Create hosted apps

Starting in Windows 10, version 2004, you can create hosted apps. A hosted app shares the same executable and definition as a parent host app, but it looks and behaves like a separate app on the system.

Hosted apps are useful for scenarios where you want a component (such as an executable file or a script file) to behave like a standalone Windows 10 app, but the component requires a host process in order to execute. For example, a PowerShell or Python script could be delivered as a hosted app that requires a host to be installed in order to run. A hosted app can have its own start tile, identity, and deep integration with Windows 10 features such as background tasks, notifications, tiles, and share targets.

The hosted apps feature is supported by several elements and attributes in the package manifest that enable a hosted app to use an executable and definition in a host app package. When a user runs the hosted app, the OS automatically launches the host executable under the identity of the hosted app. The host can then load visual assets, content, or call APIs as the hosted app. The hosted app gets the intersection of capabilities declared between the host and hosted app. This means that a hosted app cannot ask for more capabilities than what the host provides.

Define a host

The host is the main executable or runtime process for the hosted app. Currently, the only supported hosts are desktop apps (.NET or C++/Win32) that have package identity. UWP apps are not supported as hosts at this time. There are several ways for a desktop app to have package identity:

  • The most common way to grant package identity to a desktop app is by packaging it in an MSIX package.
  • In some cases, you may alternatively choose to grant package identity by creating a sparse package. This option is useful if you are unable to adopt MSIX packaging for deploying your desktop app.

The host is declared in its package manifest by the uap10:HostRuntime extension. This extension has an Id attribute that must be assigned a value that is also referenced by the package manifest for the hosted app. When the hosted app is activated, the host is launched under the identity of the hosted app and can load content or binaries from the hosted app package.

The following example demonstrates how to define a host in a package manifest. The uap10:HostRuntime extension is package-wide and is therefore declared as a child of the Package element.

<Package xmlns:uap10="http://schemas.microsoft.com/appx/manifest/uap/windows10/10">

  <Extensions>
    <uap10:Extension Category="windows.hostRuntime"  
        Executable="PyScriptEngine\PyScriptEngine.exe"  
        uap10:RuntimeBehavior="packagedClassicApp"  
        uap10:TrustLevel="mediumIL">
      <uap10:HostRuntime Id="PythonHost" />
    </uap10:Extension>
  </Extensions>

</Package>

Make note of these important details about the following elements.

Element Details
uap10:Extension The windows.hostRuntime category declares a package-wide extension that defines the runtime information to be used when activating a hosted app. A hosted app will run with the definitions declared in the extension. When using the host app declared in the previous example, a hosted app will run as the executable PyScriptEngine.exe at the mediumIL trust level.

The Executable, uap10:RuntimeBehavior, and uap10:TrustLevel attributes specify the name of the host process binary in the package and how the hosted apps will run. For example, a hosted app using the attributes in the previous example will run as the executable PyScriptEngine.exe at mediumIL trust level.
uap10:HostRuntime The Id attribute declares the unique identifier of this specific host app in the package. A package can have multiple host apps, and each must have a uap10:HostRuntime element with a unique Id.

Declare a hosted app

A hosted app declares a package dependency on a host. The hosted app leverages the host's ID (that is, the Id attribute of the uap10:HostRuntime extension in the host package) for activation instead of specifying an entry point executable in its own package. The hosted app typically contains content, visual assets, scripts, or binaries that may be accessed by the host. The TargetDeviceFamily value in the hosted app package should target the same value as the host.

Hosted app packages can be signed or unsigned:

  • Signed packages may contain executable files. This is useful in scenarios that have a binary extension mechanism, which enables the host to load a DLL or registered component in the hosted app package.
  • Unsigned packages can only contain non-executable files. This is useful in scenarios where the host only needs to load images, assets and content or script files. Unsigned packages must include a special OID value in their Identity element or they won’t be allowed to register. This prevents unsigned packages from conflicting with or spoofing the identity of a signed package.

To define a hosted app, declare the following items in the package manifest:

The following example demonstrates the relevant sections of a package manifest for an unsigned hosted app.

<Package xmlns:uap10="http://schemas.microsoft.com/appx/manifest/uap/windows10/10">

  <Identity Name="NumberGuesserManifest"
    Publisher="CN=AppModelSamples, OID.2.25.311729368913984317654407730594956997722=1"
    Version="1.0.0.0" />

  <Dependencies>
    <TargetDeviceFamily Name="Windows.Desktop" MinVersion="10.0.19041.0" MaxVersionTested="10.0.19041.0" />
    <uap10:HostRuntimeDependency Name="PyScriptEnginePackage" Publisher="CN=AppModelSamples" MinVersion="1.0.0.0"/>
  </Dependencies>

  <Applications>
    <Application Id="NumberGuesserApp"  
      uap10:HostId="PythonHost"  
      uap10:Parameters="-Script &quot;NumberGuesser.py&quot;">
    </Application>
  </Applications>

</Package>

Make note of these important details about the following elements.

