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An Overview of Remote Desktop Services Licensing in Windows Server

Summary: This article provides information about licensing for the Remote Desktop Services role in Windows Server.

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Article Content


Remote Desktop Services has three licensing modes:

  • Remote Desktop for Administration: This licensing mode allows for up to two administrative sessions, including the local console session, to run simultaneously on a Windows server. This is the only licensing mode that does not require Remote Desktop client access licenses (RD CALs) or a license server. It is intended to allow administrators to connect to a Windows server remotely in order to perform administrative tasks. A server is in Remote Desktop for Administration licensing mode if the Remote Desktop Session Host role service is not installed.
  • Per User: This licensing mode requires an RD CAL for each unique user that connects to a Remote Desktop Session Host server. This is true regardless of the number of devices from which that user connects.
  • Per Device: This licensing mode requires an RD CAL for each unique device that connects to a Remote Desktop Session Host server. This is true regardless of the number of users that connect from that device.

Per User and Per Device licensing modes require that a server in the environment be configured with the Remote Desktop Licensing role service. RD CALs must be purchased and installed on the license server. 

There are two types of RD CALs, corresponding to the two license modes that require them. A Remote Desktop deployment must use one license mode or the other. A license server can support multiple deployments and can have both types of CALs installed simultaneously.

RD CALs are installed using the Remote Desktop Licensing Manager console. The same console can be used to convert RD CALs from one type to the other. For information on installing and converting RD CALs, see How to Install and Convert Windows Remote Desktop Client Access Licenses.

Important: RD CALs are separate from server CALs, which also come in per-user and per-device varieties. Server CALs allow other methods of access to a Windows server, such as file-share access or application-based access. Unlike RD CALs, server CALs are not installed anywhere. They should be retained as proof of compliance with the Windows Server license agreement.

A Remote Desktop deployment must be configured to use a particular license server, either manually or through Group Policy. A license server is not detected automatically, even if the RD Session Host and RD Licensing role services are installed on the same server. The licensing mode and license server can be configured by using Server Manager, PowerShell, or Group Policy.

Article Properties

Affected Product

Microsoft Windows Server 2016, Microsoft Windows Server 2019, Microsoft Windows Server 2022, Microsoft Windows 2012 Server, Microsoft Windows 2012 Server R2

Last Published Date

10 Nov 2023



Article Type

How To