Step by Step: Adding the GUI to Windows Server Core

HELP! Mitch, you told me that I should learn Server Core and I am trying, but you also told me that it wasn’t a problem to add the GUI back into a Server Core machine if I really needed it.  How do I do that?

This is a question I have gotten a few times from readers and students.over the past year.  There are a few of ways to do it, and depending on your situation you may need to try both of them.

Method 1: No problem!

You installed Windows Server with the full GUI previously, and then you removed the GUI.  This is the simplest scenario for our problem.  Here goes:

  1. Open PowerShell (powershell.exe)
  2. Run the cmdlet: Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell /reboot
      Now, if you are really deathly afraid of the command line, you can connect to a server with

Server Manager

      and use the

Add Roles and Features

    wizard.  Either way will work just fine.  However here’s the catch… both of them depend on the bits for the GUI being on the server’s hard drive.  If you never installed the GUI then they won’t be.  At this point you have to move on to…

Method 2: Still no problem 🙂

powershell_2 You dove in head first, decided to get right into Server Core.  That’s just how you role.  Unfortunately you discovered something that made you backpedal.  No problem, many fine IT Pros have made worse false- starts than this.  It won’t be difficult, all you have to do is add the GUI features.  However since the bits are not on the drive, you have to add a source.  Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way!

      1. Create a folder on the C Drive: MD c:\mount
      2. Check the index number for Server Datacenter (must be performed in a Command Prompt with Elevated privileges): Dism /get-wiminfo /wimfile:<drive>:sources\install.wim
      3. Mount the WIM file to the previously created directory using this command at the same elevated command prompt: Dism /mount-wim /WimFile:<drive>:\sources\install.wim /Index:<#> /MountDir:c:\mount /readonly
      4. Start PowerShell and run this cmdlet: Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell –Restart –Source c:\mountdir\windows\winsxs

(For the fun of it, PowerShell will accept your Command Prompt commands, so you can do all of the above in a PowerShell window.)

    Again, if you have been soooo spooked by Server Core that you cannot bear to do this in the command prompt, do the following:
      1. Connect to a GUI-based server (or Windows 8.1 system with RSAT Tools) and open the

Server Manager

      2. Right-click

All Servers

      and click

Add Servers

    3. Find and add your Server, ensuring that it reports as On-line.
      4. Click on


      and from the drop-down menu select

Add Roles and Features

      5. In the

Before you begin

      page click


      6. In the

Select installation type

      page click


      7. In the

Select destination server

      page select your Server Core machine from the list and click


      8. In the

Select server roles

      page click



9. In the Select features page scroll down to User Interfaces and Infrastructure.  Expand the selection, then select Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure and Server Graphical Shell.  Click Next.

Capture-1 10. In the Confirm installation selections page click on Specify an alternate source path .

11. In the Specify Alternate Source Path page enter the path to the installation media, then click OK.

12. In the Confirm installation selections page select the checkbox marked Restart the destination server automatically if required.

13. Click Install.

That’s it… your server will reboot with the full GUI.  honestly I don’t expect you will be doing this very often – I truly feel that Server Core is the way to go with the vast majority of servers going forward.  However isn’t it nice to know that you have the option should you really need it?

…Oh, and please, for G-d’s sake, if you are re-installing the GUI at least try the PowerShell method!


2 responses to “Step by Step: Adding the GUI to Windows Server Core”

  1. how do you specify an alternate source path if the file is over the network? lets suppose : \\LON-CL1\e:\install.wim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: