What is the difference between a Role and a Feature when customizing your Windows 2008 Server?

When you first install Windows 2008 Server, it comes up with the Initial Configuration Task screen. You are given the option to either add “Roles” or add “Features”. I wondered what the difference between these two was. For example, if I want to add the IIS webserver, is that a feature or a role? While there is some overlap between these two, in general, you can think of Roles as major functions of the server and Features as smaller add-on packages. Whether it is a role or a feature, these are all Microsoft Windows 2008 add-ons, not 3rd party applications.

Here are some examples of each:


  • Windows AD/DC Server,
  • DNS,
  • DHCP,
  • File,
  • Print,
  • NAP,
  • Terminal Server,
  • IIS,
  • WDS,
  • WSS


  • .NET,
  • Bitlocker Encryption,
  • BITS,
  • Remote Assistance,
  • SMTP Server,
  • SNMP,
  • telnet server & client,
  • failover,
  • NLB,
  • TFTP,
  • Windows Server Backup,
  • WINS, 
  • Powershell


David Davis has served as an IT Manager for over 15 years. He has a number of certifications including CCIE #9369, MCSE, CISSP, & VCP. Additionally, David has authored over one hundred articles, a number of video training courses including Windows XP, Wireless Networking, Linux Administration, ISA Server, A+ Certification, Microsoft Virtual Server, & VMware Server & Workstation. David publishes Cisco Networking how-to articles & videos at his website, HappyRouter.com.

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