A little-known tool called BROWCON is an extension of the BROWSTAT utility that allows an administrator to troubleshoot computers on a network that uses NetBIOS. NetBIOS is used by Windows to enable file and printer sharing among computers on a Microsoft Windows network. NetBIOS is routable and can be used in a broad variety of network environments, but it's also occasionally troublesome. BROWCON can help single out problems with machines that use NetBIOS and determine if the problems are related to the machine itself, the network environment or some other variable.
BROWCON is not included with Windows by default. It is available from Microsoft as a download. The program runs on Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 Server as long as the TCP/IP protocol is installed and running. Once installed, the program needs to have several pieces of information to work correctly:
- NetBIOS name for all Windows domains on the network
- NetBIOS name and IP address for the PDC in each domain
- IP address for all WINS servers (if any)
- List of all IP subnets
- NetBIOS name for each system running BROWCON
All of this information only needs to be entered once for the program to work correctly and can be edited whenever the network configuration changes.
One of the other programs in the package is the NetBIOS Browsing Console Agent, which gathers NetBIOS data from remote networks and reports the results via TCP/IP port 49911. To get data from each subnet in a given network, a separate copy of the agent must run on one machine (along with a copy of BROWSTAT.EXE, which is usually included by default with Windows Server systems) in each logical subnet.
The information returned by BROWCON allows you to determine which computers are being associated with which master browsers. If you have a situation where there are multiple master browsers in a subnet (which can cause problems with NetBIOS name resolution), BROWCON can reveal which systems in question are contending for master browser status, and the administrator can decide which system needs to be deprecated. The program can also be used to determine if a given machine is missing from a master browser list due to connectivity problems. Most common problems with NetBIOS can be automatically checked by clicking the "Start Troubleshooting" button in the program's main console.
Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators!