Windows API sets


The info in this topic applies to all versions of Windows 10 and Windows 11. We'll refer to those versions here as "Windows", calling out any exceptions where necessary.

All versions of Windows share a common base of OS components that is called the core OS (in some contexts this common base is also called OneCore). In core OS components, Win32 APIs are organized into functional groups called API sets.

The purpose of an API set is to provide an architectural separation from the host DLL in which a given Win32 API is implemented and the functional contract to which the API belongs. The decoupling that API sets provide between implementation and contracts offers many engineering advantages for developers. In particular, using API sets in your code can improve compatibility with Windows devices.

API sets specifically address the following scenarios:

  • Although the full breadth of the Win32 API is supported on PCs, only a subset of the Win32 API is available on other Windows 10 and/or Windows 11 devices such as HoloLens, Xbox, and other devices. The API set name provides a query mechanism to cleanly detect whether an API is available on any given device.

  • Some Win32 API implementations exist in DLLs with different names across different Windows devices. Using API set names instead of DLL names when detecting API availability and delay loading APIs provide a correct route to the implementation no matter where the API is actually implemented.

For more details, see API set loader operation and Detect API set availability.

Linking to umbrella libraries

To make it easier to restrict your code to Win32 APIs that are supported in the core OS, we provide a series of umbrella libraries. For example, an umbrella library named OneCore.lib provides the exports for the subset of Win32 APIs that are common to all Windows devices.

The APIs in an umbrella library may be implemented across a range of modules. The umbrella library abstracts those details away from you, making your code more portable across Windows versions and devices. Instead of linking to libraries such as kernel32.lib and advapi32.lib, simply link your desktop app or driver with the umbrella library that contains the set of core OS APIs that you're interested in.

For more details, see Windows umbrella libraries.

API set contract names

API sets are identified by a strong contract name that follows these standard conventions recognized by the library loader.

  • The name must begin either with the string api- or ext-.
    • Names that begin with api- represent APIs that are guaranteed to exist on all Windows versions.
    • Names that begin with ext- represent APIs that may not exist on all Windows versions.
  • The name must end with the sequence l<n>-<n>-<n>, where n consists of decimal digits.
  • The body of the name can be alphanumeric characters, or dashes (-).
  • The name is case insensitive.

Here are some examples of API set contract names:

  • api-ms-win-core-ums-l1-1-0
  • ext-ms-win-com-ole32-l1-1-5
  • ext-ms-win-ntuser-window-l1-1-0
  • ext-ms-win-ntuser-window-l1-1-1

You can use an API set name in the context of a loader operation such as LoadLibrary or P/Invoke instead of a DLL module name to ensure a correct route to the implementation no matter where the API is actually implemented on the current device. However, when you do this you must append the string .dll at the end of the contract name. This is a requirement of the loader to function properly, and is not considered actually a part of the contract name. Although contract names appear similar to DLL names in this context, they are fundamentally different from DLL module names and do not directly refer to a file on disk.

Except for appending the string .dll in loader operations, API set contract names should be considered an immutable identifier that corresponds to a specific contract version.

Identifying API sets for Win32 APIs

To identify whether a particular Win32 API belongs to an API set, review the requirements table in the reference documentation for the API. If the API belongs to an API set, the requirements table in the article lists the API set name and the Windows version in which the API was first introduced to the API set. For examples of APIs that belong to an API set, see these articles:

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