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Posted 9 Nov 2010
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A Complete Impersonation Demo in C#.NET

, 20 Jun 2013
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A complete Impersonation demo in C#.NET

Under some scenarios, we need to impersonate another Windows account and do some work under that user’s session, for example:

  • An enterprise ASP.NET web application provides server administrators’ ability to access the server under some specific privilege set; Server admin inputs their NT account information (domain\account + password) on the page, we need to get WinNT Access Token and then impersonate this server user, so that we acquire its specific privilege and do the things ONLY THIS ACCOUNT CAN DO.
  • We developed a Windows Service which needs internet access periodically, but a specific user sets an Sock5 proxy to access the internet, then your Windows Service needs to know the Socks proxy information so that it could access internet, you must impersonate this user and read the settings.

Impersonation Definition

Definition copied from

Impersonation is the ability of a thread to execute using different security information than the process that owns the thread. Typically, a thread in a server application impersonates a client. This allows the server thread to act on behalf of that client to access objects on the server or validate access to the client’s own objects.

I read many articles and blogs and wrote an ImpersonateHelper class to do impersonation work. During the investigation, I noticed that very few articles/blogs refer to a complete impersonation process, so I decided to write one that refers to as many details as possible, and actually my code was a code snippet combination that came from 10+ sourcesSmile.


I create a local user: TempUser which belongs to “Administrators” (make sure to log on TempUser at least once). I logged on as my own account and I am going to impersonate TempUser and do two things:

  1. Create a folder “C:\TempFolder”, modify its default privilege, ONLY TempUser has full control of it, I will create a text file under this folder after impersonating to prove impersonation is successful.


    Notes: After setting TempUser as the only owner, my current account cannot access this folder except privilege promotion (I disabled UAC, if UAC is enabled, a prompt window will pop up and as for Admin confirm).


    In addition, I tried to access this folder programmatically under my account, UnauthorizedAccessException will be thrown!


  2. I will access TempUser’s HKEY_CURRENT_USER and do registry key creation, reading and deleting.

Code Snippet

We need to invoke three very famous Win32 APIs: LogonUser, DuplicateToken and RevertToSelf.

public static extern int LogonUser(String lpszUserName,
    String lpszDomain,
    String lpszPassword,
    int dwLogonType,
    int dwLogonProvider,
    ref IntPtr phToken);
[DllImport("advapi32.dll", CharSet = CharSet.Auto, SetLastError = true)]
public static extern int DuplicateToken(IntPtr hToken, int impersonationLevel, 
	ref IntPtr hNewToken);

/// A process should call the RevertToSelf function after finishing 
/// any impersonation begun by using the DdeImpersonateClient, 
/// ImpersonateDdeClientWindow, ImpersonateLoggedOnUser, ImpersonateNamedPipeClient, 
/// ImpersonateSelf, ImpersonateAnonymousToken or SetThreadToken function.
/// If RevertToSelf fails, your application continues to run in the context of the client,
/// which is not appropriate. You should shut down the process if RevertToSelf fails.
/// RevertToSelf Function:
/// A boolean value indicates the function succeeded or not.
[DllImport("advapi32.dll", CharSet = CharSet.Auto, SetLastError = true)]
public static extern bool RevertToSelf();

[DllImport("kernel32.dll", CharSet = CharSet.Auto, SetLastError = true)]
public static extern bool CloseHandle(IntPtr handle);

An important note: In order to access HKCU, we need to invoke another Win32 API: LoadUserProfile, to acquire the handle of HKCU under TempUser, code below, as I highlighted line 45 and 49, after invoking LoadUserProfile, hProfile will be set handle to HKCU:

public struct ProfileInfo
    /// Specifies the size of the structure, in bytes.
    public int dwSize;
    /// This member can be one of the following flags: 
    public int dwFlags;
    /// Pointer to the name of the user.
    /// This member is used as the base name of the directory 
    /// in which to store a new profile.
    public string lpUserName;
    /// Pointer to the roaming user profile path.
    /// If the user does not have a roaming profile, this member can be NULL.
    public string lpProfilePath;
    /// Pointer to the default user profile path. This member can be NULL.
    public string lpDefaultPath;
    /// Pointer to the name of the validating domain controller, in NetBIOS format.
    /// If this member is NULL, the Windows NT 4.0-style policy will not be applied.
    public string lpServerName;
    /// Pointer to the path of the Windows NT 4.0-style policy file. 
    /// This member can be NULL.
    public string lpPolicyPath;
    /// Handle to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER registry key.
    public IntPtr hProfile;

