XenApp and XenDesktop Reviewer's Guide

Faster, simpler publishing of apps & desktops

Who should use this guide?

This reviewer’s guide is designed to help you quickly install and configure XenApp or XenDesktop version 7.6 LTSR or later for a trial evaluation. It guides you through a XenApp or XenDesktop deployment scenario to help you better understand how the application delivery capabilities work with the FlexCast® Management Architecture (FMA). The instructions provide an evaluation method to the most common use cases for XenApp and XenDesktop: applications, virtual infrastructure desktops (VDIs), hosted shared apps, and hosted shared desktops. Note that while the guide refers to XenDesktop throughout, the instructions will work for your XenApp evaluation as well.

For simplicity, the term 'XenDesktop' will be used in rest of the guide. However, the instructions will apply to XenApp evaluation as well. Starting with release 7.0, XenApp and XenDesktop use identical code-base and are delivered using the same software download. The difference is in how it is licensed and bought, offering flexibility of picking the feature-set and price point to suit different budgets and needs.

The target reviewer will:

  1. Have prior knowledge of managing virtual machines and Windows server
  2. Possess experience in a system administration or technical reviewer role
  3. Be familiar, at least on a conceptual level, with previous versions of XenApp or XenDesktop

In the process of following this guide, the reviewer will use XenDesktop for the core datacenter infrastructure, Citrix StoreFront for access to the enterprise app store, and Citrix ReceiverTM as the end user client software. An active directory infrastructure with DHCP and DNS services must be available. Setting up prerequisites is outside the scope of this guide.

For an in-depth evaluation and more details on the release, please see the Product Documentation.

Components of XenApp and XenDesktop

XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum editions include both application and desktop publishing capabilities. Unlike previous deployments requiring separate infrastructure for XenApp and XenDesktop, unification of the architecture with FMA provides a single delivery infrastructure, and the same consoles are used for delivering server-based applications and desktops.

Organizations looking only for app publishing capabilities at this time may license the standalone XenApp product. Since the code base is the same, subsequently upgrading from XenApp to XenDesktop is as easy as replacing the license key. There is no requirement for deploying additional infrastructure or management consoles.

Until XenApp 6.5, the product used a different architecture known as Independent Management Architecture (IMA). All current releases of XenApp and XenDesktop use the FMA. If you are upgrading from XenApp 6.5, please review this documentation.

A significant enhancement in this release, compared to XenApp 6.5, is the concept of separating XenApp management from the Windows Server machines that host virtual apps or server-based desktops. XenApp enables you to publish apps and server-based desktops from multiple platforms such as Windows Server 2008, 2012 and 2012 R2 – all from one instance of the product. Future upgrades are also simpler as a result, because it is not directly associated with a specific version of Windows Server.

Getting Started

Please download the free evaluation software. For this evaluation, it is assumed that the reviewer will perform the necessary steps to put the downloaded ISO on a DVD or mount it as virtual disk.

For convenience in this guide, components are installed on fewer servers than are recommended for a production environment. An Active Directory infrastructure with DNS and DHCP services is required before you begin (during the evaluation, we strongly recommend a non-production Active Directory and DHCP service for the test environment).

While not recommended for production deployment, all VMs for this evaluation may be run on a single physical server. The topology in this guide uses server hardware with 8 CPU cores and 64GB RAM for the test load.

Before we begin, please complete these prerequisite tasks:

  1. Ensure an Active Directory infrastructure is available. Create a group CitrixEval in Active Directory. Add users (user1, user2, etc.) to the CitrixEval group. To keep this evaluation simple, these accounts must have local administrator privileges and be domain administrators in Active Directory. In production, being a domain administrator is not required because relevant permissions will be assigned to administrator accounts according to their role.
  2. Create the virtual environment using your hypervisor of choice. XenDesktop is supported on popular hypervisors such as Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V Server, and VMware vSphere.

    Note: Please set up the preferred hypervisor (not in scope of this guide) before starting the lab.

    Download XenServer
    Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager is required if Hyper-V is used.
    Require VMware vCenter, with the correct certificates installed, if vSphere is used.
  3. You need a VM template for Windows Server 2012 R2. Create these templates as follows: Define the VM specifications (2 vCPU, 4GB RAM, 30GB vDisk) for the server OS. Assign a single network interface to all VMs. Install the operating system and activate. Convert to the template. (Refer to your hypervisor vendor’s documentation for details.)

