In taking Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courses, I've found that instructors don't explain much about the Browser Service. Yet, it is one of the more important elements of any Microsoft network.
In this three-part article, I'll try to fill the knowledge gap left by MOC by explaining the uses for and working of Browser Service.
Microsoft assures us that the Browser Service isn't necessary in a pure native mode Windows 2000 environment running Active Directory (AD). On the other hand, Microsoft also assures us that we'll probably be using Browser Service for quite a while. (See TechNet's TCP/IP Core Networking Guide link.) Also, most of us are never going to see a pure Windows 2000 environment, especially when working in a larger environment. Furthermore, you may be running Windows 2000 and not using AD yet.
With all this in mind, let's take a look at the basics of the Browser Service, how it works and how you can fine-tune it, or at least reduce its impact on your network.
WHAT BROWSER SERVICE DOES
What the Browser Service actually does is keep track of systems running the Server service, regardless of whether those systems are currently actively sharing any resources or not. It keeps track of these systems using the browse list.
Basically the Browser Service is used by pre-Windows 2000 systems to locate resources on the network. Users can find shares and servers on the network using the Browser Service, although the average user just knows that to find shared resources they go into Explorer and look around their OS' version of Network Neighborhood.
ABOUT TURNING OFF THE SERVER SERVICE
One quick tip before we get started: I've seen several books that tell administrators using NT 4.0 Workstation that they can reduce the size of their lists in Explorer by turning off the Server service. Doing this does take the workstation off Explorer's list, but does so at the cost of not allowing the administrator to remotely connect to the workstation. (You just turned off the Server service, remember.)
You may want to simply type "net config server /hidden:yes" at a command prompt for your NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 systems that you don't want to see in Explorer. This leaves the Server service enabled, but the workstation won't advertise the fact that it's running the Server service to the Browser Service. Result: The workstation will not show up in Explorer.
Since most of your workstations don't share resources, this will clean up your Explorer list considerably. (You can also edit the registry, but I get itchy when I do that unnecessarily.) You can still connect to any workstation if you know its name using Run and the net use command (ex. "net use M: workstation1c$" would connect you to the C: drive of a workstation named workstation1. You must know the correct login name and password for the administrator account, or an account with administrative privileges on the workstation to connect to the admin shares, but you can still remotely access the workstation if you need to do so.
By the way, as you probably know, if a system doesn't show up in Explorer and you want it to, make sure it's running the Server service and that the service isn't hidden. This used to be a common problem with Windows 95 and 98 when sharing wasn't turned on. In part two of this tutorial, I cover how the Browser Service works. In part three, I offer some information about the workings and selection of Master Browsers and WINS.
About the author: Douglas Paddock is a CIW Security Analyst and MCSE, MCT, MCSA, A+, N+ qualified teacher at Louisville Technical Institute in Louisville, Ken.