What are the Domain Functional Levels in Windows Server 2019?

Domain Functional Levels in Windows Server 2019

Windows Server 2019 server is just around the corner. Of course, it may take a while for us to understand the concepts and features that it offers. However, we thought of shedding some light over domain functional levels in Windows 2019 server. We will also try to understand a few basic features of the Windows Server 2019.

What are Domain Functional Levels?

Well, the Microsoft definition says the following about Domain functional levels –

“functional levels determine the available Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) domain or forest capabilities. They also determine which Windows Server operating systems you can run on domain controllers in the domain or forest.”

That could be something too much technical, right? What exactly what that definition means? Whenever you deploy an AD DS, you can set the domain and forest functional levels for that environment to the highest one. That would help you make use of as many AD DS instances as you would need, as well as the latest features.

What are the Domain Functional Levels in Windows Server 2019?

Please note that this information is entirely unofficial as things stand as of now. The Windows Server 2019 is yet to release, and there are only the preview builds available. The information we have shared here is purely by the publicly shared data, and the could be a mere a speculation and subject to change in the subsequent builds.

The Windows Server 2019 is currently in the preview phase, and as per the information available as of now, we found NOTHING under the Active Directory.

So, are we witnessing any new domain functional levels? The answer as of now is – NO. The highest functional level that is visible on the Windows Server 2019 is referred to as Windows Server, and it corresponds to Windows Server 2016.

In the previous versions of Windows Servers, the Active Directory could be used with Domain Functional levels. This fact ensured that you would not be able to install DCs with previous operating systems. Windows Server 2019 has no functional levels, and as such, you would not be able to enforce the use of Windows Server 2019 DCs only. Of course, you can make use of a mix of Windows Server 2016 and 2019 for a better result.

Now that we are aware that the Windows Server 2019 comes with the functional level corresponding to the Windows Server 2016, we may be able to conclude that the Windows Server 2019 will have the similar domain functional levels as of now. If you are unaware of the Windows Server 2016 levels, the following information may be helpful.

Windows Server 2016 – Functional Domain levels

Domain Controller Operating system supported – Windows Server 2016

The forest functional level features would be similar to what we observed in Windows Server 2012. In addition to those features, it would provide support for Privileged access management (PAM) using Microsoft Identity Manager (MIM).

The domain functional level features would include –

  • Configuration for Smartcard required for interactive login
  • DCs can support allowing network NTLM when a user is restricted to specific domain-joined devices.
  • Kerberos clients successfully authenticating with the PKInit Freshness Extension will get the fresh public key identity SID
  • DCs can support automatic rolling of the NTLM and other password-based secrets on a user account configured to require PKI authentication

Please note that these features are in addition to the different functionalities rolled into the Windows Server 2012.

Is There anything We would want you to Know?

Well, this is all about Windows Server 2019, and there is not much information currently available. There are a few bug fixes and internal optimizations available. One of the best features we could notice on the Windows Server 2019 is the backward compatibility offered for the Active Directory on Windows Server 2016. That would mean any device or application that works with Windows Server 2016 should work with Windows Server 2019.

Please understand that there is a vast difference between software being able to work and supported by the Server. What we are trying to point out with that phrase is that while theoretically, any software that works with Windows Server 2016 should work with Windows server 2019. Some of the software options may not be supported, but still work – which means some of the features may not be feasible.

Is there any Difference between Windows Server 2016 and 2019?

Windows Server 2019 was officially launched for the public in October 2018. Almost all the features including the functional domain levels are based on Windows Server 2016. This creates a little confusion in the minds of the consumers.

Some users have also reported that they have been receiving updates to Windows Server 2019, but the updates have been those targeted at Windows Server 2016 version 1809. Latest update KB4464330 can be an excellent example in that direction. The update was received in the second week of October 2018 on a Windows Server 2019 installation.

That has made us believe that the Windows Server 2019 is a Windows Server 2016 under the hood with the latest 1809 update. Of course, that would be a harsh statement, but virtually an echo of what most of the Windows Server 2019 have been thinking of.

The Concluding Thoughts

Well, we may not be able to term anything conclusively for the features and functionality on Windows Server 2019. The primary issue that prevents us from reaching any definitive conclusion is the fact that the service is yet to be launched in the real sense though it is already officially made available. There is no final build as things stand as of now. However, there could be a post Beta or a pre-RTM update for the Active Directory features. This can introduce the new features.

However, we may not be able to guarantee such an eventuality. So, as things stand as of now, it may be sufficient to conclude that there are no functional domain levels available on Windows 2019 Server. Please note that the information contained in this compilation has been taken from the official Microsoft website.

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