The NT Browser and Windows Networking

To find the various computers on a LAN, from each other, you generally open Windows Explorer (don’t confuse this with Internet Explorer, please), and look in My Network Places. On a fully working LAN, this will work just fine. It doesn’t always work that way though.

The contents of My Network Places (Network Neighbourhood, in some cases) are provided by a subsystem known as the NT Browser. The browser depends upon Server Message Blocks, and anything that interferes with SMBs will cause browser problems, and consequent problems in Network Neighbourhood.

In most cases, browser problems are symptoms of more basic network issues. Computer A and B should be equally visible, and accessible, from each other.

In one common scenario, Computer A shows both Computers A and B, as it should, and files on Computer B are accessible. On Computer B, either you don’t see Computer A, or when you try to access Computer A, you get an error. You may, or it may not, see Computer B from itself. This visibility problem may be observed constantly, or it may come and go.

  • Since Computer B is accessible from Computer A, a permanent physical connectivity issue is unlikely, but still possible.
  • Besides physical problems, browser problems can have several possible causes. Browser functionality depends upon several relationships:
    • The browser server (ie the browser), and this computer. If this computer can’t access its designated browser server, it may lack browse information, and / or have outdated information.
    • The browser server, and the client server (ie any computer being enumerated by the browser). A server, remember, is any computer being displayed in Network Neighborhood. If the browser server can’t contact a client server, or if the client server uses a different browser, that server may not appear in Network Neighborhood.
    • The browser server, and the master browser (if not the same computer). If a browser server can’t contact the master browser, it won’t get the browse list aggregated by the master browser. Any client computers that use that browser won’t have the browse list aggregated by the master browser.
    • The master browser for this domain / workgroup, and master browsers for other domains / workgroups. Any master browsers that can’t contact other master browsers won’t be able to exchange browse lists with them, and their clients won’t have the browse lists for the other domains / workgroups.
  • Problems with any of the above relationships – now, or in the past – can cause various problems with Network Neighborhood. All computers won’t try to access the browser simultaneously; if a browser problem just started, all computers won’t reflect the problem immediately. If there is a problem, asymmetrical browse lists should be expected.

You will probably best address your problem by continuing with my troubleshooting guide, Irregularities In Workgroup Visibility.

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