The installation and configuration (excluding the prerequisites) are expected to take about 3 hours. Following is a list of VMs required for the setup shown in Figure 1.

Using these templates, create VMs 1 through 7 as per Table 1. Apply all the latest Windows patches, and turn Windows Update setting to “Never” afterwards. Take a snapshot of the “clean state” for each VM before installing any software other than the operating system (helpful if you ever wish to go back and start over). Join all VMs to the Active Directory domain. Using these VMs to create the master image is explained later in Step 1.1: Creating the master image.

Once you have concluded the series of exercises in this guide, you will have an environment in which you can explore the full feature set and performance of XenDesktop. Please read the product documentation for detailed instructions. The instructions in this guide are meant to provide you with an evaluation method. Not every component, feature or configuration is addressed.

The example scenario is to deliver one pooled desktop based on Windows 10 operating system and two sets of applications, as described below

  • Two Microsoft applications (Wordpad, Paint) published from Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Two applications (Firefox, LibreOffice) published as AppDisk layers to the desktop

During this evaluation, the server-side activity flowchart will look something like this.

After you download and install the software, publishing desktops and apps is a three-step process, driven through a user friendly wizard in Citrix Studio. One task needs to be performed outside of the wizard-based Studio console: creation of the master images. This involves setting up Windows machines with the required OS and other applications, then installing Citrix Virtual Delivery Agent on them to enable communication with the delivery controller.

If using AppDisks, after the AppDisk is created in Studio, you must install the apps on host machine by connecting directly to the VM, either using remote desktop (RDP) or hypervisor console.

At the endpoint, apps are launched from any device, such as a Windows laptop, MacBook, thin client or mobile device (iOS or Android), using the Citrix Receiver client. Receiver is available as a free download from citrix.com and the respective app stores.


Ensure that the prerequisites (previous section) are in place and the software has been downloaded to a DVD (or mounted on a virtual DVD). Also, ensure VM1 has Windows Server 2012R2 (as per Table 1) installed, patched, and added to the Active Directory domain. This section describes the process for installing various components of XenDesktop and configuring Studio.

The default option will be selected for most of the configuration settings. When a different option is recommended or explanation is required, those tasks are marked with a sign.

Install the Controller and other core components on VM1, which runs Windows Server 2012 R2 OS.

Tip: Use a fresh installation of the OS, updated with latest patches. Avoid installing any other software on these test VMs unless absolutely necessary.

Step 1: Set up the site in Citrix Studio

When you launch Citrix Studio for the first time, the first run wizard helps you quickly build a new site, create a pool of application servers and desktops (called “machine catalog”), and assign users to those applications and desktops (called “delivery groups”). More advanced users may add this Controller to an existing site or access physical machines using Remote PC Access (not in scope of this guide).

Step 1.1: Creating the master image and an app-store

Before you move onto step 2 of the Wizard and publish apps and desktops, it is necessary to create the master images that will be used by Machine Creation Services (MCS) to create further XenDesktop VMs. This is also known as a Golden XenDesktop image or a base image.

XenDesktop creates a default store in Citrix StoreFront; once Delivery Groups are created, the environment is available for access without any additional steps unless you wish to customize the store. The StoreFront configuration is available via the Studio console as well as its own standalone console.

Install Delivery Agent on the master image  

Follow this section to deliver secure hosted apps.

In the Getting Started section, we asked to create virtual machine templates. This is done by defining VM properties (how many vCPU, RAM, Disk space), installation of operating system (OS), installation of common apps, and other configurations you want to be part of your users’ environment.

Your account must have local administrator privileges and be a domain administrator in the Active Directory, for the purpose of the evaluation.

Select a VM template to create a master image as follows:

  1. Freshly installed Windows 10 or Windows 7, with up-to-date patches
  2. Joined to the domain and activate Windows
  3. DHCP pool availability for IP address provisioning of cloned VMs

Before you publish virtual desktop infrastructure, you must install the Citrix Virtual Delivery Agent on this desktop to create a master image. Later we also publish some apps in AppDisks and attach them as layers to the base desktop image.

The VDA is installed on this server. For this evaluation, we choose to install it in the Master Image mode, so the server image will be managed and replicated using MCS. You may install the Delivery Agent in standalone mode, e.g.. to deliver applications from the server itself, without replication. That is useful when the VDA is on a physical server, for instance.

