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What is the MSTSC Command in Windows & How Do I Remote Desktop with It?

Posted by Jamie on February 12, 2019

MSTSC is a command used in Windows to run Remote Desktop (RDP). Remote Desktop enables you to connect to someone else’s computer and use it as if you were standing next to it. As an IT tech, this is an extremely useful tool. I can remote desktop into a client’s computer and see exactly what they are seeing from my desk without having to drive for hours to get there.

Remote Desktop has been a Windows feature for longer than I can remember. For home users, I always suggest disabling it to enhance security as it can quickly be enabled if you need remote assistance. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use the MSTSC command, how to enable and disable RDP and how to connect to another computer with it.

Using the MSTSC command in Windows

The MSTSC command is used within the Windows command line to initiate a remote desktop session. If you are on the same network or know the IP address or the remote computer, you can use MSTSC to set up the connection in seconds. You will need to know a few switches first. These are commands needed to make MSTSC work.

  • /v:computer: Specifies the remote computer to which you want to connect.
  • /f: Starts remote desktop connection in fullscreen mode.
  • /w:width /h:height : Specifies the screen size of the remote desktop.
  • /edit: Opens an .rdp file so you can edit.
  • /admin: Log in as an administrator.

There are others but they are mainly for servers. For most uses, with only need to know the /v or /f switch. The V specifies the remote computer while F specifies fullscreen display.

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Press the Windows key + R to bring up the run window.
  2. Type ‘mstsc /v:COMPUTER /f’ and select Next.

You could also just use ‘mstsc’ on its own to bring up the Remote Desktop connection dialog box where you can add the computer name or IP address and login.

Enable or disable Remote Desktop

As a general rule, it is always good practice to have Remote Desktop disabled on your computer. It is a theoretical vulnerability that a hacker could use to access your computer from outside. Therefore, it is best to disable it and only enable it when you need it.

To enable or disable Remote Desktop in Windows 10 Pro, do this:

  1. Type ‘remote’ into the Windows Search box and select Remote Settings.
  2. Toggle Enable Remote Desktop to off in the main window that appears.
  3. Right click the Windows Start button and select System.
  4. Select Advanced System Settings from the left menu.
  5. Select the Remote tab and make sure ‘Allow remote connections to this computer’ is unchecked.
  6. Ensure ‘Don’t allow remote connections to this computer’ is also selected.
  7. Change if necessary and hit Apply then OK.

Both steps need to be taken in order to fully enable or disable Remote Desktop. Now you have closed a vulnerability with your computer. If you need someone to Remote Desktop into your computer, just repeat the above process and enable everything. Just remember to disable it all again once you’re done!

Windows 10 Quick Assist

If you’re both using a Windows 10 computer with the Anniversary Update installed, you will have a new feature called Windows 10 Quick Assist. This is a neat little app that allows a secure connection between two computers with a time-limited access code.

  1. Type ‘quick’ into the Windows Search box to find it and select Quick Assist.
  2. Depending on whether you’re giving or getting, select the appropriate option. I tend to be giving assistance so I’ll select that.
  3. Sign in with your Microsoft account to verify your identity.
  4. Have the remote person repeat those steps but select Get assistance instead.
  5. Tell them the code you have and get them to enter it when prompted.

A Remote Desktop session has now been initiated that is fairly secure. As the helper, you will see a remote desktop screen appear of the other person’s desktop. You can perform whatever actions you need to as you would during a normal Remote Desktop session. The remote user will be able to see everything that’s going on so they will be able to help themselves next time. You can even write notes with the annotation tool at the top.

The MSTSC command is a command line tool that makes short work of logging in to a remote computer. If you know the computer name or IP address you can use it from the Run window to log in. Otherwise, the newer Windows 10 Quick Assist tool is easier to use with non-technical users as it achieves the same thing but in a friendlier way.

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