WINS Servers in Windows 2003 – The Basics

WINS (Windows Internet Name Service) in Windows 2003

My mission in this section is to explain the purpose of WINS in Windows Server 2003 network.  In particular, I have tutorials to show you, where and why you need to configure WINS.

The first point to remember about WINS is that only Microsoft clients use WINS servers for name resolution, whereas Linux, Unix and everyone else on the internet, use DNS exclusively.  To keep matters in perspective, Active Directory, Exchange and IIS also require DNS.  95% of the time modern Microsoft products prefer DNS, but just occasionally they need to find a NetBIOS resource name – come in WINS.  The ‘killer’ reason for implementing WINS is that Exchange, even Exchange 2003, needs NetBIOS name resolution.

Topics for WINS Servers in Windows 2003


WINS – The Basics of Name Resolution

It goes without saying that you have to implement DNS, but that’s another story.  In this section I want to concentrate on WINS for those few occasions where NetBIOS name resolution is vital.  While both WINS and DNS deal with mapping ComputerName to IP addresses, there are two important differences; DNS is hierarchical and can support up to 254 characters, WINS, on the other hand, is a flat-field database limited to 15 letters.  One of the few advantages that WINS formerly had over DNS was that WINS is dynamic.  Well, starting with Windows 2000, DNS is also dynamic, so the only point of WINS in the 21st century is specifically for NetBIOS name resolution.

Keep in mind, especially when troubleshooting, the reason why we need databases such as WINS or DNS. The answer is name resolution.  We humans prefer to remember friendly names like BigServer, whereas computers prefer IP addresses in dot decimal notation for example,

Name resolution started with two files called ‘hosts’ and LMHosts files.  The hosts file evolved into DNS and WINS took over the name resolution provided by LMHosts.  Every Microsoft machine is born with these files in the folder: %systemroot%\system32\drivers\etc\. Here is a typical entry for LMHosts.   bigserver

Installing a WINS Server on Windows Server 2003

WINS is a service and as with DNS and DHCP, you install WINS via the Control Panel,  Add or Remove Programs, Windows Components, Networking Services, Details –> WINS.  The wizard will now prompt you for the Windows Server 2003 CD. WINS Status Windows Server 2003 Installation

Once installation completes, you can find the Windows Snap-in in the Administrative Tools folder.  What you are looking for is to make sure that the WINS Status is ‘Responding’.

Trap.  In order for the clients to find their WINS server, you need to check to see that the very WINS server is registered in its own database.

See how WINS adds records.

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A Goofy NetBIOS Problem

The key technical difference is that Microsoft WINS servers use NetBIOS names whereas DNS relies on hostname.  For years I thought that NetBIOS and hostname were one and the same.  Then one day I had a bizarre naming problem.  A mystery machine called ‘goofy’ appeared on the network.  You could see it when you typed ‘net view’ at the command prompt.  I identified it’s IP address with ping, and traced its hostname in DNS.  For the solution, I launched regedit and and found two different name settings, hostname and computername.  (Computername is an alias for NetBIOS name.)  Well on this particular machine, the ‘user from hell’ had managed to set hostname = machinebythewall and computername = goofy.  Just to emphasise, I have never seen different names for computername and hostname before or since.


WINS is an alternative to DNS for name resolution.   You only need WINS if you have old Microsoft clients such as Windows 98, or servers that use NetBIOS name services.  DNS is an superior system, and is required by Active Directory,

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