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I can't get a good definition of the difference between a normal RDP session and the /console (/admin in Windows 2008 and later) session.

What can I do in console that I can't do in a regular session?

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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The console session is what you see when you look at a monitor that’s plugged into the server. Normally with RDP you get your own session that is not the same as what’s shown on the server’s own monitor.

A typical example might be a backup application that is running on the console. You don’t want to log into a new session and start a second copy of the backup application; you want to monitor the backup application running in the console session.

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Now that makes more sense. –  Will Aug 13 '09 at 11:46
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Beware though: when disconnecting the RDP client, one may in fact logout the console session, killing any running applications. Be sure to select to not log out on closing the RDP client. –  Arjan Aug 16 '09 at 16:14
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"when disconnecting the RDP client, one may in fact logout the console session" that is not true. When LOGGING OFF a RDP session you obviously close applications you started in that session. You do not affect a console session if there is one. Usually you want to LOG OFF instead of DISCONNECTING you RDP session so as to not leave things running.. –  markmnl Aug 21 '12 at 0:17
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It is summed up in the "How to Connect to and Shadow the Console Session with Windows Server 2003 Terminal Services" Microsoft kb article:

In Windows Server 2003, when you use Terminal Services, you can connect to the console session (session 0), and at the same time, open a shadow session to it (as long as you connect from a session other than the console). With this added functionality, you can log on to a Windows Server 2003-based server that is running Terminal Services remotely and interact with session 0 as if you were sitting at the physical console of the computer. This session can also be shadowed so that the remote user and the local user at the physical console can see and interact with the same session.

So basically, it connects you to the current, running local session on the server (session 0, usually displayed on a monitor) and can let the remote and local user see and interact with the same session.

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yeah, I know. But what does that meeeeaaaaaannnn! –  Will Aug 11 '09 at 13:52
    
Better?​​​​​ :P​​​​ –  David Pearce Aug 11 '09 at 13:54
    
Note that if you connect to a console session on a Windows XP machine, you'll still lock the computer. You can't shadow the session on a non-server computer. (At least, as far as I know). –  EvilChookie Aug 11 '09 at 14:31
    
Yes, definitely better. Is that it? You can shadow the console? There is no other benefit? –  Will Aug 13 '09 at 11:42
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It's indeed the existing, current session on the server, the same you would see when looking at a screen that is attached to that server. Apart from being able to take over applications that are already running in that session, it is also sometimes required to install certain software (like PostgreSQL) that will not allow installation through a regular session.

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The "the same you would see when looking at a screen that is attached to that server" comment everybody says is completely fing bizarre to me. Any RDP connection appears exactly as I would see when looking at the monitor attached to the server. That's the whole point of RDP--remote desktop connection. –  Will Aug 13 '09 at 11:45
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As you accepted Nate's answer after your above comment, I assume you understand by now? It's definitely not true that normal RDP connections show you what is displayed on the monitor attached to the server. Instead, normal usage gives you a separate session, and never the same session that is shown on an attached monitor. It's often (but not necessarily) a totally new session, like if you just logged in to that computer. RDP allows for a few totally separated sessions, thus kind of allowing multiple people to use the same computer without being able to see what the others are doing. –  Arjan Aug 13 '09 at 15:26
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Think of the console as the monitor, keyboard and mouse physically connected to the server. If you connect to the console you are effectively looking over the shoulder of whoever logged in at the keyboard connected to the server. You're seeing their logged in session, with whatever applications they are running. You will see their desktop and start menu.

If you log in via a normal RDP session it's as if you logged into the server. You will get the desktop, and start menu for your profile.

Often the desktop and start menu you see for the console is similar to the desktop and start menu you see when you log in. But they don't have to be identical. On one server I RDP into I see a totally different desktop if I connect to a console session or connect via a normal RDP session.

The desktop difference is pretty much cosmetic. The big difference is the services and applications that are running when you connect to the console versus connecting via a normal RDP session - you may have different applications in your Startup folder or different services starting up automatically.

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