Peer-to-Peer Networking (Windows) - Interpret Observations re: Short List of Computers or Different Lists of Computers

Because I tend to concentrate on peer-to-peer networks, I like to understand when I see things that are strange or different.
Some of the observations I've made include:
- If there are different protocols installed on the NICs then it appears there can be more than one workgroup with the same name.
If this happens then there can (I think) be 2 Master Browsers and one will see a short computer list from one or the other.  Except for the 2 Master Browser assertion, all the rest has been observed.
- If a computer has more than one NIC attached to the same network (e.g. one wired and one wireless) then the traffic path to or from that computer is indeterminate.  If that computer is the Master Browser, the computer list can be short.

Today I ran into yet another and I'm wondering if anyone might illuminate the cause:
- A computer was the Master Browser and there were only 2 computers on the list out of maybe 15 computers.  Switching the Master Browser role to another computer fixed this but how and why might this happen?  The first computer has but one NIC.  As far as I know, the computer in question had been turned on indefinitely (i.e. always on) as are most of the others.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAsked:
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Tell us more... operating system, is network discovery turned on, any different configuration...
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Windows 7 Pro and Windows 8.1 Pro

All pretty normal for a peer-to-peer network:
Network Discovery is turned on.
Network type is Private / Work
Passwords not required
Public folders available
File and printer sharing is enabled.
Cris HannaCommented:
If you have windows 7 and 8, why aren't you using home groups

And there should always only be one Master Browser
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Cris Hanna:  Why would I use Home Groups and further complicate things?
Cris HannaCommented:
they practically set themselves up.   it sounds like things are pretty complicated with peer to peer if you've got multiple browse masters, no standard set of protocols on nics, some computers have multiple connections to the network, etc.

How many PC's typically in these networks?
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
My experience with the occasional computer showing up on the network with Home Groups set up was nothing but trouble.  Get rid of the Home Groups and all is well.

There aren't multiple browse masters.  I was referring to past cases as background.

The protocols are all the same as well.

25 PCs.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
The fundamental question is:
Why, in a peer-to-peer Windows network with the typical settings for file sharing would the Network list come back very short compared to the number of computers on the network and compared to the usual list of them?
Home groups are much easier in general..

They use a hidden account that exists on all the Win7/Win8 machines as local accounts.  The homegroup password is the password that the account uses, which definitely simplifies all your printer & share setups.

But, you are correct.. there is a master browser for each protocol.  However -- you need to simplify your networks down to just TCP/IP with Netbios over TCP enabled.  you will eliminate your MB problems but limiting it that way.  And if there is a real issue, then you'll want to set up 1 dummy machine to always be the master browser.. Just leave it up and not doing anything.. as long as you are only rebooting it for patching, then it should maintain its MB status.  (You'll want to reboot them all in sequence -- your mb machine first, and then the rest of the machines.

Davis McCarnOwnerCommented:
The computer browser service has been unstable for over a decade now and can be extremely frustrating to deal with!
The root of the problem is that M$ decided that newer operating systems would do a better job of maintaining the list so, when you add a PC to an XP network with 2K3, Vista, 7, 2K8, 8, 8.1, or now 10 to a network, you get a small war running in the background while each version tries to become the master browser for the workgroup.  The result is that you can go to different PC's and see different lists of network computers....
The best fix I have found is to use the ISDOMAINMASTER registry key on one of the PC's, leave a second as a backup, and disable the computer browser service on all of the remaining computers.  The domain master then needs to be on first; but, it tends to stabilize things so that all of the PC's can actually see each other on the network.
If you want to see this in action, get the Master Browser Toolkit:
On my own network, where client PC's screw things up all the time, I often use NetScan which will scan the network and let you open resources based on what it finds:
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
DavisMcCarn:  Yes, we see things the same way.

