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Summary

Windows networking has many similar attributes between versions of Windows. In particular, Windows can be split into two distinct families: Win9x and WinNT based. The various versions of Windows Networking also have many similar attributes: The naming and service location has traditionally been accomplished via NetBIOS, and still is done so on many currently available versions of Windows, but DNS will eventually supplant this. NBTSTAT is the tool of choice for diagnosing NetBIOS issues; nslookup is the tool of choice for dealing with DNS. As with most other networking functions, configuring for broadcasts is a bad idea for all but the very smallest networks.

The process of locating a server via explicit name is different from searching for available servers; the latter process is called browsing. Service location for NetBIOS via a router is accomplishable via WINS, a simple database that registers computers, and allows computers to look others up. WINS has several limitations that seem to be addressed by the future DNS model; great if you're using Win2K and above. Static name resolution using host tables should be reserved for troubleshooting purposes—and you should check for static resolution if name server changes don't seem to propagate.

Three types of authentication are performed on Windows networks: workgroup, NT Domain, and Active Directory. It's worth knowing how Active Directory is structured so that you can identify where potential problems might lie. No matter whether you're deploying AD or coming in after the servers have been switched on, it's a good idea to get familiar with Microsoft's AD design guidelines. One additional wrinkle to AD is that third-party devices can use Active Directory's LDAP capabilities to authenticate, even without a Windows client on board; getting an LDAP browser for troubleshooting purposes is a good idea.

Windows has a plethora of TCP/IP commands at your disposal, with even more Windows-specific commands distributed with the Windows Resource Kits. These have a lot of built-in commands and programs for diagnosing and configuring the network; it's worth spending some time investigating them now so that you can use them when problems arise.

The statistic-gathering capability of Windows is immensely valuable to troubleshooters. Throughput is one key element to a well-functioning Windows Network. By using the System Monitor or Performance tool, you can rule in or rule out problems with a workstation, a server, or even infrastructure such as an Ethernet switch.

Real operating systems allow you to keep track of processes, files "handles" and other resources. The Windows NT family is really good at this. With third-party tools, notably those from SysInternals, you can track open files, processes, process correlation to TCP and UDP socket pairs, file access attempts, and even registry activity.

Finally, although the Microsoft-recommended recovery methods work in some cases, sometimes (like when you forget to update your ERD as your system configuration changes) they don't. Apart from third-party tools, booting from an alternative Windows install on your hard drive, moving your hard drive to another PC, or connecting to it via the network (assuming that it gets far enough in the boot sequence to offer file and print services) are all ways that you can attempt to fix your Windows machine if it doesn't boot up right.

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