IPv4 Name Resolution

Applies To: Windows Server 2008

Name Resolution

While IP is designed to work with the 32-bit IP addresses of the source and the destination hosts, computer users are much better at using and remembering names than IP addresses.

When a name is used as an alias for an IP address, a mechanism must exist for assigning that name to the appropriate IP node to ensure its uniqueness and resolution to its IP address.

In this section, the mechanisms used for assigning and resolving host names (which are used by Windows Sockets applications), and NetBIOS names (which are used by NetBIOS applications) are discussed.

Host Name Resolution

A host name is an alias assigned to an IP node to identify it as a TCP/IP host. The host name can be up to 255 characters long and can contain alphabetic and numeric characters and the “-” and “.” characters. Multiple host names can be assigned to the same host. For Windows Server® 2008–based computers, the host name does not have to match the Windows Server 2008 computer name.

Windows Sockets applications, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, can use one of two values to connect to the destination: the IP address or a host name. When the IP address is specified, name resolution is not needed. When a host name is specified, the host name must be resolved to an IP address before IP-based communication with the desired resource can begin.

Host names most commonly take the form of a domain name with a structure that follows Internet conventions. Name resolution, and domain names work the same whether they are used for IPv4 or IPv6 addresses.

Domain Names

To meet the need for a scalable, customizable naming scheme for a wide variety of organizations, InterNIC has created and maintains a hierarchical namespace called the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS naming scheme looks like the directory structure for files on a disk. Usually, you trace a file path from the root directory through subdirectories to its final location and its file name. However, a host name is traced from its final location back through its parent domains up to the root. The unique name of the host, representing its position in the hierarchy, is its Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN). The top-level domain namespace with second-level and subdomains is shown in the following figure.

Domain Name System

The domain namespace includes the following categories:

  • The root domain, which is indicated by “” (null), represents the root of the namespace.

  • Top-level domains, directly below the root, represent types of organizations. InterNIC is responsible for the maintenance of top-level domain names on the Internet. The following table has a partial list of the Internet’s top-level domain names.

Internet Top-Level Domain Names

Domain Name Meaning


Commercial organization


Educational institution


Government institution


Military group


Major network support center


Organization other than those above


International organization

<country/region code>

Each country/region (geographic scheme)

  • Second-level domains, below the top-level domains, represent specific organizations within the top-level domains. InterNIC is responsible for maintaining and ensuring uniqueness of second-level domain names on the Internet.

  • Subdomains are below the second-level domain. Individual organizations are responsible for the creation and maintenance of subdomains.

For example, for the FQDN websrv.wcoast.reskit.com:

  • The trailing period (.) denotes that this is an FQDN with the name relative to the root of the domain namespace. The trailing period is usually not required for FQDNs and if it is missing it is assumed to be present.

  • com is the top-level domain, indicating a commercial organization.

  • reskit is the second-level domain, indicating the Resource Kit Corporation.

  • wcoast is a subdomain of reskit.com indicating the West Coast division of the Resource Kit Corporation.

  • websrv is the name of the Web server in the West Coast division.

Domain names are not case-sensitive.

Organizations not connected to the Internet can implement whatever top and second-level domain names they want. However, typical implementations follow InterNIC specifications so that eventual participation in the Internet will not require a renaming process.

Host Name Resolution Using a Hosts File

One common way to resolve a host name to an IP address is to use a locally stored database file that contains IP-address-to-host-name mappings. On most UNIX systems, this file is /etc/hosts. On Windows Server 2008 systems, it is the Hosts file in the %systemroot%\System32\Drivers\Etc directory.

The following is an example of the contents of the Hosts file:

Table of IP addresses and host names    localhost    router    server1.central.reskit.com s1

Within the Hosts file:

  • Multiple host names can be assigned to the same IP address. Note that the server at the IP address can be referred to by its FQDN (server1.central.reskit.com) or a nickname (s1). This allows the user at this computer to refer to this server using the nickname s1 instead of typing the entire FQDN.

  • Entries can be case sensitive depending on the platform. Entries in the Hosts file for UNIX computers are case-sensitive. Entries in the Hosts file for Windows–based computers are not case sensitive.

For computers running Windows 2000 and later, the entries in the Hosts file are loaded into the DNS client resolver cache. When resolving host names, the DNS client resolver cache is always checked.

The advantage of using a Hosts file is that it is customizable for the user. Users can create whatever entries they want, including easy-to-remember nicknames for frequently accessed resources. However, the individual maintenance of the Hosts file does not scale well to storing large numbers of FQDN mappings.

Host Name Resolution Using a DNS Server

To make host name resolution scalable and centrally manageable, IP address mappings for FQDNs are stored on DNS servers. To enable the querying of a DNS server by a host computer, a component called the DNS resolver is enabled and configured with the IP address of the DNS server. The DNS resolver is a built-in component of TCP/IP protocol stacks supplied with most network operating systems, including Windows Server 2008.

When a Windows Sockets application is given an FQDN as the destination location, the application calls a Windows Sockets function to resolve the name to an IP address. The request is passed to the DNS resolver component in the TCP/IP protocol. The DNS resolver packages the FQDN request as a DNS Name Query packet and sends it to the DNS server.

