What is the Server Core installation option in Windows Server?

Applies to: Windows Server (Semi-Annual Channel) and Windows Server 2016

The Server Core option is a minimal installation option that is available when you are deploying the Standard or Datacenter edition of Windows Server. Server Core includes most but not all server roles. Server Core has a smaller disk footprint, and therefore a smaller attack surface due to a smaller code base.

Server (Core) vs Server with Desktop Experience

When you install Windows Server, you install only the server roles that you choose - this helps reduce the overall footprint for Windows Server. However, the Server with Desktop Experience installation option still installs many services and other components that are often not needed for a particular usage scenario.

That's where Server Core comes into play: the Server Core installation eliminates any services and other features that are not essential for the support of certain commonly used server roles. For example, a Hyper-V server doesn't need a graphical user interface (GUI), because you can manage virtually all aspects of Hyper-V either from the command line using Windows PowerShell or remotely using the Hyper-V Manager.

The Server Core difference - core capabilities without the frills

When you finish installing Server Core on a system and sign in for the first time, you're in for a bit of a surprise. The main difference between the Server with Desktop Experience installation option and Server Core is that Server Core does not include the following GUI shell packages:

  • Microsoft-Windows-Server-Shell-Package
  • Microsoft-Windows-Server-Gui-Mgmt-Package
  • Microsoft-Windows-Server-Gui-RSAT-Package
  • Microsoft-Windows-Cortana-PAL-Desktop-Package

In other words, there is no desktop in Server Core, by design. While maintaining the capabilities required to support traditional business applications and role-based workloads, Server Core does not have a traditional desktop interface. Instead, Server Core is designed to be managed remotely through the command line, PowerShell, or a GUI tool (like RSAT or Windows Admin Center).

In addition to no UI, Server Core also differs from the Server with Desktop Experience in the following ways:

  • Server Core does not have any accessibility tools
  • No OOBE (out-of-box-experience) for setting up Server Core
  • No audio support

The following table shows which applications are available locally on Server Core vs Server with Desktop Experience. Important: In most cases, applications that are listed as "not available" below can be run remotely from a Windows client computer and used to manage your Server Core installation.

Note

This list is intended for quick reference - it isn't intended to be a complete list.

Application Server Core Server with Desktop Experience
Command prompt available available
Windows PowerShell/ Microsoft .NET available available
Perfmon.exe not available available
Windbg (GUI) supported supported
Resmon.exe not available available
Regedit available available
Fsutil.exe available available
Disksnapshot.exe not available available
Diskpart.exe available available
Diskmgmt.msc not available available
Devmgmt.msc not available available
Server Manager not available available
Mmc.exe not available available
Eventvwr not available available
Wevtutil (Event queries) available available
Services.msc not available available
Control Panel not available available
Windows Update (GUI) not available available
Windows Explorer not available available
Taskbar not available available
Taskbar notifications not available available
Taskmgr available available
Internet Explorer or Edge not available available
Built-in help system not available available
Windows 10 Shell not available available
Windows Media Player not available available
PowerShell available available
PowerShell ISE not available available
PowerShell IME available available
Mstsc.exe not available available
Remote Desktop Services available available
Hyper-V Manager not available available

For more information about what is included in Server Core, see Roles, Role Services, and Features included in Windows Server - Server Core. And for information about what is not included in Server Core, see Roles, Role Services, and Features not included in Server Core

Get started using Server Core

Use the following information to install, configure, and manage the Server Core installation option of Windows Server.

Server Core installation:

Using Server Core: