Peer-to-peer network names

Up to now, we've been quite successful using the Windows "Network" list to find computers on the network.
Occasionally the list would become split and some computers would have short lists at times.  Usually reboooting the master browser would fix this - and this would only happen maybe once a year.  So, it's been acceptable.

Lately, this appears to not be working quite so well.  Some names (like one or two) are just missing but the lists are otherwise fully populated .. so, not exactly "short" as in the past.  If I could figure out how to get them to return to the list then the problem would be solved for now.  So, I guess that could be a question but I'm afraid I know the answer or am afraid that there isn't one as the NetBIOS name service is "deprecated" and not guaranteed to be reliable I'm told.

[Just FYI: In general, we turn off ipv6 so any tools that it may support aren't going to be available.  There have been enough problems apparently "fixed" by turning it OFF - so why tempt fate and for what real purpose(s)?]

Some have suggested using the "hosts" file.  I understand this to a point; at least I know how it works on a single computer.
It's certainly easy to modify and easy to understand.
Because this is a peer-to-peer architecture, without a "Server", how might one coordinate the contents of ALL the hosts files in order to accommodate changes?  

I can imagine loading a common hosts file from a workstation in a server role using something like scheduled xcopy file transfers - but am concerned about accessibility from one computer to another in the case of the hosts files.  

What might you recommend short of adding a Windows Server?  
[We have GFI Languard running but haven't explored its capabilities very far to date.  Might it have update tools for this purpose?].
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAsked:
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art leeCommented:
build a samba wins server on and old pc using Linux distro with a sambal gui
and make it the master browser
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I have the following thoughts:

1. We never turn IPv6 off anywhere at all. You should determine why you need to do this and correct the deficiencies.

2. I would not use the HOSTS file for this, although I know and use the HOSTS file.

3. BIOS and NetBIOS are going away in 2020 and it is a mixed bag. Windows Explorer does not always find all the names, especially if there are different connection methodologies as I have right here.

4. One tool that does work (although in one subnet) is Advanced IP Scanner from Famatech. It is free, so worth trying. Right now I see all my computers  and phones and my printer. The computer name and IP address is shown for each computer. All there. So that is worth looking at in any environment but certainly an environment without a server.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
First, you've seen IPv6 cause problems so you've turned it off?  That's a bit like I've seen an untreated wound on feet get infected, so I cut it off - no more need to worry about that untreated wound - of course you have bigger problems, but that's not important right now...

Besides, if you've just unchecked IPv6 from the network adapter, you have NOT turned it off - you've unbound it from the network adapter - not quite the same.

Honestly, it's weird, annoying things like that keep me from wanting to work with workgroups.  workgroups have always seemed more sensitive... and have one person change a password and now you potentially have more issues.  The centralized management and ease in which you can configure things to be identical is why servers make sense to me for even the smallest environments that require any level of complexity - file sharing in any network should be limited to a minimum number of hosts for security purposes.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Lee W, MVP: Thanks for the link.  I got a feeling that I was reading something from an "advocate".  Certainly the public address space is worthy of advocacy.  And, I guess, the long-term plan is to use ipv6 addresses everywhere with no NAT needed, eh?  What's missing for me is much in the way of technical justification otherwise (in the article).  Maybe I missed it.  What is it about ipv6 that makes it of technical or practical significance on private (Windows-based) networks right now today?

Some authors say that if ipv6 hasn't "taken off" in 20 years then it's questionable.  
Now, that author HAD to have meant: "on a private network".
That doesn't make them right or even well-informed.

To John Hurst's point: maybe it's more dangerous to turn off ipv6 than to leave it on.  One thing for sure, as we use things and get used to them and solve the problems that come up, eventually it becomes the preferred way because more people have experience *in that environment*.  More than once I've seen settings made out of expediency when it was not well justified.

I really don't have an argument here.  I would like to understand.  And, I just need to get things to work within reasonable constraints.

Please respect:
What might you recommend short of adding a Windows Server?  
It would appear that this is a much smaller "project" than introducing servers would be.
I need real help that's focused on this near-term problem.
I should think that others have faced it and have solutions.

John Hurst:  
- You didn't say why you wouldn't use the hosts file for this and you didn't suggest an alternative.
- I use IP Scanner also but I don't see how that helps Sally or Joe click on a network name on their workstation Network list?  

Gosh guys, the NETWORK LIST is there.  Whether I use it or not isn't the point.  My users DO!
Along with that, If a name is missing then can the name be used for addressing?  Usually, it appears that it can on this one network.  But that's just a point observation so one should not trust it nor generalize from it unless there is technical justification (which I lack).

Case in point:
What if an applcation includes computer address entries?  They can be ACCOUNTING3 or  If the entry is ACCOUNTING3 then will it reliably work?  I have no way of knowing but am at least encouraged if the name is on the NETWORK LIST.  If the name is missing from the NETWORK LIST and access seems to not be working then that's another rabbit hole to search.  I'd like to avoid that.

But maybe y'all know something that I don't.
Windows and Linux are operating systems with a GUI.  
The Windows GUI presents a Network List.
From a GUI point of view, it's part of the system and I expect it to just work.
From that perspective then, users don't care what drives its data source.
But, if it's got holes in it, then I'm motivated to fix just that much.
Thus this question.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
The Advanced IP Scanner I use shows computer name. There is more than one iP Scanner around

Yes you should begin using Servers for even a small number of computers
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
John Hurst:  Yes, the IP Scanner I use shows *me* the computer names and it's quite handy when *I'm* using it for networking endeavors.
But our users don't and shouldn't need to use it.
They use the Windows "Network" list in Windows Explorer.  That's the fact of the matter.
Now I have a job to do.
I've tried to explain the constraints - it appears that I've failed miserably at that.   :-(
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
That is in transition as I said. It may or may not work in a workgroup depending on system and, in some cases, wireless network connections. If not there, you cannot do much. WSD is taking over and even there, I have better luck (much better) luck in a Server environment where WSD works fine.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
I've come to believe  that peer-to-peer networking isn't in the mainstream of most discussions nor ongoing operations.  
So, more and more, getting good and solid experience-based help seems somewhat elusive.  
Even John Hurst says:  
It may or may not work in a workgroup depending on system
Yet, that's what I have to work with at this point.

Is my belief reasonable?
Aren't there still some folks who have what they believe are solid ground rules for configuring peer-to-peer networks with Windows 10 Pro these days?

Anyway, I'm intrigued with the idea of turning on ipv6 as there have been recommendations in that direction (as well as the opposite).  To be honest, I'm a bit of a contrarian in the sense that I don't always do things just "because Microsoft or anyone else says so".  I need some technical reasoning in those cases.  I surely don't take all the Microsoft settings that come out of the box.  Yet, I'm not a Microsoft basher - not at all.  Nobody's perfect.....

One notion that plays in my approach is:
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"   AND "Better is the enemy of good enough".  So why should I switch away from pure ipv4 today?  Give me some *good* reasons.  
Yes, I know that the issue here is the Network list.  Will using ipv6 fix that?  I've not heard anything to suggest it - only the NetBIOS isn't reliable.

art lee: suggests a Linux Samba server to act as the Master Browser.  Might this be done with a virtual machine?  Then I wouldn't have to consider a "cheap computer".
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I only see peer to peer networks with 3 computers or less. So I am not surprised there are few people who deal with it.

Master Browser is an election and Windows 10 will make any machine master browser - two at once even.

Master Browser, NetBIOS are all going away. Time to move on from that.

And with a decent number of computers, we use small to medium servers. That is the environment Microsoft is taking us to.
art leeCommented:
actually you can spot with some routers also but
with Windows 10 and home groups this is a deprecated cause
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
art lee:
actually you can spot with some routers also but
with Windows 10 and home groups this is a deprecated cause
Thanks!  I'm sorry, I don't fully understand.  Could you please elaborate?

John Hurst: I see peer-to-peer networks with up to 25 computers.  The peak number is likely 5 to 6.  All of these numbers match what some experts suggest as OK.  That we have dealt with this nicely for a long time is interesting I suppose.
I can't disagree with the facts you quote and I'm aware.

I'm more and more disposed to introduce servers but here is the other side of the coin TODAY:
- Peer-to-peer networks *do work*.   You can argue that some day they won't but that eventuality is questionable.
- The owners an make them work on their own and do so regularly.
- Most of the owners of server-based systems hereabouts, aren't using the server features we're talking about here!   :-)  
They have servers because their primary application software company told them they needed one.  Their servers are nothing but another workstation or peer-to-peer file server for all practical purposes.  These aren't included in the statistics below.
- Service providers like me, in a rural area, don't get much opportunity to get real hands on experience.  I can set up and tune up my own office but the experience base is limited and the number of real-world problems is highly limited in a case like that.
- I have run into exactly 5 server-based installations in nearly 20 years in practice.  That's how sparse the population is.
- I can quite reasonably work with those systems but problem-solving is inefficient.
Now, imagine this:
You walk into the local auto repair shop that has 5 computers on their network.  They've set it up so that their network of computers is essential to ongoing operations.  They don't have a server-based system and are experiencing some slowness problems and want you to fix it.  So, of course, the first thing you say is:
"Well, you need a server.  That will cost $ in hardware, $ in software, $ in labor to set up.  Only then can we really address your slowness problem."
If so, you're a better salesman than I.
Then there is the chicken and egg problem.  All of the service providers hereabouts have the same customer base and their experience and expertise is similarly limited.  So, to truly serve my customers, should I introduce them to a system that they can't find support for?  The nearest city with broad expertise is over 2 hours away.  You can imagine the cost of bringing in someone from there!  

I know this may sound strange.  But it is the reality.
So, while it may seem archaic, the question is: "how do we help these folks?"  That was the reason for my initial question.  It's not about my reluctance to change the world, it's about my customers.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I see peer-to-peer networks with up to 25 computers
... shop that has 5 computers on their network
I know this may sound strange..

I can understand 5 computers. But more than that and certainly 25 computers, I see Servers.

That said, with NetBIOS and Master Browsing going away, these clients. They (their support people) need to understand how to share files across disparate but modern operating systems. I have an article on this. Then they need script files on their desktops to connect to other computers using NET USE commands. This works better than trying browse when newer operating systems come on board.

What you want to do can be done. I do it. Just not the old way.

Perhaps you can consider a newer approach.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
I am considering new approaches.  It's just that some new approaches are outside the scope of what's possible / acceptable today.  And, other new approaches are bound within "old approaches".

Here's a thought:

Not too many months ago, we "upgraded" our workstation DNS addresses to point to all public addresses.
Before that, we were pointing to our firewall LAN address as the first choice.
Now, because I had never thought of "DNS" being for "internal" addresses and only external addresses, this seemed fine.
Of course, the Master Browser remains the definitive list-keeper for internal names.
But, I wonder.....
What might happen if the primary DNS address were a LAN address?  
I can't see how that would matter but stranger things....
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
The Master Browser is an election process, so if you restart everything in a different order, the Master Browser may change. It is a concept I no longer use.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
John Hurst:  Yes, I know how the Master Browser NetBIOS process works.  But, for better or worse, it's a technology that remains in use.  Another factoid about NetBIOS name service is that it's apparently not guaranteed to work or work well.
How are you avoiding using it on peer-to-peer networks?

My question was about the IP address of the primary DNS server - public or private?  I had not thought that it would matter to internal NetBIOS name service.  But now I wonder if perhaps it could in some strange way.  I can say that the nature of "missing" computers from the Network list has been worse since I made the primary DNS address on all the workstations a public address.  Well, it's not *terrible* but the user concerns go up when it's not *complete*.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I use traditional file sharing and NET USE commands to share folders. I do not browse.

The only possible downside (and this does not affect me) is that I have to know what machine I am connecting to but I always know that.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I had an XP Desktop until I had a Windows 7 laptop (Sloth on my part). Sharing files on the desktop was simple.

Then I upgraded the Desktop to Windows 7 and the laptop to Windows 8. NetBIOS started to be flaky at that point and I gave it up permanently.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
John Hurst:  If I understand it then, your personal approach is outside the scope of this question.
The issue remains how to fully populate the "Network" list in the Windows GUI.  Windows Explorer I guess is the proper term, eh?
That's what I have to fix.
Fix.  Not replace.  Replacing can come later perhaps.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
There are now too many changes and security updates that makes the older approach flaky. We are now a fairly short time (less than 2 years) before the demise of NetBIOS.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
If I remember correctly, the last time there was a complete Master Browser solution was with XP and below.

I understand what you are looking for but that is essentially gone. So you may at this point wish to delete the question.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
John Hurst:  art lee had an interesting response.  "Delete the Question"  why would I do that????
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
Samba and NetBIOS is old school and keeping old ways going. If you wish to do that, go ahead. I would not. I left the old ways behind a while back as noted. But you did not want that. That is why I suggested to delete. It is up to you.
art leeCommented:
I think was typo pasted in from something.

however my reccomendation is base on the critiera you set of peer to peer is the you want to and there for not $200 or more for a client server setup aka Windows server
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
I'm disappointed by the lack of participation on this....
I can surely dream of the future and slowly move towards it.
But real-time solutions appear elusive.  Either that's a hard reality or someone may have a solution that can be implemented over night.  Sure, hope springs eternal.  But if you don't ask, the answer is always "no".  And, if you don't get a variety of answers - same thing.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
Some of the concepts here (NetBIOS, Master Browser) are simply going away. They are not even part of Windows 10. That is why the apparent lack of participation.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
That NetBIOS is going away has been made painfully evident by now.

Experts won't participate because it's a dumb question or because they don't know or because they would be helping a sinner?
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
BIOS and NetBIOS are both going away and Master Browser does not work (elect properly) on Windows 10.
art leeCommented:
are the 5 computers running Windows 10?
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
art lee:  All of the computers are running Windows 10 Pro ..... but 5?
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
Windows 10 does not use NetBIOS or Master Browser so you really cannot do things the old way with new systems.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Here's a related question:
If the NetBIOS name service isn't working for one of the computers on the network (i.e. it's missing from the Network list on the other computers) then can one address it with \\[name] or MUST ONE use \\[ipaddress]?  If the name is usable in this scenario, then why / how?

John Hurst:  
Windows 10 does not use NetBIOS or Master Browser
Regrettably, I don't see how you can say that.  I don't think it's correct.  If you're convinced that it's correct then some authoritative reference would be helpful.  It's certainly important enough in the context of this question.

Is it that the NIC configuration controls that say "Enable NetBIOS over TCP/IP" is just a carryover from older OS versions and DOES NOTHING on Windows 10 Pro systems?

LANscanner v157 finds a Windows 10 Pro Master Browser on the network.
SoftPerfect Network Scanner 6.2.1 finds the same computer, again as a Master Browser.   It has never failed to do so.

The Network lists come from *somewhere* and there is nothing else that's been implemented to provide it.
What am I missing?
This is a real challenge in helping people who rely on the list - whether the implementation is deprecated or not.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
1. Use WSD instead of NetBIOS on Windows 10.

2. Take two or three Windows 10 Pro machines and start them. All will say they are Master Browser. It has been deprecated and has no meaning in Windows 10. Try for yourself. And wherever WSD is working, NetBIOS does not apply.

3. Enable NetBIOS over TCP/IP" is just a carryover - Just for compatibility with older systems like SMBv1

4. LANscanner v157 finds a Windows 10 Pro Master Browser on the network.  -- Yes as noted above ALL the Windows 10 machines.

