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O'Reilly Book Excerpts: Using Samba, 2nd Edition

Name Resolution and Browsing in Samba, Part 2

Related Reading

Using Samba
By Jay Ts, Robert Eckstein, David Collier-Brown

by Robert Eckstein, David Collier-Brown, Jay Ts

Editor's note: In part one in this two-part series of excerpts from Chapter 7 of Using Samba, 2nd Edition, you learned how to work with name resolution using WINS. In this second installment, the authors describe browsing in a network that contains only Windows systems, then show you how to add a Samba server.


Browsing was developed by Microsoft to help users find shared resources on the network. In a networked computing environment where users can add or remove shares at any time, it is important to have some automatic means of keeping track of the shared resources and allowing users to "browse" through them to find the ones they wish to use.

Before browsing was added to SMB networking, when anyone added a new share, the people with whom they wished to share the data or printer would have to be informed of the share's UNC, using some relatively low-tech method such as speaking to them in person or over the phone, or sending email. Already, this was very inconvenient in large organizations. To further complicate matters, the users working on client computers had to type in the share's UNC to connect to it. The only way to get around typing in the share's UNC every time it was used was to map a network drive to it, and with a large number of shares on the network, this could easily get out of hand.

Browsing in a Windows Network

To keep things simple, we will first describe network browsing in a network that contains only Windows systems and then show you how to add a Samba server.

The basic way browsing works is that one computer in the network takes on the role of the master browser (also called local master browser, browse master, or browse server) and keeps a list of all the computers on the local subnet that are acting as SMB servers. The list of computers is called the browse list and includes all Samba servers, Windows NT/2000/XP systems, and any Windows 95/98/Me systems that have the "File and printer sharing for Microsoft Networks" networking component installed. The browse list also contains the names of all workgroups and domains. At this level, browsing is limited to the local subnet because the browsing protocol depends on broadcast packets, which are typically not forwarded to other subnets by routers.

A user at any Windows system can view the browse list by opening up the Network Neighborhood (or My Network Places). Or, the net view command can be used from a Windows command prompt:

C:\>net view
Server Name            Remark

\\MAYA                 Windows 98
\\MIXTEC               Samba 2.2.5
\\OLMEC                Windows XP Pro on Pentium/ASUS
\\TOLTEC               Samba 2.2.5
\\YAQUI                Windows 95 on mixtec/VMware
The command completed successfully.

Then, net view can be used with a computer name as an argument to contact a server directly and list the resources it is sharing:

C:\>net view \\maya
Shared resources at \\maya

Windows 98

Share name   Type         Used as  Comment

D            Disk
E            Disk
HP           Print
The command completed successfully.

The computers on the network involved in browsing are more than just the master browser and its clients. There are also backup browsers, which maintain copies of the browse list and respond to client requests for it. Backup browsers are therefore able to take over the role of master browser seamlessly in case it fails. The master browser usually doesn't serve the browse list directly to clients. Instead, its job is mainly to keep the master copy of the browse list up-to-date, and also periodically update the backup browsers. Clients are expected to get their copies of the browse list from backup browsers, selecting among them randomly to help to distribute the load on the backup browsers more evenly. Ideally, the interaction between any client and the master browser is limited to the client announcing when it joins or leaves the network (if it is a server) and requesting a list of backup browsers.

There can be more than one backup browser. A workgroup will have a backup browser if two or more computers are running Windows 95/98/Me or Windows NT Workstation (or another nonserver version of Windows NT/2000/XP) on the subnet. For every 32 additional computers, another backup browser is added.

In a Windows NT domain, the primary domain controller is always the local master browser, and if it fails, another Windows NT/2000 server (if one exists) will take over the role of local master browser. Other versions of Windows can function as backup browsers, but will never become a master browser if a Windows NT/2000 server is available.

In addition to acting as the local master browser, the primary domain controller also acts as the domain master browser, which ties subnets together and allows browse lists to be shared between master and backup browsers on separate subnets. This is how browsing is extended to function beyond the local subnet. Each subnet functions as a separate browsing entity, and the domain master browser synchronizes the master browsers of each subnet. In a Windows-only network, browsing cannot function across subnets unless a Windows NT/2000 PDC exists on the network. Samba can act as a domain master browser and can perform that task even in a workgroup network, which means that the Windows PDC is not required for this task. (It is also possible to use the remote browse sync parameter to configure a Samba server to synchronize its browse list with a Samba server on another subnet. In this case, each server must be acting as the local master browser of its subnet.)

Unless it is configured never to act as a browser, each computer on the subnet is considered a potential browser and can be ordered by the browse master to become a backup browser, or it can identify itself as a backup browser and accept the role on its own.

