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Designing Answer File and Setup Settings for Unattended Installations

Updated: March 28, 2003

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

By creating an answer file and by using Setup command line parameters, you can automate the following tasks that occur during and after an unattended installation:

  • Software installation and configuration. You can automatically install and configure client and server applications. You also can install and configure Windows components, services, and applications.

  • Hardware installation and configuration. You can automatically update device drivers and configure device settings.

  • Computer configuration. You can automatically configure computer settings, such as domain membership, computer name, network protocols, display settings, and system services. You also can configure server roles, such as installing Active Directory.

Try to automate as many installation and post-installation tasks as possible during an unattended installation. By automating installation and post-installation tasks, you can:

  • Reduce the number of errors caused by technicians, administrators, and end users during your deployment.

  • Ensure consistency throughout your organization, which reduces support costs after deployment.

  • Increase productivity by requiring little or no end-user interaction during your deployment.

  • Update or modify your installation process without having to educate or retrain end users, technicians, or administrators.

To automate installation and post-installation tasks, you need to create and configure an answer file. In addition, you need to choose which command line parameters to use when you start the Setup program.

The answer file for unattended installations of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Professional is usually named Unattend.txt, but you can name it anything you want. However, if you start a destination computer from an operating system CD and the answer file is on a floppy disk, you must name the answer file Winnt.sif. Setup will then detect the answer file on the disk without user input.

The answer file supplies Setup with answers to all the questions that you are asked during a standard, interactive installation. The answer file also contains information about your installation and configuration requirements. In addition, an answer file tells Setup how to interact with the distribution shares and files that you have created (or the installation files on the operating system CD, if that is what you are using to install the product).

An answer file contains multiple sections — some mandatory and some optional — that you can modify. Section names are delineated by brackets (for example, [Unattended]). Every section has one or more entries that contain installation and configuration information. Entries are delineated by an entry name, an equal sign, and a value (for example, ComputerName = Computer1). The entry name represents a specific computer setting or action; the value represents the unique way you want the setting configured or the action performed. For more information about answer file sections and entries, see "Unattend.txt" in the "Reference" section of the Microsoft Windows Corporate Deployment Tools User’s Guide (Deploy.chm). Deploy.chm is included in the Deploy.cab file in the Support folder on the Windows Server 2003 operating system CD.

Setup parameters are specified at the command line when you run Winnt.exe or Winnt32.exe.

Some installation and configuration tasks can be performed by configuring either Setup parameters or answer file settings. For example, you can implement Dynamic Update by configuring answer file settings or by configuring Setup parameters when you run Winnt32.exe. In both cases, the functionality is the same. For more information about Setup, see "Using Winnt.exe to Run Setup" and "Using Winnt32.exe to Run Setup" in the Microsoft Windows Corporate Deployment Tools User’s Guide (Deploy.chm). Deploy.chm is included in the Deploy.cab file in the Support folder on the Windows Server 2003 operating system CD.

Figure 2.7 shows the design process you need to follow to automate tasks during an unattended installation.

Figure 2.7   Designing Answer Files and Setup Parameters

Designing Answer Files and Setup Parameters
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