The active directory recycle bin is a useful feature that allows recovery of accidentally deleted active directory objects. When enabled, the recycle bin stores deleted objects for a configured period of time before permanent deletion.
Understanding how the active directory recycle bin works and how to properly utilize it can help administrators easily restore important objects like user accounts, groups, or organizational units that may get accidentally deleted.
What is the Active Directory Recycle Bin?
The active directory recycle bin is a restored deleted objects container that comes with Windows Server 2008 R2 and newer domain controllers. Once enabled, any objects deleted from Active Directory are stored in this container for a specified period of time.
Some key things to know about the active directory recycle bin:
It allows recovery of most deleted Active Directory objects including users, groups, contacts and organizational units
Objects are stored for a configurable number of days (tombstone lifetime) before being purged
The recycle bin is enabled at the Forest level
Why Use the Active Directory Recycle Bin?
There are a few key benefits to using the Active Directory recycle bin in environments:
Easy Reversal of Accidental Deletions - Main benefit is the ability to undo accidental object deletions without restoring data from backup. This makes recovery easier and faster.
No Impact on Replication - Objects stored in the recycle bin do not replicate across domain controllers. This avoids unnecessary replication traffic.
Flexible Retention Policies - Admins can configure the tombstone lifetime from 0 to 365 days depending on organizational policies around retention.
Overall, the main advantage of the active directory recycle bin is simplifying the accidental deletion recovery process in Active Directory environments.
How the Active Directory Recycle Bin Works
When enabled, the recycle bin adds an additional container called Deleted Objects under the domain and configuration naming contexts. Objects go through the following stages:
Deletion - When an Active Directory object is deleted, it is retained in the Deleted Objects container, where it remains recoverable.
Purging - Once an object reaches its tombstone lifetime limit configured in Active Directory, it is permanently removed from the recycle bin.
During the transitional deletion stages, metadata about the objects is still retained allowing for recovery until purging. Enablement also causes deletions to bypass the Active Directory specific containers like Computers or OUs.
Additionally, while stored in the recycle bin container, objects do not replicate any changes across domain controllers. This avoids unnecessary replication traffic for deleted items.
Enabling and Configuring the Active Directory Recycle Bin
Follow these steps to enable the Active Directory recycle bin:
Open Active Directory Domains and Trusts
In the console tree, right-click the domain name and click Operation Masters
On the Operations Masters tab, click Change next to RID Master and select the domain controller that will hold the role
In the console tree, right click Active Directory Domains and Trusts and select Enable Recycle Bin
Follow the wizard prompts and enable the recycle bin feature
Can take some time depending on environment size
Configure tombstone lifetime retention days anywhere from 0 to 365
Once configured, deleted objects will now be retained in the Deleted Objects container for the retention period.
Recovering Deleted Objects
To recover deleted Active Directory objects from recycle bin:
- Open Active Directory Users and Computers
- Expand system container and find "Deleted Objects"
- Locate and right click the object to restore
- Click Undelete option and confirm object recovery
The object will be restored in its original location in Active Directory.
Note that if the tombstone lifetime period expires, object recovery is not possible. The recycle bin permanently removes entries after the configured days.
Active Directory Recycle Bin Use Cases
Here are some examples of ways the active directory recycle bin helps in production environments:
User Account Deletions - Easily recover terminated employee accounts that get accidentally deleted
Group Policy Mistakes - If GPO links get removed, restore from recycle bin
Exchange Attribute Issues - If Exchange attributes are removed from AD user accounts, restore attributes
Inadvertent OU Deletions - Recover deleted OUs without restoring full backups
Limitations to Be Aware Of
While powerful, there are some limitations to note with the active directory recycle bin:
No Object Rollback - Recovered objects revert to last state, recent changes still lost
Forest Level Requirement - Need Windows Server 2008 R2 or newer schema level
No Object Transform Restores - Cannot restore objects that have changed types
Potential Delays - Extremely large environments may have delays enabling
The active directory recycle bin brings simplified, faster recovery of deleted objects to Active Directory environments. With configurable retention policies, protection against accidental deletions, and no replication impact, it's a valuable failsafe for administrators.
As with any enterprise technology, it is still critical to understand the inner workings, proper configuration steps, recovery procedures, and limitations of the recycle bin feature before relying on it heavily. But used properly, it can save hours over conventional object restores from backups.
For environments needing easy, rapid reversal of mistakes, as well as generally simplifying Active Directory administration, the recycle bin delivers immense long term value.