I still would like to know why short lists show up in the case mentioned.  Theories / hypotheses are fine.   I know what makes it happen sometimes as I gave in the background.  Anyway, presently it's making little sense to me.
(I'm NOT asking for the overall scheme to make sense necessarily).
Davis McCarnOwnerCommented:
As I said, my own network gets the "master" browser role messed up on a daily basis and, when it happens, I can go to three different PC's and get three different sets of PC's.  It seems to (mostly) depend on their connection type (wired or wireless) and whether the other PC's were asleep or not; though, sometimes it makes no sense at all.

I used to use the Master Browser Toolkit on a regular basis; but, it now tends to say "No Master Browser found at this time. Chances are that an election is in progress." meaning that the Windows war I mentioned is in progress.

At my largest client running a workgroup, I added the role of WINS which causes every workstation to ask it for the list of PCs and works.  I have searched high and low for a WINS server service I could install on smaller networks and/or a router which would assume that role; but, such does not seem to exist.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
My understanding is that once the Master Browser role is set, it remains.  There would be no repeated polling.

If the Master Browser is rebooted then that causes the polling to occur once more.

So, if the role gets messed up on a daily basis, it sounds like the MB is being restarted or shut down for a time.
Davis McCarnOwnerCommented:
No, what happens is that newly turned on or resuming from sleep PC's refuse to accept the existing master browser and start an election.  If they would just accept the current master, all would be fine; but, they don't.
Anytime any machine is rebooted/comes online, a new election is started.  The existing MB will generally keep that role.

Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Coralon:  I don't understand your interpretation.  The link says;
Browser elections occur to select a new master browser under the following circumstances:

•When a computer cannot locate a master browser.

•When a preferred master browser comes online.

•When a Windows domain-controller system starts.

But, I can understand the dichotomy because: Who is to know when "a preferred master browser comes online"?  Only by polling I should think.  There is no "refuse to accept" indicated here.

So the discussion remains muddled in my view.
That's basically it.. when a machine comes online, it sends out a broadcast that says 'I'm here, I'd like to be the Master Browser", and this triggers an election.  And then it begins the election criteria..
If I remember it is:
Most Preferred MB
Preferred MB
Highest MB version (OS)
Longest uptime

But, I can definitely see where you might have problems if you have multiple nics & protocols on a peer-to-peer..  Where a machine might be MB on one network, but not on the others. :-\

Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
That's right.

If there are multiple protocols then it's possible to have the same workgroup name and to have two MBs.  Really an historical fact in that this isn't too common any more.

If there are multiple NICs on the same computer, on the same workgroup, then there's apparently no guarantee which NIC will be involved in MB communications at any instant.  This leads to splitting information up and short lists of computers it seems.

But if those two things are absent, then what might cause a short list?

Also, the 2nd reason given: "If a preferred Master Browser comes on line" raises the question:
How does it know that it's preferred?  
The answer is that in HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Browser\Parameters:

If IsDomainMaster is TRUE
Then the computer is a preferred Master Browser.
[This value is unusual - not normally found in workstations as nearly as I can find.]

The more common value:
MaintainServerList [NOT a Preferred Master Browser value]

No: This value prevents the computer from participating as a browser.

Yes: This value makes the computer a browser. Upon startup, the computer attempts to contact the master browser to get a current browse list. If the master browser cannot be found, the computer will force a browser election. The computer will either be elected master browser or become a backup browser.
This value is the default on a computer running Windows 2000 Server and Windows NT Server.

Auto: his value makes the computer a potential browser . It might become a browser, depending on the number of currently active browsers. The master browser notifies this computer whether or not it is to become a backup browser.
This value is the default for computers running Windows 2000 Professional and Windows NT Workstation.

So, unless IsDomainMaster is present and set to TRUE, the computer isn't a Preferred Master Browser and won't automatically generate an election when it comes on line.  None of the values of MaintainServerList will automatically generate an election.

Years ago we figured out that not all the documentation is perfect.
Anyway, I don't see a reason here for your daily changes happening.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Today we ran into a bad Ethernet cable and that's the sort of thing that might cause daily resets....
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
We talked around the subject but the core cause - in these circumstances -  was never identified.
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