What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)?

What is RDP

Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (or RDP) allows users to connect and access a desktop, Windows application, or even a server hosted on a remote host. This connection gets established either over the internet or on a local network and renders you full control of data and resources, including the software and tools available on the host.

Since the Windows Remote Desktop Connection tool is developed by Microsoft, all Windows PCs and servers are free to authorize another Windows device using it. On the other hand, only a few specific Windows versions allow the RDP server software to run.

For instance, you can easily use RDP to connect to Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise; Windows 8.1, 8 Enterprise and Pro; Windows 7 Enterprise, Professional, Ultimate; Windows Server 2008 and latest versions. You can’t, however, set up an RDP connection to the systems running Windows 10 Home or other Home editions.

This proprietary communications protocol i.e. RDP works like an open-source VNC used on Linux and some other platforms. Know more about it in the section below.

What is RDP?

To put RDP in simple words:

It provides remote users like you with a graphical interface to see and access a Windows device based in another location. While using RDP, your key peripherals, i.e. mouse and keyboard also get shared with the remote device that allows you to use and control it locally.

However, you need an RDP server software and an RDP client software to establish the connection. The RDP server software is the one that you’re connecting to, and an RDP client is the one device in which you must install an RDP client app to control the server software remotely.

It’s a Windows-only protocol, which means you can set up remote connections only with Windows PCs and servers that support it. To make remote desktop access more convenient, Microsoft has developed different client apps for macOS, iOS, and Android, along with a number of third-party applications to run on Linux-based and other platforms.

Note: Though Windows Home versions do not support RDP server software, they can be used as clients to build a connection with other Windows remote systems.

To add further, before establishing a single connection, you must enable the Remote Desktop Connection feature on the Windows PC that you’re connecting to. In case of connecting multiple users simultaneously, you will be required to have a Windows server that will have RDS (Remote Desktop Services) components installed, as well as enabled.

While establishing a remote connection to a secured enterprise network using RDP, you must have the Remote Desktop Gateway service installed, as well as configured, that too on a compatible Windows server. Doing so will not only increase the security but also eliminate the requirement of using an internal VPN.

How to Enable Remote Desktop on a Windows PC?

As you already know, you need to enable Remote Desktop on that particular remote Windows PC or server with which you want to set up a connection. Configuring a Windows system to enable Remote Desktop is quite easy. You only need to perform the step-by-step process below to do so:

  • Step 1: First press the Windows logo + I button to open Settings.
  • Step 2: In the Settings window, navigate to System and then scroll down to Remote Desktop on the left pane.
  • Step 3: Click Remote Desktop now and move to the right window.
  • Step 4: Next, under the Enable Remote Desktop option, toggle the bar and change the status to On.

Note: If you’re establishing a single user connection then by default, you will be connecting to the PC remotely using the Microsoft account which you generally use for signing in.

In the case of multiple users, click on the option named Select users that can remotely access this PC. Then locate the Add option under the Remote Desktop Users window and search for the account you wish to add.

If you want to allow the RDP connections over the internet, you are required to permit the incoming, as well as outgoing connections to the UDP/TCP port 3389 on the network [Make sure Port Forwarding isn’t enabled in this case.]

How to Establish an RDP Connection on Windows?

Since all Windows PC and servers come with Remote Desktop Connection tools installed by default, you can set up the RDP connection just by following a few steps. No third-party software or tool is required when you’re establishing the connection from a Windows PC.

However, if you’re setting up an RDP connection locally, first you have to find the local IP or hostname. To do so, follow the steps below.

  • Step 1: Firstly, press the Windows key + I button to open Settings.
  • Step 2: Next, navigate to Network & Internet and then click on it.
  • Step 3: In the next window click on View your network properties.

Finally, you’ll see all the information regarding your Remote Desktop PC along with its IP address and hostname.

On the other hand, if you’re ready to set up an open RDP connection over the internet, you have to know the IP address issued by your ISP. In the case of secure enterprise networks, you must know the RD gateway address too.

Once you get the IP, follow the steps mentioned below to connect to the Windows Remote Desktop on a remote Windows PC or server:

  • Step 1: First press the Windows logo key + R button to open the Run window.
  • Step 2: Next, type in mstsc and hit Enter to launch the Remote Desktop Connection tool.
  • Step 3: In the Remote Desktop Connection window stick to the General tab.
  • Step 4: Now, put the IP or hostname of your remote Windows device in the empty box next to the Computer and click on the Show Options button.
  • Step 5: After that, type your username in the empty box next to the User name.
  • Step 6: Now move on to the Display tab and confirm the colour quality along with the resolution of the remote connection.
  • Step 7: Next, navigate to Local Resources and click on More to confirm the peripherals that you’re going to share with the Remote Windows Desktop.
  • Step 8: At this point, you can set the quality of connection by moving to the Experience tab and next clicking on Detect connection quality automatically.
  • Step 9: For enterprise networks, you may have to click the Advanced tab and then Settings to allow a tunnelled RDP connection through RD Gateway.
  • Step 10: When you’re all done click on the Connect button finally and hit Yes when a warning message pops up.

Following these 10 steps will help you to set up a connection to a Remote Desktop on a Windows PC.

How to Set Up an RDP Connection on macOS?

You already know that Microsoft offers a dedicated Remote Desktop application for macOS that is available on the App Store. Its interface is almost the same as the iOS and Android client software offered by MS. So, the following steps will be quite similar to the ones on those platforms.