    [DllImport("userenv.dll", SetLastError = true, CharSet = CharSet.Auto)]
    public static extern bool LoadUserProfile
    	(IntPtr hToken, ref ProfileInfo lpProfileInfo);
    [DllImport("Userenv.dll", CallingConvention = 
    	CallingConvention.Winapi, SetLastError = true, CharSet = CharSet.Auto)]
    public static extern bool UnloadUserProfile
    	(IntPtr hToken, IntPtr lpProfileInfo);

Code to Execute Impersonation

WindowsIdentity m_ImpersonatedUser;
            IntPtr token = IntPtr.Zero;
            IntPtr tokenDuplicate = IntPtr.Zero;
            const int SecurityImpersonation = 2;
            const int TokenType = 1;

                if (RevertToSelf())
                    Console.WriteLine("Before impersonation: " +

                    String userName = "TempUser";
                    IntPtr password = GetPassword();

                    if (LogonUser(userName, Environment.MachineName, 
                    	"!@#$QWERasdf", LOGON32_LOGON_INTERACTIVE,
                                  LOGON32_PROVIDER_DEFAULT, ref token) != 0)
                        if (DuplicateToken(token, SecurityImpersonation, 
					ref tokenDuplicate) != 0)
                            m_ImpersonatedUser = new WindowsIdentity(tokenDuplicate);
                            using (m_ImpersonationContext = 
                                if (m_ImpersonationContext != null)
                                    Console.WriteLine("After Impersonation succeeded: 
                                    		" + Environment.NewLine +
                                                      "User Name: " +
                                                      (TokenAccessLevels.MaximumAllowed).Name +
                                                      Environment.NewLine +
                                                      "SID: " +

                                    #region LoadUserProfile
                                    // Load user profile
                                    ProfileInfo profileInfo = new ProfileInfo();
                                    profileInfo.dwSize = Marshal.SizeOf(profileInfo);
                                    profileInfo.lpUserName = userName;
                                    profileInfo.dwFlags = 1;
                                    Boolean loadSuccess = LoadUserProfile
					(tokenDuplicate, ref profileInfo);

                                    if (!loadSuccess)
						failed with error code: " +
                                        throw new Win32Exception

                                    if (profileInfo.hProfile == IntPtr.Zero)
                                            "LoadUserProfile() failed - 
                                            HKCU handle was not loaded. Error code: " +
                                        throw new Win32Exception


                                    // Do tasks after impersonating successfully

                                    // Access HKCU after loading user's profile

                                    // Unload user profile
                                    // MSDN remarks 
			         // (VS.85).aspx
                                    // Before calling UnloadUserProfile you should ensure 
                                    // that all handles to keys that you have opened in the
                                    // user's registry hive are closed. If you do not close 
                                    // all open registry handles, the user's profile fails
                                    // to unload. For more information, 
                                    // see Registry Key Security 
                                    // and Access Rights and Registry Hives.
					(tokenDuplicate, profileInfo.hProfile);

                                    // Undo impersonation
                            Console.WriteLine("DuplicateToken() failed with 
                            	error code: " + Marshal.GetLastWin32Error());
                            throw new Win32Exception(Marshal.GetLastWin32Error());
            catch (Win32Exception we)
                throw we;
                throw new Win32Exception(Marshal.GetLastWin32Error());
                if (token != IntPtr.Zero) CloseHandle(token);
                if (tokenDuplicate != IntPtr.Zero) CloseHandle(tokenDuplicate);

                Console.WriteLine("After finished impersonation: " + 

AccessFileSystem Method

private static void AccessFileSystem()
    // Access file system %appdata% will be "C:\Users\TempUser\appdata\Roaming"
    String appDataPath = Environment.GetFolderPath
    File.AppendAllText("C:\\TempFolder\\Temp.txt", "some text...");