Element Details
Identity Because the hosted app package in this example is unsigned, the Publisher attribute must include the OID.2.25.311729368913984317654407730594956997722=1 string. This ensures that the unsigned package cannot spoof the identity of a signed package.
TargetDeviceFamily The MinVersion attribute must specify 10.0.19041.0 or a later OS version.
uap10:HostRuntimeDependency This element element declares a dependency on the host app package. This consists of the Name and Publisher of the host package, and the MinVersion it depends on. These values can be found under the Identity element in the host package.
Application The uap10:HostId attribute expresses the dependency on the host. The hosted app package must declare this attribute instead of the usual Executable and EntryPoint attributes for an Application or Extension element. As a result, the hosted app inherits the Executable, EntryPoint and runtime attributes from the host with the corresponding HostId value.

The uap10:Parameters attribute specifies parameters that are passed to the entry point function of the host executable. Because the host needs to know what to do with these parameters, there is an implied contract between the host and hosted app.

Register an unsigned hosted app package at run time

One benefit of the uap10:HostRuntime extension is that it enables a host to dynamically generate a hosted app package at runtime and register it by using the PackageManager API, without needing to sign it. This enables a host to dynamically generate the content and manifest for the hosted app package and then register it.

Use the following methods of the PackageManager class to register an unsigned hosted app package. These methods are available starting in Windows 10, version 2004.

  • AddPackageByUriAsync: Registers an unsigned MSIX package by using the AllowUnsigned property of the options parameter.
  • RegisterPackageByUriAsync: Performs a loose package manifest file registration. If the package is signed, the folder containing the manifest must include a .p7x file and catalog. If unsigned, the AllowUnsigned property of the options parameter must be set.

Requirements for unsigned hosted apps

  • The Application or Extension elements in the package manifest cannot contain activation data such as the Executable, EntryPoint, or TrustLevel attributes. Instead, these elements can only contain a uap10:HostId attribute that expresses the dependency on the host and a uap10:Parameters attribute.
  • The package must be a main package. It cannot be a bundle, framework package, resource, or optional package.

Requirements for a host that installs and registers an unsigned hosted app package

Sample

For a fully functional sample app that declares itself as a host and then dynamically registers a hosted app package at runtime, see the hosted app sample.

The host

The host is named PyScriptEngine. This is a wrapper written in C# that runs python scripts. When run with the -Register parameter, the script engine installs a hosted app containing a python script. When a user tries to launch the newly installed hosted app, the host is launched and executes the NumberGuesser python script.

The package manifest for the host app (the Package.appxmanifest file in the PyScriptEnginePackage folder) contains a uap10:HostRuntime extension that declares the app as a host with the ID PythonHost and the executable PyScriptEngine.exe.

Note

In this sample, the package manifest is named Package.appxmanifest and it is part of a Windows Application Packaging Project. When this project is built, it generates a manifest named AppxManifest.xml and builds the MSIX package for the host app.

The hosted app

The hosted app consists of a python script and package artifacts such as the package manifest. It doesn’t contain any PE files.

The package manifest for the hosted app (the NumberGuesser/AppxManifest.xml file) contains the following items:

  • The Publisher attribute of the Identity element contains the OID.2.25.311729368913984317654407730594956997722=1 identifer, which is required for an unsigned package.
  • The uap10:HostId attribute of the Application element identifies PythonHost as its host.

Run the sample

The sample requires version 10.0.19041.0 or later of Windows 10 and the Windows SDK.

  1. Download the sample to a folder on your development computer.

  2. Open the PyScriptEngine.sln solution in Visual Studio and set the PyScriptEnginePackage project as the startup project.

  3. Build the PyScriptEnginePackage project.

  4. In Solution Explorer, right-click the PyScriptEnginePackage project and choose Deploy.

  5. Open a Command Prompt window to the directory where you copied the sample files and run the following command to register the sample NumberGuesser app (the hosted app). Change D:\repos\HostedApps to the path where you copied the sample files.

    D:\repos\HostedApps>pyscriptengine -Register D:\repos\HostedApps\NumberGuesser\AppxManifest.xml
    

    Note

    You can run pyscriptengine on the command line because the host in the sample declares an AppExecutionAlias.

  6. Open the Start menu and click NumberGuesser to run the hosted app.