Connecting Client PCs to Windows Server Essentials 2016

Welcome to the fourth part of our guide to Windows Server 2016 Essentials. If you’ve missed the first three parts of the series, be sure to catch up!

In the last part of the guide, we performed a number of initial steps to get the server ready for action. Having a server without clients that can access it, however, is simply an inaccessible box wasting your electricity.

As a domain controller (a technical term for a server that manages network access across a collection of devices, computers and services), Windows Server 2016 Essentials requires you (or rather, your computer) to join a domain so that you can have full access to the services and data that the server can provide.

The whole shebang is managed by a Microsoft service called Active Directory, which you may have heard of. Active Directory runs on the server and manages secure access to the server for network users, devices and more. In many small business networks, Windows Server Essentials is the “first” (and only) server on the network, so performs the daily duties of the domain controller. However, in larger, more complex networks, Windows Server Essentials may not be the “first” server. Another computer may already be acting as the domain controller – in this scenario, Windows Server Essentials may simply join to an existing domain.

As this book is primarily written to introduce Windows Server Essentials to new users in small businesses and homes, we’ll focus on the product acting as the first server in the organization – the domain controller. You’ll find a wealth of guidance available for more complex configurations at Microsoft Technet (

It’s time to begin the process of connecting your computers to the server domain.  As part of this process, you will also be adding at least one domain user account to each computer that supports joining a domain. Domain user accounts can be used to log into any computer on the network – they’re more powerful than Local user accounts which can only be used to log into a single PC.

This walkthrough is part of our 625 page guide to Windows Server 2016 Essentials. Pick up a copy today!

Not all versions of Windows can join a domain. You’ll generally find that Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows can join a domain-based network just fine. Home editions unfortunately cannot.

Don’t worry though, you can still connect computers that do not support joining a domain to Windows Server 2016 Essentials – but access to the server and resulting features will be limited. However, automated PC backups work fine, shared folder access is present and you can run the Dashboard without an issue (as long as you have server administrator access, that is). But domain-related features, such as Group Policy configuration, folder redirection and others, will not be permitted.

For example, in the following devices section the Essentials Dashboard, you will find two client computers.

Windows Server 2016 Essentials’ Devices Panel

The first one on the list is a computer running Windows 10 Home and the second computer is running Windows 10 Pro.  While the Windows 10 Pro computer can join the domain and install the Dashboard you will only be able to log on the Windows 10 Home computer using a local account (or a Microsoft account – but not a domain managed account). You can see under the Group Policy column that an upgrade is recommended – Windows 10 Pro computers cannot be managed via Group Policy.

We will explore this more in just a little while, but first let us go through the process of adding a computer with full “domain join” capabilities to the server.


Before doing so, remember the Golden Rule of any computer upgrade: BACK UP YOUR COMPUTER.  This may not mean every bit on the hard drive, but you really need to make sure you have any and all important data saved in the case of a major catastrophe.


  1. I had to leave a comment to thank you so much for these 4 part series on Windows Server 2016. Very well thought and written. It was a life saver for someone new to the Windows Server world like myself. Incredible job. Many thanks!

  2. I decided to use the “third way” (not joining the domain) in my clients because I access them via RDC when traveling. So they all have static IP addresses with my internet provider DNS servers (adapter Internet Protocol v4 TCP/IPv4 settings). I noticed that when I turn on the server (I just use the server for back ups) all the internet provider DNS in the adapter settings disappear (and of course I start to have problems accessing sites until I put the DNS servers back in). Anybody noticed that problem? Any solution? I spent hours researching the internet without success (I’m not a network expert btw!).

    1. I googled a bit more and I found the solution for the problem here:
      From the article above:
      To skip the automatic DNS detection on a client that is managed by Windows Server Essentials, run the following command on the client computer from an elevated command prompt:
      reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows ServerNetworkingServerDiscovery” /v SkipAutoDNSServerDetection /t REG_SZ /d true
      You can also change the behavior of all clients that are managed by a Windows Server Essentials server. To do this, run the following command on the Windows Server Essentials server from an elevated command prompt:
      reg add “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows ServerNetworkingClientDns” /v SkipAutoDnsConfig /t REG_DWORD /d 1

      Life is good!

  3. Hi terry, Thank u for posting the steps. It seems very similar to 12 r2 essentials that i recently setup. I actually followed your above instructions including setting up the client restore option (which i had neglected to setup earlier) for 12 r2. Thank u. One think missing from 12 r2 essentials is dedup. Can you check if it is there is server 16 essentials? It would be under server manager, then the tab server roles, file and iSCSI services, and under it as an option called “data duplication”. If it is there, that would be one benefit to migrate to 2016. Thank you again.

      1. Thanks Terry for checking on it. So it appears that 2016 essentials has that same limitation as 2012 r2 essentials.

  4. Hi Terry, in this article you list the connector as compatible with “MacOS v10.12 Sierra” however in your other article “Connecting Apple Macs to Windows Server 2016 Essentials” you mention specifically that it is not. It may be good to update this article as the connector currently does not work on Sierra.

  5. Hi Terry,

    Thanks for this series. I read it a year ago, but am now planning the migration from WSE 2012-R2 to WSE 2016. I have a couple questions I’m having a hard time finding answers to.

    First, I run both a Windows 8.1 desktop machine for my primary development machine and a few Win10 laptops.

    Today, the client connector on Windows 8.1 machine automatically reconnects to the server and also keeps me signed in so that the shares are available whenever I restart and log into windows. This is very convenient and I hate to lose this behavior.

    After logging into my Windows 10 machines, the connector finds the server ok (for backup purposes) but I have to manually bring up the connector dialog and log in before the shares are accessible. This is problematic as I often forget to do this before I run an application that needs access to data on a share. (Does this have something to do with having joined the domain or not during connector setup?)

    1. Does the WSE 2016 connector automatically reconnect & log in upon logging into your client without having to bring up the connector dialog and enter password to access shares?

    2. Do you know what happens previous client computer backups from WSE 2012 R2 after the upgrade? Can those still be accessed once the migration to WSE 2016?

    Thanks again!


  6. Can a Client running Windows XP join in to windows server 2016, I know win XP is ancient OS but my office still use it

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