Remote Desktop to Console Session on Windows Server 2003

When you Remote Desktop to a Windows XP Professional computer, you always connect to the console session.  This is the default for Remote Desktop to Windows XP Professional.  When you remote desktop to a Windows Server 2003 computer, the default is to start a new session.  But you can easily connect to the console session of a Windows Server 2003 computer using the /console switch.  This is nice because at work I run Windows Server 2003 as my operating system.  Then when I go home and Remote Desktop to my work computer, I can get to all of my currently running applications without having to start them up again.

To start Remote Desktop in console mode, run this from the command-line:

mstsc /console

UPDATE (8/15/2008):  Windows Vista remote desktop client does not use the /console switch anymore.  It now uses a different switch (/admin) to get to the console session on the server (thanks Drewskie):

mstsc /admin


  • You can also edit a saved rdp file and add a new line:

    connect to console:i:1

    to achieve the same with saved session files.

  • You can also add /console after the computer name in the GUI.

    SERVER01 /console

    At least this works in Remote Desktop Client 5.2...

  • Since i only have RDC 5.1, what i do is save a .rdp for each machine i regularly connect to. Then i create a shortcut like

    %SystemRoot%\system32\mstsc.exe "C:\Documents and Settings\aaronse\Desktop\Remote Desktops\home.RDP" /console

    So I have both options of connecting to Console or Virtual session.

  • And if someone want to connect in session mode with windows xp pro?

  • If you want to permanently connect to console mode, create a shortcut for Remote Desktop and then right-click, choose Properties, choose the shortcut tab and then add the "/console" switch on the end of the Target path.

    Ex: %SystemRoot%\system32\mstsc.exe /console

    Hit apply and all your sessions will be console sessions.

  • The new RDP now uses /admin instead of /console

  • All of this will not work on Windows Server 2003 standard x64

  • I have an application that needs to start from the console session. Once started all users can utilize it much like any service. Do you know of any tools that would allow me to have that start as a service on boot up?

  • Reply to Ron

    Ron you can use srvany to launch an application as a service. I do this on my server alot to launch standard exe's.

  • Yep after installing XP SP3:

    mstsc /console has been replaced by mstsc /admin

    Note: Please use the new option to achieve the same results as before

    RDP works fine when there's an available seat on the target server. However, when the terminal server exceeds it's maximum number of allowed connections you can't run Start > Run > type in MSTSC /CONSOLE.

    Basically, the RDP console switch doesn't work with SP3 RC2 installed on XP Pro. There's workarounds by logging into other servers and connecting to the target server and logging someone off, but that's not an option for small companies with 1 server.

    No more /console switch on the Windows Remote Desktop Connection tool, MSTSC.exe, starting from Windows XP Service Pack 3, Windows Vista Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008.

    This is because of the design enhancements in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, by virtue of which you cannot connect to Session 0, which is the default session. Running services and user applications together in Session 0 poses a security risk because services in Session 0 run at elevated privileges and therefore can be targeted by malware that attack by attempting and exploiting a privilege escalation.

    The new generation of the Windows operating system mitigates this security risk by isolating services in Session 0 and making Session 0 non-interactive to the user. In Windows Vista (and Windows Server 2008), only system processes and services run in Session 0. The first user logs on to Session 1. Subsequent users log on to subsequent sessions (Session 2, Session 3 etc). This means that services (like printer drivers loaded by spooler service, UMDF drivers, user/window interactive services, etc) never run in the same session as users' applications and are therefore protected from attacks that originate in application code.

    Notice that the /console option is not available, but there is a /admin option. The /admin option lets you connect to Session 0 on a remote computer that doesn't have Windows Vista SP1, Windows XP SP3 or Windows Server 2008 or later installed.

    However, if you try to pull the /console switch on a Windows Server 2008 or Vista SP1 machine,
    you get an error "An unknown parameter was specified in the computer name field".

  • My favorite is to install Windows Server Adminpak and use Remote Desktops.

    It has a checkbox option to connect to console.
    You can save all your desktops as one config file and move it between computers.

    The only problem I have is that I want to disable automatic printer installation and I don't know how. Anyone?

  • Thanks Drewskie!!! The option "/admin" works fine. = )

  • /admin for XP SP3 as well.

    to find out more type "mstsc /?" in a command prompt.

    for XP SP3 and Vista, using /console would connect as regular connection and NOT console.

  • Is there a way from the server to *only* allow console sessions? I have an number of developers who constantly don't connect to the console session and start to screw things up.



  • I second JamesM's question. I've been trolling through the Group Policy Object Editor, looking for a way to limit connections only to the console to get a WinXP, or Server 2008 like RDC experience. No luck yet. Anyone know the way?



  • It also now appears that the /admin switch must be used for Windows XP Professional where service pack 3 is applied (SP3).

