Dropping a device into an unknown Windows network - discovery?

Posted on 2007-10-19
Last Modified: 2010-03-18
My network savvy comes from Unix-land, and I am lost in Windows acronym land.  I have a custom WinCE device that will be deployed in a "customer environment" - meaning, I will have no idea what it will look like.  What I do know is:

 - it is a DHCP client;
 - I can set the network name of my device;

I need the device to be discoverable on the network.  Rather than have someone go out to query the DHCP assigned IP address, I need the user to be able to find the device by name.  From this week's reading, I have learned some about dynamic DNS, then WINS, and I'm trailing off into active directory (at which point I headed to EE).

Broadly, what existing techniques are now employed in a Windows network to support device discovery, and what must my device do to cooperate with the discovery process?  Is WINS the main service?  Active Directory?  dynamic DNS? A mix?

Question by:charles_gilley
    1 Comment
    LVL 25

    Accepted Solution

    The normal and simplest thing on Windows systems is to do nothing really.  The defaults use peer-to-peer communications.
    NetBIOS on TCP/IP is, I believe, the standard method.
    You may have to select whether it is simply turned on or if it's going to be a fallback default.  I'd just turn it on to be sure.

    Any of those other services are unecessary in a small network and are going to be more work / learning / maintenance.  I'd avoid them if at all possible.

    In "normal" Windows the NetBIOS setting is in the TCP/IP settings for the interface under the WINS tab under "NetBIOS setting".  The default setting should work.  Or, you can just select NetBIOS to run on TCP/IP anyway.  Sometimes this is advised.  This is what effects the communication of names.

    The device should be assigned to the Workgroup of the site / subnet / whatever.  That's in Control Panel / System / Computer Name tab / click on Change if the Workgroup name isn't the same as the other Windows systems.

    You should Share a file or file folder on the system so the computer will be "seen".  Otherwise it may not be seen or seen as reliably...  This is arguable but I do it as a matter of drill.  It can't hurt.

    Be patient.  It can take *tens of minutes* for the list of computers to appear / complete.  I believe that rebooting computers helps in refreshing the list - based on empirical evidence.
    ONE computer keeps the list - and there can be a backup computer for this purpose.  The primary one is called the Browse Master.  It does this by running the Computer Browsing service.  The computers will poll / vie for this role - it seems this process is what takes all the time.  The Service is Started by default.  You'd perhaps call this a dmon.

    In some pesky systems we turn off the Computer Browsing service on al but one computer - one that will be turned on all the time (like a server).  Then there's no negotiation for the role of Browse Master as computers are turned off and back on again, etc.  In some user environments it seems to work better this way.

    I don't know if WinCE is much different.  Worth  poking around to see.

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