5. I see complete network lists on Servers (design to do this and keep some compatibility) but not in Workgroups.

6. This is a real challenge in helping people who rely on the list   <-- Do not rely upon it in a Workgroup.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
There is a Domain Master Browser (so I can find all computers on a server but not in workgroups)

Most articles I found about Workgroup master browser related to Windows XP and Windows 3.11 for Workgroups.

On my way by looking, I recalled that TLS 1 should be removed, we all know SMBv1 should be removed, .NET Framework 1.1 is gone.

Microsoft is telling people to change their AV if it is blocking the Meltdown patch.

I can't find it just now but within the last 60 days, ZD Net reported that Intel will not support BIOS in 2020 - only UEFI. That means no more NetBIOS and most likely no more 32-bit machines.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
John Hurst:  OK.  That clarifies.  Thanks.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
This is a real challenge in helping people who rely on the list   <-- Do not rely upon it in a Workgroup.

OK.  So I will tell my customers using workgroups who DO rely on it to just stop.  I'm sure they will be overjoyed.
How does one gracefully explain?  
"Well, yes that's how you've always accessed network file shares and yes, it's still there but you can't rely on that any more so please don't ask me to make it all better"
And, they will say, but it was there yesterday!!  What changed?

Making it all better will wait for another time and place it appears.  "Didn't I tell you to get a Server?"

Workarounds include using UAC addressing.

Well, in fact, since the biggest network has 3 sites with separate subnets and no intersubnet NetBIOS traffic.  The use of inter-subnet UAC addressing is common - but just not within the local subnet(s).
One way to force that to be universal is to stop name service all together.
That's likely the least painful approach.
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
I think basically Windows 10 changes every six months (and gradually in between) and is phasing out old methods.

"Didn't I tell you to get a Server?"  <-- for more than 4 workstations, I think a server is called for. Not everyone will like that but approach them gently with this.
Having glanced through this, I would mostly agree with John (and Lee). At the end of the name, for at least a good portion of the environments you deal with, moving to a server-based architecture is going to be the best thing to do. In terms of what to tell them, be honest: Microsoft has been changing how a number of things under the hood work, and that unfortunately those changes are impacting them. Obviously don't give an overly technical explanation, but don't be afraid to be honest about it either. On the upside, you're at least trying to get them situation before certain features are totally gone.

I don't know if part of what goes on in your environments is that machines have to access each other to get files (I am assuming is a reason why the users even care about the network list), which is something that I would consider a nono. Central storage is the more ideal, even if that means a NAS device (this is worthwhile for environments below a predetermined threshold for a server, which I've historically tended to say 10).

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Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
I come away from this with a few conclusions:
- The Network List is alive and (sort of) well.  After all, it is there, isn't it?
- The Network List isn't necessarily more than a list of computers that are sharing files.  (Is that right?).
- There's been a transition very recently to WSD and likely some transients in the Network List as a result.
- Traditional server-based systems and practitioners *don't* choose to show all the computers on a network in the Network List - whereas Workgroup users often do.  There is an argument for not doing file serving all over the place - so why the need for a *full* Network List?  That's a good point.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
Thanks all!
JohnBusiness Consultant (Owner)Commented:
1. Sort of and for some situations, not all except a modern server as the host.
2. The server list is a list of connected computers.
3. The transition to WSD is now 3 or 4 years old (before the beginning of Windows 10 in 2015
4. I may have to refresh a couple of times but Server 2012 R2 shows both NetBIOS and WSD.

Hopefully this all helps and thanks.
Fred MarshallPrincipalAuthor Commented:
3. The transition to WSD is now 3 or 4 years old (before the beginning of Windows 10 in 2015
I meant the actual transition.  Up until a few weeks ago it was normal to see NetBIOS as the Discovery Method.  This seems to have now completely switched to WSD - without any intentional action on our part.
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