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Server roles

Updated: January 21, 2005

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

Server roles

The Windows Server 2003 family provides several server roles. To configure a server role, install the server role by using the Configure Your Server Wizard and manage your server roles by using Manage Your Server. After you finish installing a server role, Manage Your Server starts automatically.

To determine which server role is appropriate for you, review the following information about the server roles that are available with the Windows Server 2003 family:

File server role overview

Print server role overview

Application server role overview

Mail server role overview

Terminal server role overview

Remote access/VPN server role overview

Domain controller role overview

DNS server role overview

DHCP server role overview

Streaming media server role overview

WINS server role overview

File server role overview

File servers provide and manage access to files. If you plan to use disk space on this computer to store, manage, and share information such as files and network-accessible applications, configure this computer as a file server.

After configuring the file server role, you can do the following:

  • Use disk quotas on volumes formatted with the NTFS file system to monitor and limit the amount of disk space available to individual users. You can also specify whether to log an event when a user exceeds the specified disk space limit or when a user exceeds the specified disk space warning level (that is, the point at which a user is nearing his or her quota limit).

  • Use Indexing Service to quickly and securely search for information, either locally or on the network.

  • Search in files that are in different formats and languages, either through the Search command on the Start menu or through HTML pages that users view in a browser.

For more information about implementing this server role, see File server role: Configuring a file server.

Print server role overview

Print servers provide and manage access to printers. If you plan to manage printers remotely, manage printers by using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), or print from a server or client computer to a print server by using a URL, configure this computer as a print server.

After configuring the print server role, you can do the following:

  • Use a browser to manage printers. You can pause, resume, or delete a print job, and view the printer and print job's status.

  • Use the new standard port monitor, which simplifies installation of most TCP/IP printers on your network.

  • Use Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), which is the management API created by Microsoft that enables you to monitor and control all system components, either locally or remotely. The WMI Print Provider enables you to manage print servers, print devices, and other printing-related objects from the command line. With WMI Print Provider, you can use Visual Basic (VB) scripts to perform administrative printer functions. For more information, see Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line (WMIC) tool.

  • Print from Windows XP clients to print servers running Windows Server 2003 by using a Uniform Resource Locator (URL).

  • Connect to printers on your network by using Web point-and-print for single-click installation of a shared printer. You can also install drivers from a Web site.

For more information about implementing this server role, see Print server role: Configuring a print server.

Application server role overview

An application server is a core technology that provides key infrastructure and services to applications hosted on a system. Typical application servers include the following services:

  • Resource pooling (for example, database connection pooling and object pooling)

  • Distributed transaction management

  • Asynchronous program communication, typically through message queuing

  • A just-in-time object activation model

  • Automatic XML Web Service interfaces to access business objects

  • Failover and application health detection services

  • Integrated security

The Windows Server 2003 family includes an application server that contains all of this functionality and other services for development, deployment, and runtime management of XML Web services, Web applications, and distributed applications.

When you configure this server as an application server you will be installing Internet Information Services (IIS) along with other optional technologies and services such as COM+ and ASP.NET. Together, IIS and the Windows Server 2003 family provide integrated, reliable, scalable, secure, and manageable Web server capabilities over an intranet, the Internet, or through an extranet. IIS is a tool for creating a strong communications platform of dynamic network applications.

For more information about implementing this server role, see Application server role: Configuring an application server.

Mail server role overview

To provide e-mail services to users, you can use the Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) components included with the Windows Server 2003 family. The POP3 service implements the standard POP3 protocol for mail retrieval, and you can pair it with the SMTP service to enable mail transfer. If you plan to have clients connect to this POP3 server and download e-mail to local computers by using a POP3 capable mail client, configure this server as a mail server.

After configuring the mail server role, you can do the following:

  • Use the POP3 service to store and manage e-mail accounts on the mail server.

  • Enable user access to the mail server so that users can retrieve e-mail from their local computer by using an e-mail client that supports the POP3 protocol (for example, Microsoft Outlook).

For more information about implementing this server role, see Mail server role: Configuring a mail server.

Terminal server role overview

With Terminal Server, you can provide a single point of installation that gives multiple users access to any computer that is running a Windows Server 2003 operating system. Users can run programs, save files, and use network resources all from a remote location, as if these resources were installed on their own computer.

After configuring the terminal server role, you can do the following:

  • Confirm Internet Explorer Enhanced Security Configuration settings.

  • Centralize the deployment of programs on one computer.

  • Ensure that all clients use the same version of a program.


  • In addition to configuring a terminal server, you must install Terminal Server Licensing and configure a Terminal Server License Server. Otherwise, your terminal server will stop accepting connections from unlicensed clients when the evaluation period ends 120 days after the first client logon. For more information about Terminal Server Licensing, see Terminal Server Licensing.

For more information about implementing this server role, see Terminal server role: Configuring a terminal server.

Remote access/VPN server role overview

Routing and Remote Access provides a full-featured software router and both dial-up and virtual private network (VPN) connectivity for remote computers. It offers routing services for local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN) environments. It also enables remote or mobile workers to access corporate networks as if they were directly connected, either through dial-up connection services or over the Internet by using VPN connections. If you plan to connect remote workers to business networks, configure this server as a remote access/VPN server.