Follow these steps now to connect to a Remote Windows device using the Microsoft Remote Desktop app for macOS:

  • Step 1: Click here to download the app then launch it on your macOS device.
  • Step 2: Next, click on the Add PC/’+’ button.
  • Step 3: Now type in the IP address or hostname for the remote Windows device in the empty box next to the PC name.
  • Step 4: After that, click the down arrow right beside Add a user account option and add a username and a password to the connection
  • Step 5: Once done, click the Add button
  • Step 6: In case of using an RD gateway, under the General tab, click the drop-down menu next to Gateway and choose Add Gateway to put the Gateway address.
  • Step 7: Next move on to the Display tab and choose the display resolution, quality, and colour.
  • Step 8: After that, navigate to the Devices & Audio tab and select the peripherals you want to use.
  • Step 9: If you want to share any folder with the RDP server, locate the Folders tab and press the ‘+‘ button to find and pick the folders and hit the Add button to save changes.
  • Step 10: Finally, move back to the main Microsoft Remote Desktop screen and right-click on the entry, choose Connect from the context menu, and press Continue when the pop-up warning appears to establish the RDP connection.

So these were the 10 steps that will help you set up an RDP connection on your macOS device.

How to Establish a Secure RDP Connection?

Establishing a secured Windows Remote Desktop connection is not easy. Since any type of remote desktop solution unlocks vulnerabilities, RDP is no different. The RDP port 3389 gets scanned regularly to identify exploits. Hence, you must have some full-proof strategies while using RDP over the internet in order to secure it entirely.

However, different enterprises use Remote Desktop Gateways to establish a secure RDP connection to the Windows Server. But individual users don’t have this leverage. That’s why we have provided 6 tips here to help you connect to the RDP server securely.

  1. First, ensure you don’t permit open Remote Desktop Protocol connections over the web. Even if you’re required to do so, you must set up your own VPN. Also, using a Remote Desktop Gateway will work fine as it will build a tunnel to your local network making the process entirely secured. Always remember, allowing any open Remote Desktop Protocol connection over the web is too risky and you must not do that ever.
  2. Restrict the RDP connections to standard accounts only. Yes, you should only allow the non-administrators to set up an RDP connection. It’s because such accounts can’t access settings or install software, and have restricted access to the files. This way, you can prevent the probable damages that can occur due to a rough connection.
  3. Check whether Network Level Authentication (NLA) is enabled or not. Though Windows 10, Windows Server 2012, and newer versions have this option enabled by default. In case you’re using an older version, you must do it manually. Enabling NLA will ensure the authentication (right username and password) before a connection gets established.
  4. Use a unique and complex password. A general tip: never use a similar password for your different accounts. Instead, create complex ones by intermixing numbers, letters, and characters. This will make it harder to crack.
  5. Next, limit the password attempts. It is always advisable to set up a lower number of password attempts before an account gets locked out. Doing so will restrict any damage that can occur from a DoS attack.
  6. Set up maximum encryption for RDP. Though RDP connections always use the highest level of encryption by default, you must ensure that manually at least once. If the encryption is not set to the highest level, you can change it through Group Policy Editor.

How to Set Maximum RDP Encryption through Group Policy Editor on Windows PC?

Here are the steps to set the RDP encryption level to the highest:

  • Step 1: Go to the Computer Configuration first.
  • Step 2: Now select Administrative Templates.
  • Step 3: After that, click on Windows Components.
  • Step 4: Next move to Remote Desktop Services and click Remote Desktop Session Host.
  • Step 5: From there, navigate to Security.
  • Step 6: Now click the Set client connection encryption level.
  • Step 7: Change the status to Enabled and choose the High Level.

That’s all! Doing so will help you set the RDP encryption level to the maximum.

Already Stuck Somewhere? Try these General RDP FAQs

1. What is RDP used for?

A: RDP software is used for accessing a desktop or application that is hosted on a remote host. It lets you connect, access, along with providing you full control of the data and resources available on the remote host. RDP is so convenient to use that you will feel like you’re accessing the remote device locally.

2. What is the difference between RDS and RDP?

A: RDS stands for Remote Desktop Services whereas RDP is a contraction for Remote Desktop Protocol. RDS is the umbrella term used for referring to the remote access features from Microsoft which allow remote users to access Windows PCs and servers. On the other hand, only this connection building process is known as RDP.

3. Is RDP only for Windows?

A: RDP is a Windows-only protocol, which lets you establish a connection to the remote Windows devices and servers only that support it. Windows Home versions don’t support RDP; hence you can use those as RDP clients but not as RDP servers. However, you can establish a connection to a Windows PC only when the Remote Desktop feature is enabled.

4. Is RDP a VPN?

A: No, RDP is not a VPN. A VPN uses advanced encryption and tunnelling technology to create a secure web-based connection between a network and a user. RDP is a secured network communication protocol that allows the remote management of remote Windows PCs and servers.

5. Is RDP safe?

A: Yes, RDP is completely safe as it operates over an entirely encrypted channel which prevents any person from viewing your sessions.

6. Is RDP safe without a VPN?

A: In case you’re not working over an enterprise network and not using any RD gateways, you must use a VPN instead of setting up an open RDP connection over any network.

7. Is RDP free?

A: Microsoft’s Remote Desktop is a built-in feature of Windows devices except for Home versions. So, it is completely free; you only have to enable it from the Windows Settings.

8. What are the best RDP alternatives?

A: There are many RDP alternatives available. TeamViewer, ISL Online, RemotePC, Chrome Remote Desktop, Remmina, and VNC, to name a few.


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