What is the difference between a Role and a Feature

Before Windows 2003 if you wanted to add functionality to a Windows Server you would have to access “Add / Remove Programs” in control panel and then “Add / Remove Windows Components” and choose which components to install. You may or may not have chosen the right components for what you were trying to achieve and you may have installed the correct dependencies (leading to a potentially unstable server if you didn’t) or, indeed, too many dependencies making your server less secure. This situation led to a high number of calls to Microsoft for “broken” software when, in reality, the solution had not been deployed correctly.

Because of this, from 2003 Microsoft onwards Microsoft introduced the “Configure your server” wizard which allowed users to add core functionality to a server with a reduced set of configuration options. That is, the wizard only installed those items necessary to get the server to do the chosen job. This not only led to more stable servers but also more secure servers.

This philosophy has now been extended out for Windows 2008 onwards such that a whole raft of functionality is no longer deployed by default leading to a more secure base server environment (secure by design). Instead, you have to expose this functionality to Windows Server if you want to use it and the wizard will then deploy that functionality for you without introducing flaws due to mis-configuration of the base requirements for a solution. This functionality has been encapsulated in two areas under Server Manager – Roles and Features. So, now you know how we got here, what’s the difference between the two ?

Well, its simple really, a role is something that the servers offers to someone else (clients) such as Logon (AD), IP addresses (DHCP), name resolution (DNS) etc. A feature is something the server consumes or uses itself, for example Network Load Balancing, Telnet Client, Failover Clustering etc. Now if you need to find a certain “feature” of Windows Server I hope this will help you know the most likely place to find it.

6 Responses to “What is the difference between a Role and a Feature”

  1. Georg Zimmer says:

    Finally!!!! Nobody could answer this question.

  2. Nina says:

    Nicely written, straight to the point

  3. Dave Del says:

    Clear and succinctly stated. Thank you Philip!

  4. Zed says:

    Why is WINS server a feature while DNS is a role ? One would argue that DNS is a feature in the sense “it support or augment the functionality of one or more roles” like Active Directory.

    This role/feature thing is a bit argumentative and it ssems that MS tries to over-complicate and over -classify!

  5. Philip Flint says:


    Its not a perfect explanation but its the best one I have heard

  6. Ather says:

    simply superb..!!! 🙂

Leave a Reply