Remote access connections enable all of the services that are typically available to a LAN-connected user, including file and print sharing, Web server access, and messaging.

After configuring the remote access/VPN server role, you can do the following:

  • Control how and when remote users access your network.

  • Provide network address translation (NAT) services for the computers on your network.

  • Create custom networking solutions using application programming interfaces (APIs).

For more information about implementing this server role, see Remote access/VPN server role: Configuring a remote access/VPN server.

Domain controller role overview

Domain controllers store directory data and manage communication between users and domains, including user logon processes, authentication, and directory searches. If you plan to provide the Active Directory directory service to manage users and computers, configure this server as a domain controller.


  • You cannot add the domain controller role to a certification authority (CA). If your computer is already a CA, the domain controller role is not available in the Configure Your Server Wizard.

  • Computers running Windows Server 2003, Web Edition cannot function as domain controllers. For more information about Windows Server 2003, Web Edition, see Overview of Windows Server 2003, Web Edition.

After configuring the domain controller role, you can do the following:

  • Store directory data and make this data available to network users and administrators. Active Directory stores information about user accounts (for example, names, passwords, phone numbers, and so on), and enables other authorized users on the same network to access this information.

  • Add additional domain controllers to an existing domain to improve the availability and reliability of network services.

  • Improve network performance between sites by placing a domain controller in each site. With a domain controller in each site, you can handle client logon processes within the site without using the slower network connection between sites.

For more information about implementing this server role, see Domain controller role: Configuring a domain controller.

DNS server role overview

The Domain Name System (DNS) is the TCP/IP name resolution service that is used on the Internet. The DNS service enables client computers on your network to register and resolve user-friendly DNS names. If you plan to make resources in your network available on the Internet, configure this server as a DNS server.


  • If you plan to include computers on the Internet on your network, use a unique DNS domain name. For more information about DNS namespace planning, see Namespace planning for DNS.

After configuring the DNS server role, you can do the following:

  • Host records of a distributed DNS database and use these records to answer DNS queries sent by DNS client computers, such as queries for the names of Web sites or computers in your network or on the Internet.

  • Name and locate network resources using user–friendly names.

  • Control name resolution for each network segment and replicate changes to either the entire network or globally on the Internet.

  • Reduce DNS administration by dynamically updating DNS information.

For more information about implementing this server role, see DNS server role: Configuring a DNS server.

DHCP server role overview

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is an IP standard designed to reduce the complexity of administering address configurations by using a server computer to centrally manage IP addresses and other related configuration details used on your network. If you plan to perform multicast address allocation, and obtain client IP address and related configuration parameters dynamically, configure this server as a DHCP server.

After configuring the DHCP server role, you can do the following:

  • Centrally manage IP addresses and related information.

  • Use DHCP to prevent address conflicts by preventing a previously assigned IP address from being used again to configure a new computer on the network.

  • Configure your DHCP server to supply a full range of additional configuration values when assigning address leases. This will greatly decrease the time you spend configuring and reconfiguring computers on your network.

  • Use the DHCP lease renewal process to ensure that client configurations that need to be updated often (such as users with mobile or portable computers that change locations frequently) can be updated efficiently and automatically by clients communicating directly with DHCP servers.

For more information about implementing this server role, see DHCP server role: Configuring a DHCP server.

Streaming media server role overview

Streaming media servers provide Windows Media Services to your organization. Windows Media Services manages, delivers, and archives Windows Media content, including streaming audio and video, over an intranet or the Internet. If you plan to provide audio and video content streams to clients and to other Windows Media servers, configure this computer as a streaming media server.

After configuring the streaming media server role, you can do the following:

  • Stream Windows Media-based content, including entertainment programming and advertising, over a network in a variety of ways to create a Web-based radio or television station.

  • Stream internal business communications, such as meetings, speeches, and training, over a corporate intranet, and stream external business communications to customers, vendors, and business partners over the Internet.

  • Transmit the information only to users who have been authorized to access the content, by distributing unique user licenses and by limiting access to your server resources.

For more information about implementing this server role, see Streaming media server role: Configuring a streaming media server.

WINS server role overview

Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) servers map IP addresses to NetBIOS computer names and NetBIOS computer names back to IP addresses. With WINS servers in your organization, you can search for resources by computer name instead of IP address, which can be easier to remember. If you plan to map NetBIOS names to IP addresses or centrally manage the name-to-address database, configure this server as a WINS server.

After configuring the WINS server role, you can do the following:

  • Reduce NetBIOS-based broadcast traffic on subnets by permitting clients to query WINS servers to directly locate remote systems.

  • Support earlier Windows and NetBIOS-based clients on your network by permitting these types of clients to browse lists for remote Windows domains without requiring a local domain controller to be present on each subnet.

  • Support DNS-based clients by enabling those clients to locate NetBIOS resources when WINS lookup integration is implemented. For more information, see WINS lookup integration.

For more information about implementing this server role, see WINS server role: Configuring a WINS server.

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