How to make Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials client connector install behave just like Windows Home Server

Posted by Paul Braren on Dec 11 2013 (updated on Oct 1 2015) in
  • HomeServer
  • HowTo
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  • Connect to Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials without affecting your DNS, staying in workgroup mode

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    When you install the R2 connector for daily backups, if you'd rather it skip the domain join (staying in a workgroup), AND not have it not monkey with your all your NIC's DNS settings (including Hamachi, VMware, etc), then this article is for you! The connector install is now incredibly fast on Windows 8.1, a vast improvement over all previous client connector installs. See for yourself, in the video I created below.

    I've been wanting to get around to making the move from Windows Server 2012 Essentials (with Update Rollup 3) over to Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. But R2 has no Update Rollups yet. Remember those nifty Microsoft-documented tweaks for DNS that I like to think I had a little something to do with? They don't work under R2. Even worse, that Windows Server LAN Configuration service is gone too. So I found myself in a bit of a pickle. How to make R2 behave more like its predecessors, so I could make the move?

    Another hurtle is that R2 Essentials users face a rebuild from scratch anyway. Yes, you heard that right, there is no upgrade path to R2 from Windows Server 2012 Essentials, explained here. So when an issue arose with my faithful daily backup methods these past 10 months, I was facing reconfiguring my daily PC backups for 14 machines, with 5TB of daily backups to re-seed. This became strong motivation to stop fiddling with the old, and start over with the new R2. I figured I'd much rather build from scratch, while keeping my 3TB network share drive intact, just as I've been doing with all prior upgrades to.

    For some reason, I thought it might not be too hard to figure out what Microsoft is doing with the registry keys.

    So first, I simply followed the tweaks listed the Microsoft-documented tweaks for 2012 Essentials, just for grins, to see if they'd happen to work on 2012 R2 Essentials. No joy, client DNS messed up.

    So I dove in deeper. Tried a few things with a bunch of Windows 8.1 builds and connector install methods. And before long, there it was, that wonderful eureka moment of discovery, obtained when tinkering with a purpose, persistently, patiently. It's actually fun.

    This one tweak to the registry, at the right spot in the install, was all I needed to get everything working just like I wanted, with:

    • domain join skipped (staying in workgroup mode), makes for a super-fast install
    • DNS unaltered for client (leaves DHCP in auto, so DHCP feeds it, rather than hard-coded DNS IP of the R2 Essentials server)
    • simple, with no services to mess with
    • no need to clean-up numerous NICs you may have (Hamachi, VMware, VPN, etc, where you don't want DNS altered)
    • doubtful this would somehow hurt or affect any future rollups in any way

    Here's the actual procedure:

    0) Uninstall any prior versions (Windows Home Server, Windows Home Server 2011, Windows Server 2012 Essentials), then reboot, before you proceed with step 1

    1) Follow Microsoft's recommended way to avoid domain join (leaving your network in Workgroup) by copying the following line into your clipboard:

    reg add "HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Server\ClientDeployment" /v SkipDomainJoin /t REG_DWORD /d 1

    2) Press Win+x, choose 'Command Prompt (Admin)'

    3) Right-click on the Command Prompt window, choose Paste

    4) Press enter, and the registry change is then automatically made, you can close this window

    5) Kick off the connector install with the usual URL:
    or, if you're on a remote network, it's

    6) Go through the install, and stop at the point where it asks you for credentials

    7) Next, Run regedit.exe, then head to this key
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows Server\Networking\ServerDiscovery
    then change "SkipAutoDNSServerDetection" from False to True.

    8) Enter the credentials, and the connector install will continue

    Yep, that's really all you got to do, no reboot required!

    The first backup will start automatically if you're within your backup window (time of day), and finished up in just 2 minutes in my case (SATA3 SSD to SATA3 SSD, fresh Windows 8.1 Pro build, no other backups on the server yet).


    I know folks have been clamoring for this fix for many weeks now. Thanks for your patience. Enjoy!

    You may also enjoy this related 6 second video,
    How to easily start a Windows Server 2012 Essentials backup, no LaunchPad or Dashboard required!

    See also at TinkerTry:

    Dec 18 2013 Update

    Turns out you can add this registry tweak at any time. It would seem you still had to clean-up the DNS manually though, to have DHCP feed DNS, not hard coded to the R2 Essentials IP.

    Thanks, oceang, for the heads-up over here on Dec 14 2013:

    Thanks TinkerTry and thanks from my daughter as well.

    Your registry change to stop the DNS settings changing worked great for me on one problem laptop running Windows 7 Home Premium. It belongs to my daughter who lives away from home during the week and she has been having internet connection problems ever since I connected her to R2, from WHS2011.

    One thing that is not clear from your link

    is that the registry change for SkipAutoDNS...  can be applied at any time, not just as part of the initial connection process and it does work. I applied the change yesterday, over 3 weeks after initially connecting the laptop and it works fine

    Apr 16 2014 Update


    Good news, this same client connector install procedure still works exactly as shown above, even after the recent release of Windows RT 8.1, Windows 8.1, and Windows Server 2012 R2 Update: April 2014, KB2919355. This is a good sign! I also didn't notice any client connector updates after upgrading then rebooting my R2 Essentials server. So this is what I'd call smooth sailing, and some measure of confidence that my minor "hack" outlined above has no issues, and "sticks" even after applying a significant update bundle. Yay!

    Oct 01 2015 Update

    While I've moved my extended family to faster backups and restores over on Veeam Endpoint Backup FREE, it's certainly worth noting that YouTube commenter FEDE SEVILLA has now claimed the above "domain skip/don't mess with my DNS" WS2012R2E technique still works on Windows 7 and Windows 10:

    Thanks you're a life saver I used it on 7 and 10 and it works great u save me some $$$ on Tilenol pills

    How about you, do you still use this technique, and does it work? Drop a comment below!