Running Visual Studio as an Administrator under Windows Vista


This article discusses why we should run Visual Studio as an administrator, and examines the easiest way to do that under Windows Vista.

Visual Studio and Administrator Rights

As .Net developers we need to be able to run Visual Studio as a Windows administrator.

Visual Studio 2005 actually warns you at start up if you are not running it as an administrator under Vista, and Microsoft recommends that you always run it with administrator privileges.  In fact MSDN gives a list of scenarios where Visual Studio 2005 will have ‘issues’ if it is not running with these privileges:

For other versions of Visual Studio and operating systems there are fewer issues about not running Visual Studio as an administrator.  However there are a number of scenarios where you need administrative privileges.  These include needing to install or reinstall anything, or to do any kind of Office add-in work, or to use ActiveX controls, or even just to register a library for COM Interop.

Running Visual Studio as an Administrator

Under earlier versions of Windows developers usually just made themselves local administrators on their development computers to ensure Visual Studio had sufficient privileges.   Under Vista however, this is not enough (it is still necessary to be an administrator, but not sufficient).

This is because if you run an application under Vista by default it does not have administrative privileges unless specifically given them.  This is true even if the user running the application has administrative privileges.

Granting Visual Studio Administrative Privileges

There are (at least) three ways of starting Visual Studio with administrative privileges in Vista.

Note that for all three you need access to an administrator account.  It’s easiest if you are logged in as an administrator, in which case you will simply get a User Account Control warning saying ‘A program needs your permission to continue’ (and you can just click ‘OK’).  If you are not logged in as an administrator the User Account Control will ask you for an administrator’s ID and password before it will launch the program.

The three ways of running Visual Studio with administrative privileges are:

  1. Right-click on the shortcut to Visual Studio and select ‘Run as administrator’ from the context menu.
  2. Type ‘devenv’ into the Start Search box (at the bottom of the Vista Start menu: just hit the Windows key and you are in it).  Then hit Control-Shift-Enter, rather than just Enter.  Control-Shift-Enter tells Windows to start the program with administrative privileges.  This one is for those of you who don’t like reaching for a mouse.
  3. Right-click a shortcut to Visual Studio, select the Compatibility tab, and check the ‘Run this program as an administrator’ checkbox at the bottom.

Always Running Visual Studio as an Administrator

The last of the items above (item 3) is the one to use if you always want to run Visual Studio as an administrator.  Once the checkbox is checked in future you will be able to click on any shortcut to Visual Studio and it will run with elevated privileges.

Note that setting the ‘Run this program as an administrator’ property on a shortcut actually sets it on the underlying executable itself (in this case devenv.exe).  It isn’t possible as far as I can see to have one shortcut that will run the program as an administrator, and another one that will run it with normal privileges.

User Account Control

If you always run Visual Studio as an administrator you are going to get the User Access Control warning every time you start it, even if you are logged in as an administrator to Windows.  Obviously you can just click ‘OK’ to dismiss this warning, but it may tempt you to turn User Access Control off.

Note that this is true only if Vista’s User Account Control (UAC) is turned on.  Many developers turn UAC off, and in this case Vista behaves in the same way as earlier versions of Windows with regard to starting Visual Studio: if you are logged in as an administrator then Visual Studio will by default run with administrative privileges.

The Administrator Account

Vista also has an account called ‘Administrator’ which behaves differently from other administrator accounts.  In fact it behaves like administrator accounts in earlier versions of Windows, in that all programs launched when using it run with administrator privileges by default.  There’s no need to specifically set up the program as described above.

As a developer your really shouldn’t need to use this account: you can develop with administrator privileges using the techniques described in this article.

However you may have occasions when you aren’t sure whether a program is failing because of some coding error or simply because a process is being launched with insufficient privileges.  In these cases it may be useful to use the Administrator account temporarily to simply rule out a problem with privileges.  Note that if you work for a large organization they are almost certainly not going to let you near this account, however: this is really only useful for those developing at home.

Using the Administrator Account

To enable the Administrator account start a command prompt with administrator privileges as described above (type ‘cmd’ in the Start Search box and hit Control-Shift-Enter).  Then enter:

net user Administrator /active:yes

This has a blank password by default.  To set a password use:

net user Administrator {password}

You can now log off and log on as the Administrator.  Once you are done with any testing you should disable this account again as below

net user Administrator /active:no

Note that disabling the account does not clear the password.  However if you forget it you can always set it again as above when you come to use the account again (provided you have access to at least one account with administrator privileges).

Aside: Administrator Account on Windows XP

The Administrator account discussed above is the main default administrator account for a computer.  Previous versions of Windows had this account as well, although other accounts with administrator rights behaved in the same way.

In particular it existed under XP.  Not only that it was enabled by default, and had a blank password.  If you’ve got an XP computer at home try hitting Ctrl-Alt-Del twice on the screen that shows your accounts, and then enter ‘Administrator’ and a blank password.  If that logs you on with admin rights you may want to consider disabling the account as described above.

7 thoughts on “Running Visual Studio as an Administrator under Windows Vista

  1. I’ve been frustrated that my mouse keystroke buttons, which I setup to copy paste, do not work in Visual Studio under my user account (w/ Run as Admin). They work fine in my admin account. Tried everything I can think of with two separate programmable mice (Logitech and Microsoft).

  2. If somebody reads this and can answer…. *please do so*… *sigh*. I think I am running VS 2005 as Admin, but since I have no Admin-rights on the box (being a small leaf node in such a large organization as hinted of above) I cannot read and do anything with the files that VS produces! For example, I’m barred from doing a simple “ls -l” in a cygwin shell, on some files produced by VS… This is just one of many things driving me crazy wrt. Windows and VS…


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