Why you still run Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS)

When Mark Minasi wrote this very flattering article about me, I felt it was only right to develop the tool that he had been waiting years for.


Why does Mark, and many other people, think that NetBIOS name resolution is still so important? You still run WINS on your network…right? The vast majority of customers that I talk to, still run a WINS service somewhere on their network.

Many people anticipated the demise of WINS when Windows 2000 was released. They had a vision of a simplified network where the only types of name resolution problems to troubleshoot were related to DNS. No more name registration problems, replication issues, record tomb stoning riddles or secure channel troubleshooting to do. This was going to be a world where every application was directory aware and discoverable via protocols like DNS and LDAP.

There are several reasons why WINS is still necessary on most networks. The biggest reason I can think of is that many applications still use NetBIOS to provide some functionality to users. In the past I tried to compile a list of such applications, but this was a daunting task because an application’s use of NetBIOS can be very subtle.

As it turns out, for most administrators, the question of whether to use WINS or not is an easy one to answer and doesn’t require an exhaustive list of applications that use NetBIOS. Two of the most popular applications that have shipped with different Windows operating systems over the years are Network Neighborhood and My Network Places. These applications are used heavily by administrators and the end-users that they support. End-users love these applications.

If you or your users use these applications, you are probably going to want to use WINS to help populate the lists of network resources that these applications present to the user. These lists are generated and maintained by the NetBIOS Browsing mechanism built into the Windows operating system. In fact, if you run applications that allow the user to open and/or save data across the local network or pick a computer to connect to, i.e. select a server or workstation from a list of network resources, then it’s a good chance those applications use the NetBIOS Browsing mechanism to populate those lists. Where NetBIOS Browsing is used, WINS is typically involved too. WINS helps facilitate the distribution of the browse lists of network resources, to all the Windows systems on a network.

Some applications are now using mechanisms other than NetBIOS to populate these types of lists. But, upon close inspection, it may surprise you how many applications that you use still rely on the NetBIOS Browsing mechanism and WINS.

If you have been considering retiring a WINS server on your network it would be prudent to determine how much it is being used before stopping the service. One method that many customers have found effective is to use Performance Monitor on the WINS server. When WINS is installed on a server, some performance monitor counters for WINS are also installed. These counters can tell you how many queries and responses the WINS server is handling.

If it turns out that you still need to run the WINS service, there are a few Resource Kit tools to help you manage it and troubleshoot problems. As I mentioned above, I developed a tool that may help you with troubleshooting and name registration/record availability confirmation tasks.

Nblookup.exe is a tool that is modeled very closely to the nslookup.exe utility that is used to troubleshoot DNS issues. It is relatively small (around 102 Kb) and does not have an installation program (just copy it into any directory and run it). It allows you to query WINS servers for name registration records just like nslookup allows you to query DNS servers for DNS records. Unlike most other WINS tools that you may have used, nblookup does not require an authenticated connection to the WINS server, i.e. you don’t have to run this tool in administrator context. I also added some features like ability to query/verify large numbers of records very quickly using an input file. This makes it very easy to quickly determine whether all of the important systems/applications on your network are registered and discoverable using all of the WINS servers on your network.

This tool is not part of any resource kit, but it can be downloaded (for free) from microsoft.com. You can download nblookup and read all the details in this Knowledge Base article:


Mark Minasi was kind enough to include nblookup as one of his “The Magnificent Six” list of tools. Did I mention that Mark is a great author. ;>)


If you still run WINS, and you probably do, it may be worth your while to add nblookup to your toolkit.