Hack TwinUI to force Windows Store Apps run on low resolution screens

Windows Store Apps on Lumia 640 XL.

Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 has a minimum screen resolution constraint for Windows Store Apps (aka. Metro Apps or whatever). If the screen resolution doesn’t meet requirement, user will see a prompt indicating the resolution is too low for these applications.

However, on certain platforms (like phones and single-board computers), it is not convenient to change resolution. Recently I am trying Windows RT 8.1 on Lumia 640 XL. Qualcomm has the resolution hard-coded in platform configuration, so I was unable to change the resolution. 1280 * 720 is not sufficient for Store Apps.

But there was an exception – the PC settings (aka. Immersive Control Panel) app. It always opens regardless of current resolution settings. So how can I force other applications to launch?

Let’s turn to TwinUI.dll. It’s one of the core components of shell infrastructure. Start IDA Pro, load TwinUI with symbols from Microsoft. Go ahead and search the existence of PC settings app. All Windows Store Apps are associated with a package family identifier. Let’s search it. In this case, it’s windows.immersivecontrolpanel_cw5n1h2txyewy.

Bingo. We found it in some functions.

PC Settings Package Family ID is hardcoded in TwinUI.dll. This function has been patched by me, so it doesn't reflect actual situation you get from official Microsoft binary.
PC Settings Package Family ID is hardcoded in TwinUI.dll. This function has been patched by me, so it doesn’t reflect actual situation you get from official Microsoft binary.

By checking it’s references, we learned that layout checking routine verifies whether it is a desktop application, or PC settings app when resolution doesn’t meet requirements. Either you can patch layout checking routine or PC settings PFN verification routine. I decided to patch the second one, however patching the first is probably a better idea.

On ARMv7-A platform, I simply patched initial register store operation and the branch. Instruction BLX call was replaced with a simple NOP(MOV R0, R0).

Patched function
Patched function

There are two version of the PC settings check routines, so I need to patch both. The other one is similar to this one. Patching the layout verification routine (actually a better idea, as this patch will have some trouble when launch files from desktop) / patching on other architectures should be similar to this one.

Migrate legacy UWP project system to MSBuild-based

When Microsoft decided to adopt MSBuild on .NET Core platform, project.json was not dropped immediately until first toolchain RTM arrives. Dotnet Development on Universal Windows Platform Development leverages .NET Core too, but the depreciation progress is significantly slower than other .NET Core platforms due to historical reasons. UWP uses project.json for package management and MSBuild for builds.

In Visual Studio 2017 April Update, Microsoft finally migrates new UWP projects to full MSBuild-based project system. But our projects, which creates on early 2015, doesn’t get an auto migration as expected. Hence we decided to migrate them manually for additional benefits like better toolchain stability and advanced customization features.

Reminder: Do not attempt to use “dotnet migrate” CLI command, it won’t work for UWP projects.

Migration Prerequisites

  • Notify all your team members. Make sure everyone has Visual Studio 2017 with April update installed.
  • If you have continuous integration environment configured, make sure build agents have NuGet 4.1 or higher installed (3.5 or 4.0 won’t work).
  • Lock VCS during migration to prevent additional incidents. (We’re using TFVC for source management so that it will be easy)

Migration

  • Clean up all projects (including bin and obj directories)
  • Iterate all project directories
  • Find C# project file, open with your favorite editor.
  • Add following property group before project file lists:
<PropertyGroup>
    <RestoreProjectStyle>PackageReference</RestoreProjectStyle>
</PropertyGroup>

Okay, you’ve completed the first step. Then open your project.json file. Migrate all NuGet packages references as the picture below.

Package Reference
Package Reference

Finally, remove project.json and additional files like project.lock.json, *.nuget.targets, *.nuget.props. (Or your will get lots of warning that may lead .NET Native compilation fail)

Do it for every project. Then open Visual Studio, restore NuGet packages for all projects, build to validate and submit changes.