posted 17 May 2008

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How to Elevate Your Application at Windows Startup in Vista

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17 May 2008CPOL2 min read
An article on elevating an application at Windows startup in Vista


This article describes how to elevate your program in Windows startup in Vista. Elevating an application is so easy, but it's not easy registering an application in startup.


This article requires readers to have some background.
Firstly, it's important to understanding Vista's UAC. UAC is too complex to understand. Hence, this article does not have any information about UAC.
Secondly, MFC and API knowledge are required since the sample code of this article uses MFC and API.

Vista and Windows Startup

Many programs need to run at Windows startup.

In Windows XP, run at startup was not big deal. But, it became a big deal in Windows Vista. Windows Vista's new protection features restrict a startup program which wants to run as administrator. (It needs to elevate.)

If your application does not need an administrator privilege, there is nothing to do for migration to Windows Vista. But, if your application need an administrator privilege, your application can't run at startup because Vista's new protection blocks your program.

It seems to be impossible to run an administrator privileged program at Windows startup in Vista. But, there is a way to do it (even if it is not the same as XP).

This article describes Windows Vista's protection and a possible method to figure out our problem.

Another Way

To find another way, we have to think about the architecture of protection software. Start with this:

"Windows Vista is allowed to run software which does not need an administrator privilege."

So, one possible method is as follows:

  • We have to create a normal program which does not need an administrator privilege. (New protection does not block none privilege application.)
  • That normally has to elevate itself with CreateProcess and terminate.

The following pseudo code shows it:

void Main()
    if(IsVista() == TRUE && Elevation() == FALSE) {

C++ Code (MFC)

Pseudo code is easy, but real code is not.

CString g_szProgramFolder;
CString g_szCmdLine;

BOOL RunAsAdministrator(LPSTR lpszFileName, LPSTR lpszDirectory)

    TempInfo.cbSize = sizeof(SHELLEXECUTEINFOA);
    TempInfo.fMask = 0;
    TempInfo.hwnd = NULL;
    TempInfo.lpVerb = "runas";
    TempInfo.lpFile = lpszFileName;
    TempInfo.lpParameters = "runasadmin";
    TempInfo.lpDirectory = lpszDirectory;
    TempInfo.nShow = SW_NORMAL;

    BOOL bRet = ::ShellExecuteExA(&TempInfo);

    return bRet;

BOOL CMFCApplication::InitInstance()
    char szCurFolder[1024] = { 0, };
    GetModuleFileName(GetModuleHandle(NULL), szCurFolder, 1023);

    CString szFullPath = szCurFolder;
    szFullPath = szFullPath.Left(szFullPath.ReverseFind('\\'));

    g_szProgramFolder = szFullPath;

    CCommandLineInfo oCmdLineInfo;

    g_szCmdLine = oCmdLineInfo.m_strFileName;

    if(IsVista()) {
        if(stricmp(g_szCmdLine, "elevation") == 0) {
            char szCmdLine[1024] = { 0, };
            char szCurFileName[1024] = { 0, };
            GetModuleFileName(GetModuleHandle(NULL), szCurFileName, 1023);

            BOOL bRet = 
                RunAsAdministrator( szCurFileName, (LPSTR)(LPCTSTR)g_szProgramFolder );

            if(bRet == TRUE) {
                return FALSE;
        } else if(stricmp(g_szCmdLine, "runasadmin") == 0) {
            // go trough!.
        } else {
            char szCmdLine[1024] = { 0, };
            char szCurFileName[1024] = { 0, };
            GetModuleFileName(GetModuleHandle(NULL), szCurFileName, 1023);

            sprintf(szCmdLine, "\"%s\" elevation", szCurFileName);

            WinExec(szCmdLine, SW_SHOW);

            return FALSE;

Points of Interest

RunAsAdministrator function returns FALSE when a user selects 'Cancel'. So, you can execute a program repeatedly until the user selects 'Allow'.


  • 2008-05-16: First released


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Yonghwi Kwon
Software Developer
United States United States
I started to write software since 1999 and have developed various products including security solutions and system utilities.

Microsoft Visual C++ MVP (from 2008 to present)

Comments and Discussions

GeneralWindows damaged after run application as elevated to write to registry [modified] Pin
Ha_Tim15-Nov-09 21:22
MemberHa_Tim15-Nov-09 21:22 
GeneralFull source code Pin
lemonlyt31-Mar-09 1:41
Memberlemonlyt31-Mar-09 1:41 
GeneralProcessShellCommand() reports error Pin
kuan deng18-Mar-09 7:05
Memberkuan deng18-Mar-09 7:05 
GeneralRe: ProcessShellCommand() reports error Pin
Ha_Tim16-Nov-09 18:09
MemberHa_Tim16-Nov-09 18:09 
GeneralSource code Pin
MasterPr23-Jun-08 0:38
MemberMasterPr23-Jun-08 0:38 
GeneralRe: Source code Pin
Member 392808218-Sep-08 1:21
MemberMember 392808218-Sep-08 1:21 
GeneralRe: Source code Pin
lzf897724-Oct-08 2:00
Memberlzf897724-Oct-08 2:00 
GeneralBuffer overflow Pin
mav.northwind17-May-08 21:51
Membermav.northwind17-May-08 21:51 
GeneralRe: Buffer overflow Pin
Yonghwi Kwon18-May-08 5:36
MemberYonghwi Kwon18-May-08 5:36 
GeneralRe: Buffer overflow Pin
SteveKing18-May-08 20:23
MemberSteveKing18-May-08 20:23 
GeneralRe: Buffer overflow Pin
Yonghwi Kwon19-May-08 4:54
MemberYonghwi Kwon19-May-08 4:54 
GeneralRe: Buffer overflow Pin
Mihai Nita19-May-08 9:26
MemberMihai Nita19-May-08 9:26 
GeneralRe: Buffer overflow Pin
Yonghwi Kwon19-May-08 14:45
MemberYonghwi Kwon19-May-08 14:45 
GeneralRe: Buffer overflow Pin
Mihai Nita22-May-08 14:42
MemberMihai Nita22-May-08 14:42 
GeneralYou shouldn't display an elevation prompt at login Pin
Daniel Grunwald17-May-08 7:13
MemberDaniel Grunwald17-May-08 7:13 
GeneralRe: You shouldn't display an elevation prompt at login Pin
Axel Rietschin17-May-08 16:00
professionalAxel Rietschin17-May-08 16:00 
GeneralRe: You shouldn't display an elevation prompt at login Pin
Leo Davidson18-May-08 8:36
MemberLeo Davidson18-May-08 8:36 
Another option is to make the app into a service. Vista will enforce UI isolation in that case, as well, which is a bonus.

If you need a front-end then you can have a non-admin client which connects to the service via some kind of RPC.

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