DNS is a distributed naming system. Instead of storing all the records for the entire namespace on each DNS server, each DNS server stores only the records for a specific portion of the namespace. The DNS server is authoritative for the portion of the namespace that corresponds to records stored on that DNS server. In the case of the Internet, hundreds of DNS servers store various portions of the Internet namespace. To facilitate the resolution of any valid domain name by any DNS server, DNS servers are also configured with pointer records to other DNS servers.

The following process outlines what happens when the DNS resolver component on a host sends a DNS query to a DNS server. This process is shown in the following figure and is simplified so that you can gain a basic understanding of the DNS resolution process.

  1. The DNS resolver component of the DNS client formats a DNS Name Query Request message containing the FQDN and sends it to the configured DNS server.

  2. The DNS server checks the FQDN in the DNS Name Query Request message against locally stored address records. If a record is found, the IP address corresponding to the requested FQDN is sent back to the client.

  3. If the FQDN is not found, the DNS server forwards the request to a DNS server that is authoritative for the FQDN.

  4. The authoritative DNS server returns the reply, which contains the resolved IP address, back to the original DNS server.

  5. The original DNS server sends the IP address mapping information to the client.

Resolving an FQDN by using DNS servers

To obtain the IP address of a server that is authoritative for the FQDN, DNS servers on the Internet go through an iterative process of querying multiple DNS servers until the authoritative server is found. For more information about DNS name-resolution processes, see the DNS Technical Reference.

Combining a Local Database File with DNS

TCP/IP implementations, including Windows Server 2008, allow the use of both a local database file and a DNS server to resolve host names. When a user specifies a host name in a Windows Sockets–based TCP/IP application:

  • TCP/IP checks the DNS client resolver cache (loaded with entries from the Hosts file and other previously resolved host names) for a matching name. If a matching name is not found in the local database file, the host name is packaged as a DNS Name Query Request message and sent to the configured DNS server.

Combining methods allows the user to have a local database file for resolving personalized nicknames and to use the globally distributed DNS database to resolve FQDNs.

NetBIOS Name Resolution

NetBIOS name resolution is the process of successfully mapping a NetBIOS name to an IP address. A NetBIOS name is a 16-byte address used to identify a NetBIOS resource on the network. A NetBIOS name is either a unique (exclusive) or group (nonexclusive) name. When a NetBIOS process communicates with a specific process on a specific computer, a unique name is used. When a NetBIOS process communicates with multiple processes on multiple computers, a group name is used.

The NetBIOS name acts as a Session layer application identifier. For example, the NetBIOS session service operates over TCP port 139. All NetBT session requests are addressed to TCP destination port 139. When identifying a NetBIOS application with which to establish a NetBIOS session, the NetBIOS name is used.

An example of a process using a NetBIOS name is the File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks component (the Server service) on a Windows Server 2008–based computer. When you start your computer, the Server service registers a unique NetBIOS name based on your computer’s name. The exact name used by the Server service is the 15-character computer name plus a sixteenth character of 0x20. If the computer name is not 15 characters long, it is padded with spaces up to 15 characters long. Other network services, such as the Workstation or Messenger service, also use the computer name to build their NetBIOS names. The sixteenth character is used to uniquely identify each service.


  • The Messenger service referred to here is not Windows Messenger. Windows Messenger is a Microsoft application included in Windows Server 2008 that allows real-time messaging and collaboration.

The Server service on the file server you specify corresponds to a specific NetBIOS name. For example, when you attempt to connect to the computer called CORPSERVER, the NetBIOS name corresponding to the Server service is "CORPSERVER <20>" (note the padding using the space character). Before a file and print sharing connection can be established, a TCP connection must be created. In order for a TCP connection to be established, the NetBIOS name "CORPSERVER <20>" must be resolved to an IP address.

To view the NetBIOS names registered by NetBIOS processes running on a Windows Server 2008 computer, type nbtstat -n at the Windows Server 2008 command prompt.

NetBIOS Node Types

The exact mechanism by which NetBIOS names are resolved to IP addresses depends on the node’s configured NetBIOS Node Type. RFC 1001 defines the NetBIOS Node Types listed in the following table.

NetBIOS Node Types

Node Type Description

B-node (broadcast)

B-node uses broadcasted NetBIOS name queries for name registration and resolution. B-node has two major problems: (1) In a large internetwork, broadcasts can increase the network load, and (2) Routers typically do not forward broadcasts, so only NetBIOS names on the local network can be resolved.

P-node (peer-peer)

P-node uses a NetBIOS name server (NBNS), such as Windows Internet Name Service (WINS), to resolve NetBIOS names. P-node does not use broadcasts; instead, it queries the name server directly. The most significant problem with P-node is that all computers must be configured with the IP address of the NBNS, and if the NBNS is down, computers are not able to communicate even on the local network.

M-node (mixed)

M-node is a combination of B-node and P-node. By default, an M-node functions as a B-node. If it is unable to resolve a name by broadcast, it uses the NBNS of P-node.

H-node (hybrid)

H-node is a combination of P-node and B-node. By default, an H-node functions as a P-node. If it is unable to resolve a name through the NetBIOS name server, it uses a broadcast to resolve the name.

When NetBT is enabled, Windows Server 2008–based computers are B-node by default and become H-node when configured for a WINS server. Windows Server 2008 also uses a local database file called Lmhosts to resolve remote NetBIOS names.