AccessHkcuRegistry Method

private static void AccessHkcuRegistry(IntPtr hkcuHandle)
    // Access registry HKCU
    using (SafeRegistryHandle safeHandle = new SafeRegistryHandle(hkcuHandle, true))
        using (RegistryKey tempUserHKCU = RegistryKey.FromHandle(safeHandle))
            // Unum all sub keys under tempuser's HKCU
            String[] keys = tempUserHKCU.GetSubKeyNames();
            // Create a new sub key under tempuser's HKCU
            using (RegistryKey tempKeyByWayne = 
                // Ensure privilege
                //RegistrySecurity registrySecurity = new RegistrySecurity();
                //RegistryAccessRule accessRule = new RegistryAccessRule
                // 	(Environment.MachineName + "\\" + userName,
                //          RegistryRights.TakeOwnership,
                //          InheritanceFlags.ContainerInherit,
                //          PropagationFlags.None,
                //          AccessControlType.Allow);
                // Create a new String value under created TempKeyByWayne subkey
                tempKeyByWayne.SetValue("StrType", "TempContent", 
                // Read the value
                using (RegistryKey regKey = tempUserHKCU.OpenSubKey("TempKeyByWayne"))
                    String valueContent = regKey.GetValue("StrType") as String;
                // Delete created TempKeyByWayne subkey

Impersonation Result and Verification

Temp.txt was created.


TempKeyByWayne” was created under HKCU.



Filed under: Win32 API, Windows Development, Windows Service
Tagged: .NET, C#, CodeProject, DuplicateToken, Impersonate, LoadUserProfile, LogonUser, PInvoke, Win32 API


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Wayne Ye
Software Developer (Senior) SAP Labs Shanghai
China China
Wayne is a software developer, Tech Lead and also a geek. He has more than 6 years' experience in Web development(server: ASP.NET (MVC), Web Service, IIS; Client: HTML/CSS/JavaScript/jQuery/AJAX), Windows development (Winform, Windows Service, WPF/Silverlight, Win32 API and WMI) and SQL Server. Deep understanding of GOF Design Patterns, S.O.L.i.D principle, MVC, MVVM, Domain Driven Design, SOA, REST and AOP.

Wayne's Geek Life

Infinite passion on programming!

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Comments and Discussions

QuestionCan a PIN be used for impersonation login Pin
Member 1332242521-Jul-17 10:58
memberMember 1332242521-Jul-17 10:58 
QuestionLoadUserProfile returns false. Can you please help? Pin
Ven HS2-Sep-16 0:03
memberVen HS2-Sep-16 0:03 
QuestionLoadUserProfile fails after the user is impersonated in Windows 2008 R2 Machine. Pin
Member 36507944-Feb-15 11:22
memberMember 36507944-Feb-15 11:22 
AnswerRe: LoadUserProfile fails after the user is impersonated in Windows 2008 R2 Machine. Pin
Member 1225913612-Jan-16 1:01
memberMember 1225913612-Jan-16 1:01 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pin
M Rayhan10-Oct-13 23:10
memberM Rayhan10-Oct-13 23:10 
QuestionLink to code broken, but here is a full simplified example Pin
Jason Jakob20-Jun-13 5:11
memberJason Jakob20-Jun-13 5:11 
QuestionProgrammatically Impersonation in VB.NET to access Task from Task Scheduler Pin
sanjayv.gade11-Apr-12 2:13
membersanjayv.gade11-Apr-12 2:13 
GeneralAccess Rights Pin
Josh.Hetland6-Dec-10 11:04
memberJosh.Hetland6-Dec-10 11:04 
GeneralRe: Access Rights Pin
Member 1225913612-Jan-16 1:01
memberMember 1225913612-Jan-16 1:01 
QuestionDuplicateToken ? Pin
Nicolas Dorier12-Nov-10 4:02
professionalNicolas Dorier12-Nov-10 4:02 
AnswerRe: DuplicateToken ? Pin
Wayne Ye13-Nov-10 20:02
memberWayne Ye13-Nov-10 20:02 
GeneralRe: DuplicateToken ? Pin
Nicolas Dorier14-Nov-10 5:03
professionalNicolas Dorier14-Nov-10 5:03 
GeneralRe: DuplicateToken ? Pin
Wayne Ye15-Nov-10 17:00
memberWayne Ye15-Nov-10 17:00 
GeneralRe: DuplicateToken ? Pin
Nicolas Dorier15-Nov-10 17:27
professionalNicolas Dorier15-Nov-10 17:27 
GeneralRe: DuplicateToken ? Pin
Wayne Ye15-Nov-10 18:22
memberWayne Ye15-Nov-10 18:22 

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