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Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE) Overview

Updated: October 20, 2013

Applies To: Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2

Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE) is a recovery environment that can repair common causes of unbootable operating systems. Windows RE is based on Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE), and can be customized with additional drivers, languages, Windows PE Optional Components, and other troubleshooting and diagnostic tools. By default, Windows RE is preloaded into the Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 installations.

Windows RE includes these tools:

  • Automatic repair and other troubleshooting tools. For more info, see Windows RE Troubleshooting Features.

  • Push-button reset (Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 only). This tool enables your users to repair their own PCs quickly while preserving their data and important customizations, without having to back up data in advance. For more info, see Push-Button Reset Overview.

  • System image recovery (Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows Server 2012 only). This tool restores the entire hard drive. For more info, see Recover the Operating System or Full Server.

In addition, in Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 R2, and Windows Server 2012, you can create your own custom recovery solution by using the Windows Imaging API, or by using the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) API.

Your users can access Windows RE features through the Boot Options menu, which can be launched from Windows in a few different ways:

  • In Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 R2, and Windows Server 2012, select the Settings charm > Power, and then hold the Shift key while clicking Restart.

  • In Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2, select the Settings charm > Change PC settings > Update & recovery > Recovery. Under Advanced startup, click Restart now.

  • In Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, select the Settings charm > Change PC settings > General. Under Advanced startup, select Restart now

  • At the command prompt, run the Shutdown /r /o command.

  • Boot the PC by using recovery media. For more info, see Create Media to Run Push-Button Reset Features.

After any of these actions is performed, all user sessions are signed off and the Boot Options menu is displayed. If your users select a Windows RE feature from this menu, the PC restarts into Windows RE and the selected feature is launched.

In some situations, Windows RE automatically tries to repair the system. Also, these situations automatically cause a failover to Windows RE:

  • Two consecutive failed attempts to start Windows.

  • Two consecutive unexpected shutdowns that occur within two minutes of boot completion.

  • A Secure Boot error (except for issues related to Bootmgr.efi).

  • A BitLocker error on touch-only devices.

You can also configure a hardware recovery button (or button combination) to run a secondary boot path that includes Windows RE. This can help users get to the Windows RE menus more easily, and can help users recover their PCs when some early boot components, such as the boot configuration data, are corrupted. For more information, see Add a Hardware Recovery Button to Start Windows RE.

This menu enables your users to perform these actions:

  • Start recovery, troubleshooting, and diagnostic tools.

  • Boot from a device (UEFI only).

  • Access the Firmware menu (UEFI only).

  • Choose which operating system to boot, if multiple operating systems are installed on the PC.

noteNote
You can add one custom tool to the Boot Options menu. Otherwise, these menus can't be further customized. For more info, see Add a Custom Tool to the Windows RE Boot Options Menu.

When working with Windows RE, be aware of these security considerations:

  • If users open the Boot Options menu from Windows and select a Windows RE tool, they must provide the user name and password of a local user account with administrator rights. This consideration doesn't apply to the Reset your PC feature.

  • By default, networking is disabled in Windows RE. You can turn on networking dynamically if you need it. However, we recommend that you disable networking when you don't need connectivity.

You can customize Windows RE by adding packages (Windows PE Optional Components), languages, drivers, and custom diagnostic or troubleshooting tools. The base Windows RE image includes these Windows PE Optional Components:

  • Microsoft-Windows-Foundation-Package

  • WinPE-EnhancedStorage

  • WinPE-Rejuv

  • WinPE-Scripting

  • WinPE-SecureStartup

  • WinPE-Setup

  • WinPE-SRT

  • WinPE-WDS-Tools

  • WinPE-WMI

  • WinPE-StorageWMI-Package (added to the base image in Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2)

noteNote
The number of Optional Components, languages, and drivers is limited by the amount of memory available on the PC. For performance reasons, we recommend that you minimize the number of languages, drivers, and tools that you add to the image.

When you install Windows by using Windows Setup, Windows RE is configured like this:

  1. During Windows Setup, Windows prepares the hard drive partitions to support Windows RE.

  2. Windows initially places the Windows RE image file (winre.wim) in the Windows partition, in the \Windows\System32\Recovery folder.

    Before delivering the PC to your customer, you can modify or replace the Windows RE image file to include additional languages, drivers, or Windows PE Optional Components.

  3. At the start of the Out of Box Experience (OOBE), the Windows RE image file is copied into a separate partition, so that the PC can boot to the recovery tools even if there's a problem with the Windows partition. On UEFI-based PCs, the image is copied to the Windows RE Tools partition. On BIOS-based PCs, the image is copied to the System partition.

When you deploy Windows by applying images, you must manually configure the hard drive partitions. When Windows RE is installed on a hard drive, the partition must be formatted as NTFS.

Add the baseline Windows RE tools image (winre.wim) to a separate partition from the Windows and data partitions. This enables your users to use Windows RE even if the Windows partition is encrypted with Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption. It also prevents your users from accidentally modifying or removing the Windows RE tools.

For UEFI-based systems, we recommend that you store the tools image in a dedicated partition. For BIOS-based systems, we recommend that the tools image be included in the system partition.

For more info about configuring hard drive partitions, see Configure UEFI/GPT-Based Hard Drive Partitions or Configure BIOS/MBR-Based Hard Drive Partitions.

See Also

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