Browser Elections

When no master browser is running on the subnet, potential browsers choose a new master browser among themselves in a process called an election. An election is started by a computer in the subnet when it discovers that no master browser is currently running. If a master browser is shut down gracefully, it will broadcast an election request datagram, initiating an election by the remaining computers. If the master browser fails, the election can be started by a client computer that requests a list of backup browsers from the master browser or by a backup browser that requests to have its browse list updated from the master browser. In each case, the system fails to receive a reply from the master browser and initiates the election.

Browser elections are decided in multiple rounds of self-elimination. During each round, potential browsers broadcast election request datagrams containing their qualifications to notify other potential browsers that an election is happening and that if the recipient is more qualified, it should also broadcast a bid. When a potential browser receives an election request datagram from a more qualified opponent, it drops out, disqualifying itself from becoming the master browser. Otherwise, it responds with its own election request datagram. After a few rounds, only one potential browser is left in the election. After an additional four rounds of sending out an election request datagram and receiving no response, it becomes the master browser and sends a broadcast datagram announcing itself as the local master browser for the subnet. It then assigns runners-up in the election as backup browsers, as needed.

A potential browser's qualifications include the following:

  • Whether it has recently lost an election

  • The version of the election protocol it is running

  • Its election criteria

  • The amount of time the system has been up

  • The computer's NetBIOS name

If the potential browser has lost an election recently, it immediately disqualifies itself. The version of the election protocol it is running is checked, but so far, all Windows systems (and Samba) use the same election protocol, so the check is not very meaningful. The election criteria are usually what determine which computer becomes the local master browser. There are two parts to the election criteria, shown in Tables 7-2 and 7-3.

Table 7-2: Operating-system values in an election

Operating system


Windows NT/2000 Server, running as PDC


Windows NT/2000/XP, if not the PDC


Windows 95/98/Me


Windows for Workgroups


Table 7-3: Computer-role settings in an election



Domain master browser


WINS client


Preferred master


Running master


Recent backup browser


Backup browser


The operating-system type is compared first, and the system with the highest value wins. The values have been chosen to cause the primary domain controller, if there is one, to become the local master browser. Otherwise, a Windows NT/2000/XP system will win over a Windows for Workgroups or Windows 95/98/Me system.

When an operating-system type comparison results in a tie, the role of the computer is compared. A computer can have more than one of the values in Table 7-3, in which case the values are added.

A domain master browser has a role value of 128 to weight the election so heavily in its favor that it will also become the local master browser on its own subnet. Although the primary domain controller (which is always the domain master browser) will win the election based solely on its operating system value, sometimes there is no primary domain controller on the network, and the domain master browser would not otherwise be distinguished from other potential browsers.

Systems that are using a WINS server for name resolution are weighted heavily over ones that use broadcast name resolution with a role value of 32.

A preferred master is a computer that has been selected and configured manually by a system administrator to be favored as the choice master browser. When a preferred master starts up, it forces a browser election, even if an existing master browser is still active. A preferred master has a role value of 8, and the existing master browser gets a value of 4.

A backup browser that has recently been a master browser and still has an up-to-date browse list is given a role value of 2, and a potential browser that has been running as a backup browser gets a value of 1.

If comparing the operating-system type and role results in a tie, the computer that has been running the longest wins. In the unlikely event that the two have been up for the same amount of time, the computer that wins is the one with the NetBIOS name that sorts first alphabetically.

You can tell if a machine is a local master browser by using the Windows nbtstat command. Place the NetBIOS name of the machine you wish to check after the -a option:

C:\>nbtstat -a toltec

Local Area Connection:
Node IpAddress: [] Scope Id: []

           NetBIOS Remote Machine Name Table

       Name               Type         Status
    TOLTEC         <00>  UNIQUE      Registered
    TOLTEC         <03>  UNIQUE      Registered
    TOLTEC         <20>  UNIQUE      Registered
    .._  _MSBROWSE_ _.<01>    GROUP       Registered
    METRAN         <00>  GROUP       Registered
    METRAN         <1B>  UNIQUE      Registered
    METRAN         <1C>  GROUP       Registered
    METRAN         <1D>  UNIQUE      Registered
    METRAN         <1E>  GROUP       Registered

    MAC Address = 00-00-00-00-00-00

The resource entry that you're looking for is .._ _MSBROWSE_ _.<01>. This indicates that the server is currently acting as the local master browser for the current subnet. If the machine is a Samba server, you can check the Samba nmbd log file for an entry such as:

Samba name server TOLTEC is now a local master browser for
workgroup METRAN on subnet

Or, you can use the nmblookup command with the -M option and the workgroup or domain name on any Samba server to find the IP address of the local master:

$ nmblookup -M metran
querying metran on metran<1d> 

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