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Rolling Back VMWare ESXI Server’s Evaluation License In A Pinch

ESXI is VMWare’s free bare metal hypervisor for running virtual machines. Upon installation it comes with a 60 day evaluation period before VMWare wants you to obtain a regular free license from their download website. On happenstance my 60 day evaluation license on a development server happened to expire but when I went to VMWare to obtain a key, I was met with maintenance mode!

When your evaluation expires it means you cannot start up any of your virtual machines. I had to have access to one of my development servers. So I needed a work around since was having maintenance issues and I couldn’t acquire the free key. I scoured the internet and found on a VMWare forum a procedure to roll back the evaluation license for another 60 days. However it was not detailed and it took a different route for me to get the roll back to work. This is what I did.

Rolling back the evaluation license

The first thing you want to do is enable SSH on your ESXI server. Log in to your ESXI server from the browser and go to the following location. Navigator -> Manage -> Services. Once you get to this screen, start the TSM-SSH service.

Now we can open up a terminal and log into the server via SSH. Use the following command and make sure you qualify your ESXI IP address with your administrator username. Then enter your password when asked.

ssh <username>@<esxi_server_ip_address>

Once you are logged in, you need to locate the license files and delete them from the file directory.

rm -r /etc/vmware/license.cfg
rm -r /etc/vmware/vmware.lic

The ESXI server maintains a copy of the evaluation license on the file directory so all we have to do is copy a new license.cfg with that copy.

cp /etc/vmware/.#license.cfg /etc/vmware/license.cfg

This is where the information i had found did not work for me. There was information about restarting the VPXD (Vcenter Server Service) service and rebooting the ESXI server. This however did not work for me. It would not roll back the license. I still couldn’t’ start my VMs.

/etc/init.d/vpxa restart

Instead I re-deleted the license config files and restarted the VPXD service from the ESXI web interface. Again the location for services is Navigator -> Manage -> Services.

Once I restarted the service I refreshed the license. Go to Navigator -> Manage -> Licensing.
Then hit the refresh button.

This process should generate a new vmware.lic file. Confirm it was generated from your SSH connection.

cat /etc/vmware/vmware.lic

Then check your license in the web browser. You should have your zeroed out evaluation code and the ability to start your virtual machines back up for another 60 days.

Now go back to service and turn SSH back off for security reasons.


In this article I showed you how to roll back an ESXI evaluation license. It’s not an ideal solution but if you are not able to obtain a free license key due to VMWare downloads site being down, or you need another 60 days to make a decision on what type of ESXI or VCenter solution you want, this is the best work around. Hope this helps you get access to your virtual machines in a pinch.

Michael has been a professional in the information technology field for over 10 years, specializing in software engineering and systems administration. He studied network security and holds a software engineering degree from Milwaukee Area Technical College with thousands of hours of self taught learning as well. He mainly writes about technology, current events, and coding. Michael also is the founder of Sof Digital, an U.S. based software development Firm. His hobbies are archery, turntablism, disc golf and rally racing.

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