Step 2: Creating the machine catalog

A machine catalog is a collection of desktops or physical computers that are managed as a single entity. To deliver applications and desktops to users, the machine administrator creates a catalog of machines and the assignment administrator allocates machines from the machine catalog to users by creating delivery groups.

For this isolated evaluation, we simply use a domain administrator in the Active Directory with local administrator privileges.

Step 3: Publish desktops and applications

To publish applications in a unified infrastructure, you add applications in Studio to make them available to delivery group users. Using Studio, you will first have to configure a site, create and specify machine catalogs, and then create delivery groups using those machine catalogs. Users are then entitled to one or more Delivery Groups and use the applications you decide to publish.

Since XenDesktop, it is now possible to deploy applications as layers on top of the base image, rather than install everything on the base image itself. This feature, known as “Appdisk”, dramatically reduces the number of base images required for different functions within an organization. For example, before AppDisk, delivering sensitive departmental apps for Finance may have required a separate base image than the one used for Sales and Contractors. Now, sales users, finance users, and even external contractors receive a common base image; the sensitive finance apps may be deployed as AppDisks “layer” only visible and accessible to finance users.

Before we create delivery groups, let us create AppDisks and deploy the applications into layers that we will stack on top of the base image.

If your deployment also includes Citrix AppDNA, you can integrate the AppDisks feature with it; AppDNA allows XenDesktop and XenApp to perform automatic analysis of applications on a per-AppDisk basis.

For more details on how application publishing has evolved since XenApp 6.5, please see Important Information for XenDesktop Administrators in the product documentation.

Create AppDisk

AppDisks separate groups of applications from the operating system on the master image, enabling you to manage them independently. This simplifies IT administration and enables you to be more responsive to user needs. If the application supports it, you may create AppDisks on Windows Server and deploy to Windows desktop, and vice versa. Once you create different AppDisks and attach them to one or more Delivery Groups, you can select which apps you wish to publish.

Install the applications on AppDisk

Before you seal and deploy the AppDisk, you must install all the applications you wish to deliver in this layer. Make sure Windows Update is disabled on host VM while installing apps to the AppDisk.

Seal the AppDisk

This is the final and important step before assigning the AppDisk to delivery groups and users.

Create desktop OS delivery groups

The first delivery group we create is for VDI desktops, using Windows Desktop OS. Create a new Windows 10 machine catalog using the VDA created in Step 1.1 as the base image. Follow the steps in Step 2: Create Machine Catalogs, selecting Windows Desktop OS as the machine type.

Optionally, create AppDisks to use the new layering technology in XenDesktop using the instructions earlier.

Once the catalog is created, and AppDisks are ready, come back here to create VDI delivery group.

Create server OS delivery groups

XenDesktop Enterprise and Platinum editions allow delivery of both desktop OS and server OS resources. Delivery groups based on Server OS can deliver both hosted-shared desktops as well as applications. Create a new Windows Server 2012 R2 machine catalog using the Master Image created in Step 1.1. Follow Step 2: Create Machine Catalogs, selecting Windows Server OS as the machine type and MCS provisioning technology.

Optionally, create AppDisks to use the new layering technology in XenDesktop using the instructions earlier.

Once the catalog is created, and AppDisks are ready, come back here to create application delivery group.

Step 4: Configuring the StoreFront Server

Citrix StoreFront is the next generation of Web Interface, and enables self-service provisioning of desktops and applications, among a host of new functionality. StoreFront authenticates users and manages the store of applications and desktops. In this evaluation, StoreFront runs on the same server as the Controller (VM1).

One of the most popular features in the new StoreFront is custom branding. Each aspect of the end user experience, including colors, fonts, logo, layout, messages, and more can be modified in a few clicks. Moreover, the customization is only done once and rendered on the server. This means all Citrix Receivers have the same look-and-feel, whether different OS platform or different form factors such as mobile, tablet, web, or desktop.

The next few screens provide a high level overview of customization controls. See the admin guide for more details.

This is just a glimpse of the customization possibilities in StoreFront, which only scratches the surface. Please see the admin guide for more details, including advanced customization options using web scripts and the PowerShell interface.

Step 5: End user session launch (Citrix Receiver)

You will now use VM #6 from Table 1 to launch apps and desktops on an end-point and experience as end-user.

Launch published desktops and applications using Receiver

Citrix Receiver is the lightweight access client that enables access to applications and desktops from StoreFront. Once a user is authenticated, you will have access those applications and desktops hosted on XenDesktop.

