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Windows Network Browse Service
Last updated: 7/10/01

Q.  What is the Windows network Browse Service and what is a Browse Master?

A.  The Microsoft networking browser system consists of a master browser, backup browsers, and client computers.  The Windows browse service maintains a list, called the browse list, of computers with resources (servers--a client computer can also be a server in a peer-to-peer network) in a workgroup.  One computer, the Browse Master, maintains the browse list.  Users browse a network (browse list) to find, identify, and connect to network resources.  Network resources are found by scrolling through a list of workgroups in the Network Neighborhood/My Network Places (workgroups are listed under the entire Network in Windows Me), a list of computers in a  workgroup, and a list of shared resources on a computer.  A computer can belong to only one workgroup and can only use resources in that workgroup.   If a computer belongs to a Windows domain, both the domain and workgroup names must be identical.  When a computer first starts Windows, it hunts for a Browse Master.  An election is conducted if no Browse Master is found.   An election is also conducted when a Master Browser disappears from the network (e.g., someone turns it off) or a Windows NT or 2000 Server starts.  If the Browse Master function is enabled and one Windows NT or 2000 Sever that is the Primary Domain Controller is present, it becomes the Browse Master.  If no domain controllers are present than the Master Browser is selected in the following priority order :  Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT 4.0 Server Enterprise Edition, Windows NT 4.0 Server, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, Windows 98/SE/Me, Windows 95, Windows for Workgroups 3.11. There is one Browse Master per network segment (a group of computers connected to an Ethernet hub are in the same network segment).  A Browse Master will appoint computers with the Browse Master function enabled or set to automatic as a backup browse server for every 32 computers on a network segment.  Secondary domain controllers on the same network segment with a primary domain controller become backup Browse Masters.  The Browse Master sends a copy of the browse list to the backup browse servers every fifteen minutes .  A client computer announces itself to the network based on what server services it is running.  A Windows computer will not appear in a browse list if it is not running File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks.  It may take up to 15 minutes for a computer to be added to the browse list.  It may take up to 51 minutes (this number varies with different MS references and the process is complex) for a computer to be removed from a browse list after it has stopped announcing its presence.

To browse across TCP/IP subnetworks at least one Windows NT or 2000 Server Browse Master must be on each subnetwork.  Microsoft networks using the IPX/SPX-compatible protocol (NWLink), have only one master browser for each domain and name queries are sent across routers in such a network automatically.  For more Info see the Windows 98/98SE Resource Kit; Browsing and Windows 95 Networking (Parts 1-3); MS KB Article Q238853, Cannot Browse Network Neighborhood if PDC Is on Separate Subnet; and MS KB Article Q188001, Description of the Microsoft Computer Browser Service.

In my humble opinion this system does not always work well and needs a major overhaul.   I have read that Windows XP fixes a lot of what is wrong, but I am presently skeptical.  Larry

Copyright, Disclaimer, and Trademark Information Copyright © 1996-2006 Larry F. Byard.  All rights reserved. This material or parts thereof may not be copied, published, put on the Internet, rewritten, or redistributed without explicit, written permission from the author.