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Group Policy Management

Updated on June 22, 2015

Group Policy Management

A policy is a set of configuration settings that must be applied to users or computers. Collections of policy settings are stored in a Group Policy object (GPO). The GPO is a collection of files that includes registry settings, scripts, templates, and software-specific configuration values.

GPOs apply to objects when they are linked to containers and configured with specific settings.

  • GPOs can be linked to Active Directory domains or organizational units (OUs). Built-in containers (such as the Computers container) cannot have GPOs linked to them.
  • A GPO only affects the users and computers beneath the object to which the GPO is linked.
  • A local GPO is stored on a local machine. It can be used to define settings even if the computer is not connected to a network.
  • A specific setting in a GPO can be:
    • Undefined, meaning that the GPO has no value for that setting and does not change the current setting.
    • Defined, meaning that the GPO identifies a new value to enforce.
  • GPOs are applied in the following order:
    1. The Local Group Policy on the computer
    2. GPOs linked to the domain that contains the User or Computer object
    3. GPOs linked to the organizational unit(s) that contain(s) the User or Computer object (from the highest-level OU to the lowest-level OU).
  • Individual settings within all GPOs are combined to form the effective Group Policy setting as follows:
    • If a setting is defined in one GPO and undefined in another, the setting will be enforced (regardless of the position of the GPO in the application order).
    • If a setting is configured in two GPOs, the setting in the last-applied GPO will be used.

Each GPO has a common structure, with hundreds of configuration settings that can be enabled and configured. Settings are divided into two categories:

  1. Computer Configuration
  2. User Configuration


Group Policy
Group Policy

Group Policy - Computer Configuration

Computer policies (also called machine policies) are enforced for the entire computer, and are initially applied when the computer boots. Computer policies include:

  • Software that should be installed on a specific computer
  • Scripts that should run at startup or shutdown
  • Password restrictions that must be met for all user accounts
  • Network communication security settings
  • Registry settings that apply to the computer (the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE subtree)

Computer policies also include a special category of policies called user rights. User rights identify system maintenance tasks and the users or groups who can perform these actions. Actions include:

  • Changing the system time
  • Loading and unloading device drivers
  • Removing a computer from a docking station
  • Shutting down the system

Computer policies are initially applied as the computer boots, and are enforced before any user logs on.

Group Policy - User Configuration

 User policies are enforced for specific users, and are initially applied when the user logs on. User policy settings include:

  • Software that should be installed for a specific user
  • Scripts that should run at logon or logoff
  • Internet Explorer user settings (such as favorites and security settings)
  • Registry settings that apply to the current user (the HKEY_CURRENT_USER subtree)

User policies are initially applied as the user logs on, and often customize Windows based on user preferences.


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