  • To shadow another users session in RDP, open the terminal services manager, find out their session # then open the command prompt and type shadow session#. i.e. if their session # is 3 type shadow3.

  • It can be simply by:

    1. Start Menu > Run
    2. mstsc /v: servername* /console

    *servername is the server to which you want to connect.


  • Thanks so much. My server's video output crashed or something, and I really needed to connect and save my work and shut things down.

    Connecting with the /admin switch was a lifesaver!

  • Thank you very much for the info.
    /admin worked on mine perfectly.
    Much appreciated

  • I have tried the /console and /admin switches and both give me an RDP vs. a Console connection on the server. Once I logout, it leaves behind a Disconnected RDP which is causing the issues we are having with a specific appl. The RDP connection target string is %SystemRoot%\system32\mstsc.exe /admin

    I am using XP Pro 2002 SP3 on the desktop and Server 2003 R2 SP2 on the target Server.

    Thanks for your input.

  • > Console connection on the server. Once I logout, it leaves behind a Disconnected RDP which is causing the issues we are having with a specific appl.

    That's because you are NOT logging out, you are (as the message CLEARLY states - DISCONNECTING). You need to click shutdown -> LOG OFF.

    Not simply click the 'X' to close the session, which leaves the session open. Using the 'X' ONLY closes the window, but the remote session is STILL live, which is why it shows as DISCONNECTED, you DISCONNECTED from the remote terminal, abandonded it in other words.

  • i also want to raise up jamesM and vince, so anyone know whether this is possible? only allow for console login, to prevent accidentally new session.
    for example, if someone try to establish new session, windows will send warning like cannot make new session blablabla.

  • The entry for a saved RDP file is now as follows:

    administrative session:i:1

  • After using the console connection(just to disconnect users if it showing terminal server has exceeded the maximum number of permitted connections error), should i Log off or Just close the window to close the session. Is there any differnce? Will it cause any problem to the running application or any thing in startup ?

  • Hi Asif,
    You probably want to logoff since just closing the session window will leave your user session running.

    But if you are constantly logging on to disconnect users that maybe you want to stay logged in so that you can get on quicker.


  • Thanks Chad & SCulligan for adding the details on saved RDP defs. Great stuff !!!

  • Thanks Widmer, it helps me a lot!

  • I tried connecting to a existing session on a server using both the /console and /admin switches. But both of them takes me to a new session. The computer am using is running Win XP SP3. the server is either Windows 2000 or 2003.

  • what is used to view the administrative information about the remote desktop sessions on the server.

  • To Keneilwe Shandulo:
    One way is simply the Task Manager users tab.

  • If we want permanently connect to console mode, we create a shortcut for Remote Desktop and then right-click, choose Properties, choose the shortcut tab and then add the "/console" switch on the end of the Target path.

    Ex: %SystemRoot%\system32\mstsc.exe /console

    Hit apply and all your sessions will be console sessions.

    How can we do in in Windows 7 64 bit, appreciate you response

  • I was using /console and the shadowing was working fine, but after the update to SP3 it has stopped working. The Information given by Bruce has helped me:
    " It also now appears that the /admin switch must be used for Windows XP Professional where service pack 3 is applied (SP3)."
    Follow this if you have or updated to Windows XP SP3.
    Thank you Bruce.

  • Thanks Sir. It helped me a lot....

  • Hi all, I have the problem that remote desktop only works between servers. So I can connect to the main AD/DNS server and then from there I can remote desktop to the other servers. So from my win7 laptop I can remotly go to the main server, why not to the others??


  • Hi Danny,
    Since you can get to one machine and not the others then it is either a firewall policy or a security policy setting. First I would check that Remote Desktop Services is allowed on all machines (Control Panel > System and Security > System > Remote Settings). Then check that your account is allowed to RDP into those machines. If those all check out then you will need to look into the firewall or other security policy settings.

  • I have a problem in that sometimes I lose the connection to RDP while I have a live session, then I am unable to connect to my server again. The only option left for me is a hard reboot, which is not ideal. The server is setup in a way that only allows one RDP session.

  • Could you anyone help me how to restrict others taking RDP console by killing current active RDP /admin session

  • Hi Davi,
    There is nothing you can do if you are all admins on the box. Just try and set up a policy for everyone to follow such as check with whoever is logged on before killing their session.

  • Hi:
    I am running a small monitoring program for an external disk drive on my Windows 2003 R2 server. This .exe will only run in a interactive session (i.e. not as a service). I use an RDP /admin connection for remotely managing the server, which only I use and which I let run in disconnect mode when I am not online; this way, the .exe monitoring program does its job. The .exe starts automatically from a shortcut in the admin profile's Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder.
    Problem is, I occasionally also log in a normal (i.e. not /admin) session with the same admin profile. This starts a second copy of the .exe program which messes things up.
    My question: how can I get the .exe program to run in my admin session ONLY if it is a console (i.e. /admin) session?

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