If you have a home lab environment or other lab that you continually test various solutions, licensing and trial expiration is a challenge that you constantly tend to run into. It is just part of the fun of lab environments. While most trials are fairly “hard and fast” and don’t allow you to reset the trial expiration, if you work with Microsoft Windows Server and Remote Desktop Services (RDS), there is a “hack” that allows you to effectively reset the expiration of Remote Desktop Services grace period where you can essentially rewind the clock on your RDS licensing if you are making use of this role inside your lab environment. In my lab environment, I am making use of Windows Server 2019 for my Windows workloads. In this post, I will show how to reset 120 day RDS Grace period on 2016 and 2019 Windows Server. Let’s see.

Remote Desktop Services RDS Licensing

When you install Windows Server 2016 or 2019 as with previous Windows versions, you get the normal ability to have the two sessions that you generally have available for administering. However, when you install the true Remote Desktop Services role, you have the ability to have multiple sessions to your server.

When you install the role, by default, you have a 120-day grace period that Microsoft gives you to properly license the server for use as an RDS installation. If you are using a server in a lab environment, most likely, you are not going to license this type of server outside of production.

Once the 120 day grace period has expired, you will see the following error when you attempt to RDP to the server:

Error after 120 day grace period has expired for Remote Desktop Services

You can either redeploy your Windows Server which will allow you to spin up a new 120 day grace period, or you can actually reset the grace period. If you are like me, the latter is certainly the path of least resistance and work involved. Let’s take a look at how to reset the 120 day RDS grace period.

You can take a closer look at the official licensing documentation for Remote Desktop Services here:

Reset 120 day RDS Grace period on 2016 and 2019

For the exercise of resetting the 120 day grace period for the RDS role, the registry editor is your friend and makes this process easy. Before we begin, there are a couple of disclaimers to make here. Editing the registry can result in totally destroying a Windows system, so proceed with any low-level registry edits with caution. If you are working with a virtual machine, it is always a good practice to create a quick snapshot of the Windows virtual machine before you begin.

Additionally, for production systems, resetting the 120 day grace period should only be done for systems that are not in production as you should have proper licensing installed for production use.

To reset the grace period, there are actually just 3 steps involved:

  1. Change permissions on the RCM > GracePeriod key
  2. Delete the “Timebomb” registry entry
  3. Reboot the server

Now that we have level-set, once you have your snapshot or other backup created, you need to navigate to the following location on your RDS server:

ComputerHKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlTerminal ServerRCMGracePeriod

Change Permissions on the RDS GracePeriod key and delete the key

After you have navigated to the key documented above, right-click GracePeriod and select Permissions.

Navigate to the RDS GracePeriod key

For obvious reasons, there are no default permissions on this key for even Administrators. So you have to first take ownership of the key before you can delete the timebomb value. Click the Advanced button on the permissions dialog box.

Navigate to the Advanced permissions properties

Click the Change button next to the Owner.

Change the ownership of the registry key

Here I have selected local administrators group as the owner of the key. However, you will want to choose whichever user/group that you want to use to delete the registry key. Select the options to replace owners and replace all child object permissions.

User for ownership selected and set to replace permissions on child objects

Confirm the replacement of permissions on the registry key.

Confirm replacing permissions

Now that we have changed ownership on the key, we can actually set permissions without getting permissions errors. Here I am granting administrators full control on the key.

Change permissions for the user you want to be able to delete the key

Now, with permissions set, right-click the timebomb value in the GracePeriod key and Delete.

Delete the timebomb key

Confirm the deletion of the registry entry.

Confirm deletion of the timebomb key in the registry

Next, the only thing left to do is reboot your server. Once the server is rebooted, you can enjoy once again having the full 120 day grace period for your RDS server in the lab environment.

Concluding Thoughts

The process to reset 120 day RDS Grace period on 2016 and 2019 Windows Servers as well as older server versions such as Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 is very straightforward using this process to delete the timebomb registry key.

Keep in mind this is not supported and certainly not a process for running in production. However, it is very handy for lab environments to keep from having to redeploy Windows Server virtual machines simply to have a fresh 120 day grace period.