Work with Product Keys and Activation

Applies To: Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2

You can enter a product key during an automated installation of Windows® by including it in your answer file.

You can also use product keys to select an image to install during an automated Windows installation.

In this Topic

  • Select Which Windows Edition to Install

  • Activate Windows

Select Which Windows Edition to Install

To select a Windows edition to install, you can do one of the following:

  • Install Windows manually, without an answer file. Windows Setup installs the default edition from the Windows product DVD.

  • Install Windows with an answer file, and include a product key in Microsoft-Windows-Setup\UserData\ProductKey\Key. Each product key is specific to a Windows edition. Entering the product key in this setting does not activate Windows.

  • Install Windows with an answer file, and then manually type in a product key during Windows Setup. The product key selects a Windows edition to install.


If you have multiple Windows images with the same Windows edition that are stored in the same Windows image file (.wim), you can use the setting: Microsoft-Windows-Setup\ImageInstall\OSImage\InstallFrom<CODE>MetaData to differentiate between them. You must still provide a product key using one of the methods listed in the previous list.

For information about managing Windows product keys when changing the Windows image to a higher edition, see Change the Windows Image to a Higher Edition Using DISM.

Activate Windows

To automatically activate Windows by using a product key, you can do one of the following:

  • Use the Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup\ProductKey unattend setting. You can use either a single-use product key or a Volume License Multiple Activation Key. For more information, see the Volume Activation Planning Guide.

    The product key used to activate Windows must match the Windows edition that you install. If you use a product key to select a Windows edition, we recommend using the same key to activate Windows, so that the edition you install is the same as the edition that you activate.

  • Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) can use OEM-specific activation tools.

If a product key isn’t provided prior to Out-Of-Box Experience (OOBE), then OOBE will prompt the end user for a product key. If the end user skips this during OOBE, the user will be reminded later to enter a valid product key.


In most Windows 8 deployment scenarios, you no longer have to use the SkipRearm answer file setting to reset the Windows Product Activation clock when you run the Sysprep command multiple times on a computer. In Windows 8, the SkipRearm setting is used to specify the Windows licensing state. If you specify a retail product key or volume license product key, Windows is automatically activated. You can run the Sysprep command up to 8 additional times on a single Windows image. After running Sysprep 8 times on a Windows 8 image, you must recreate your Windows image. For more information about Windows components and settings that you can add to an answer file, see the Unattended Windows Setup Reference.

See Also


Sysprep (Generalize) a Windows installation
Change the Windows Image to a Higher Edition Using DISM


How Configuration Passes Work

Other Resources

Windows Deployment Options