When we go to use a computer, the vast majority of the world uses their devices locally. This means that you are physically interacting with the device, either via mouse and keyboard or through the touchscreen on your phone. There are many benefits to native device usage, including minimal input latency, alongside adding external USB devices like USB sticks and USB hard drive disks (HDD).
Sometimes you need to step away from your computer. In the business world, you may need to attend a meeting across the country, while still retaining access and the functionality of your desktop machine. You may also be an IT administrator or engineer tasked with administrating a remote server cluster, where physical access is impossible.
One way to connect to these devices is through the remote desktop protocol (RDP). This protocol, in simple terms, creates a streamable video image of your desktop while also passing through inputs from your peripherals over the internet. When you consider that your monitor is just displaying images of your device, and responding to inputs from your mouse and keyboard, you can see how this is viable. Just add the internet as a middleman.
In this case, RDP encodes a video stream in place of an HDMI/Displayport cable. To interface with the device, your RDP client sends USB inputs such as keystrokes, mouse clicks, and mouse movement from your client device to the RDP machine over the internet. This gives the illusion of working natively on the device, even though you could be on the other side of the world.
How to use RDP in Windows
Microsoft first introduced RDP back in 1996 with Windows NT Server 4.0. Back then, it was named Terminal Services but has since been renamed to the Remote Desktop Protocol.
NOTE – While the RDP client is included with every Windows version, only Pro, Enterprise, and Server OS editions have support for creating an RDP server. This means that you can connect to other devices, but you cannot connect externally to a PC that runs Windows Basic or Windows Home.
Please note this guide was created using Windows 10 Pro v2004. Other OSs may have a different RDP client or CLI syntax.
The easiest method to open and use RDP is as follows:
Press the Windows Key ¬+ R to open a run window.
Type mstsc and press Enter on the keyboard.
INFO – mstsc stands for Microsoft Terminal Services Client.
You should see a Remote Desktop Connection window appear. This will have an input box titled Computer. This input box allows you to type either an external IP for an RDP server or a local address for your local area network (LAN).
In the example below, a remote Windows 2019 Server machine was created on a cloud hosting platform. To connect, you require the external IP address, as listed in the cloud host dashboard.
In this case, the IP address was 188.8.131.52, so we copied and pasted this into the RDP window. Click Connect, and the RDP session will start. You will be asked for login credentials, much in the same way as when you turn your work or home PC on for the first time. If you are using a trusted device, you can enable Remember me to save your credentials for the next time you attempt to log in.
ADVICE – you cannot connect to an RDP server without login credentials. Fasthosts offers Dedicated Servers with full root access and complete freedom to configure and manage your system. After provisioning your server, you will get the Administrator or root user password, which you can use to RDP to your server.
Now you should be logged into a Remote Desktop, with the ability to type and move the mouse as you would on your client machine.
Advanced parameters for RDP
Now you have tried a basic connection via RDP; you can start exploring more advanced settings in the client window. Here are the most commonly used parameters.
Start by clicking Show Options in your RDP window.
The first thing you will see is the Logon Settings. Here, you have the server IP address that you configured, alongside the username that was last used to login to the server. If you have multiple user accounts on a server, you could change the username to log into a different account.
In the same section, you have Edit and Delete. You can edit your password with Edit. To delete your account credentials from this device, click Delete.
A useful tool when managing multiple RDP connections is the Connection settings section. Here, you can create a .RDP file. This file is a shortcut which can be placed on your desktop. When you click, it will automatically fill in the IP address, username, and password, greatly simplifying RDP access.
After logging in to your server, log back out. Then, click Save As under this section to save the most recent connection as an .RDP file. Whenever you want to log back in, double-click this shortcut.
If you want to specify a resolution or colour depth, go to the Display tab in the RDP window.
The Display Configuration slider allows you to toggle between full-screen or various other resolutions depending on your needs. If you click Use all my monitors for the remote session, the RDP session will span across multiple monitors attached to your client device.
Changing Colors from Highest Quality (32 bit) to a lower value will reduce bandwidth requirements at the expense of image quality. This is useful for slow internet connections.
Display the connection bar[…] toggles whether the Connection bar will appear at the top. This allows you to minimise, set to windowed mode, or close the RDP session. It would be best if you left this enabled for ease of use, as you cannot Alt+TAB away from an RDP window.
Under the Experience tab, you have Performance. By default, RDP will Detect connection quality automatically, but you can change this if you are experiencing performance problems. Use an internet speed testing tool like speedtest.net to determine your download speed and choose a suitable setting.
Native performance over remote networks with Fasthosts
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