Citrix Receiver is a very flexible and user-friendly client for desktop and app access, downloaded by over 200,000 users every month. Feel free to experiment and create the look-and-feel that is most appealing to your users and meets all your business needs.

Step 6: Operations helpdesk and monitoring with Director

Citrix Director is the only operations dashboard designed from ground up to resolve the unique challenges created by app and desktop virtualization. Unlike most industry monitoring solutions that take an infrastructure view of the environment, Director is designed for the “end user” view. It greatly increases efficiency of support helpdesk and Citrix specialists by providing great detail about all aspects of the user sessions – whether related to application, networking, storage, compute, or even the end user device. Use the Director to quickly identify and resolve issues before they negatively impact end-user performance.


This concludes your evaluation of XenDesktop release. This simplified guide is intended for a quick evaluation of the product features, using a narrow scope of work. It does not replace the product documentation and detailed deployment guides .

Through this process, you learned how to install a basic deployment of XenDesktop, configure a Studio site and create machine catalogs. Using delivery groups, you provisioned both apps and desktops from a single unified console. You also got a glimpse into the brand new AppDisk layering feature that simplifies image management. You saw the flexible end user delivery options, whether custom branding or true support for any device. Finally, you experienced the powerful monitoring, troubleshooting, and analytical features of Director, seeing the value of an intuitive purpose-built tool for day-to-day operations of a large-scale virtualized environment.

Over the past 25 years, our leading design philosophy believes there is no one-size-fits-all architecture. Our customers have uniquely varied requirements, from small organizations enabling workspace mobility to the largest Fortune 500 corporations deploying tens of thousands of XenApp servers. The basic building blocks of machine catalogs, delivery groups, and apps can be put together to meet sophisticated and complex business needs. This guide is targeted at administrators that may be new to Citrix, and as such, it follows the simplest workflow to get an evaluation running. Now that you have completed these tasks and seen how a basic deployment functions, use the XenApp and XenDesktop documentation to experience all the components and features available with this release.


A few additional features and use-cases are covered in this section. These features require slightly more advanced knowledge of the product, so they were moved outside the main document instructions.

Receiver for HTML5 for client-less access

One of the most powerful enhancements to XenDesktop is the ability to run applications and desktops in a browser, without installing any client software on the end-point. The HTML5 Receiver for XenDesktop delivers a rich graphical user-experience using the Deep Compression technology from the native Receiver. For mobile work styles, the HTML5 Receiver is a very important and useful tool.

Three easy steps get you ready to use Receiver for HTML5 in XenDesktop environment

  1. Enable Receiver for HTML5 in Citrix StoreFront
  2. Enable ICA WebSockets in Citrix Group Policy
  3. Test Desktop launch from a compatible browser and client

Detailed instructions are provided in Product Documentation

Step 1: Enable Receiver for HTML5 in Citrix StoreFront
If not already installed, please deploy Citrix StoreFront either on the same server as the Delivery Controller or a standalone console. Create a store for the site.

Step 2: Enable Ports using Group Policy
Once the Receiver settings are configured in StoreFront, we need to enable the ICA Websockets using Group Policies from Citrix Studio console.

Step 3: Verify HTML5 access to your Desktops and Applications
From the client machine, access the Storefront URL using a compatible browser

Login via StoreFront URL using domain credentials based on permission (users/groups) in delivery group. Default URL would be http://<DDC-IPaddress-or-FQDN>/Citrix/StoreWeb

If you selected the Always Use Receiver for HTML5, you will not see the prompt to install Receiver. Instead, it will directly ask you to authenticate.

Receiver for Chrome App is used when users running Google’s Chrome OS log on to a Receiver for Web site. It is also based on HTML5 but has more features due to Google’s API support.

Receiver for HTML5 is a great tool when local installation of the plug-in is not possible or recommended, say in kiosk mode. The native client is recommended where possible, for best performance and user-experience.

Citrix Receiver for HTML5 contains many enhancements for great user experience:

  1. A floating toolbar enables clipboard copy-paste between client and virtual desktop.
  2. Toolbar also lets you send CTRL+ALT+DEL for Windows tasks such as logging off, locking the screen,
    and so on
  3. When not in use, toolbar is inconspicuously docked at any edge of the screen
  4. “Host to client URL redirection” redirects websites opened in session to the client browser, for the best
    multimedia experience.

Back to top

Further reading