Hack 56 Install NetBEUI for Better Peer-to-Peer Networking


If you run into problems when networking PCs with different versions of Windows, the NetBEUI protocol should solve your problems. But beware: don't use the XP-specific version. Instead, follow this hack.

The Holy Grail of Windows peer-to-peer networking is the absolute reliability of network connections between computers. When you open My Network Places and try to access the shared resources of any other computer on your network, you shouldn't have to wait a long time or be faced with mysterious error messages.

Unfortunately, Windows XP is surprisingly prone to these sorts of peer network problems in mixed-Windows-version networks, especially when you network NT/2000/XP with 9x/Me computers. Most experienced Windows network administrators believe you get the best network browsing reliability by using Microsoft's NetBEUI network transport protocol and TCP/IP. But there's a problem. With the release of Windows XP, Microsoft officially stopped supporting NetBEUI. The network protocol is included in a legacy folder on the Windows XP CD. But the XP version of NetBEUI is considered to be inferior to the Windows 2000 version, and Microsoft has even admitted that possibility.

The solution is fairly simple, then. Install the Windows 2000 version of NetBEUI on your XP PCs instead of using the XP version. Caveats? Yes, two. Some people have problems with NetBEUI in wireless networking environments (my belief is that this is a broadband-router-specific issue). The second caveat is that NetBEUI does not support hibernation or standby power-management operations properly. (For more details on why, as well as alternatives to NetBEUI?such as IPX/SPX with NetBIOS?please see "NetBEUI Power Down" from Scot's Newsletter: http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/42.htm#pwrprob.)

Installation of any version of NetBEUI on Windows XP is trickier than most people realize. It's very easy to wind up with an improperly installed protocol without even realizing that you have done so. The symptoms consist of intermittent network-connection problems (exactly what you're trying to avoid). The instructions that follow represent hours of research that literally scores of Scot's Newsletter readers confirmed with their own networks. Bottom line: follow the directions exactly; don't take shortcuts; it'll work for you too. End warning.

First, get a copy of the Windows 2000 version of NetBEUI. It consists of two files, Nbf.sys and Netnbf.inf. If you don't have the Windows 2000 CD, you can download the files from a more detailed and periodically updated website version of this hack, which originally appeared in Scot's Newsletter in January 2003 under the title "How to Install Win2K's NetBEUI in XP" (http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/38.htm#tipadaweek).

If you have the Windows 2000 CD, go to the CD's \i386 directory and find the compressed files Nbf.sy_ and Netnbf.in_. Use WinZip to open and extract them to a folder called something like NetBEUI for Win2K. Once the files are extracted, copy your destination folder to all XP computers on your network. Detailed extraction instructions are available at http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/38.htm#tipadaweek (including how to do this without WinZip).

Once you have the files, begin the NetBEUI installation by copying Nbf.sys to C:\Windows\System32\Drivers, and Netnbf.inf to C:\Windows\Inf. Then restart Windows XP.

If you have ever installed or tried to install any version of NetBEUI on any Windows XP PC on your network, you must take an additional step before installing NetBEUI; remove the protocol from the PC's network configuration and then manually delete the two NetBEUI files. Failure to do this before installing NetBEUI again will almost certainly wind up in a botched installation. For step-by-step instructions on how to fully uninstall NetBEUI from Win XP, see http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/38.htm#tipadaweek.

After you've restarted, open the Network Connections folder by choosing Control Panel Network Connections. Right-click the network connection icon to which you want to add NetBEUI (the default name of the primary connection is Local Area Connection) and choose Properties General Install Protocol Add. Select the NetBEUI protocol from the list and click OK. Restart your computer if you receive a prompt to complete the installation.

Next, unbind TCP/IP from sharing. For security reasons, TCP/IP file and printer sharing should be disabled on all computers on your network to separate the Internet from the LAN. Open the Control Panel called Network Connections. There are several ways to do that, only some of which may apply to you, depending on interface settings you chose in past. You can right-click either My Network Places (if it's visible on your desktop) or the Network icon (if it's visible on the system tray) and then choose Properties. If neither of those methods work, click Start and open the Control Panel. Find and double-click the Network Connections or Network and Dial-Up Connections icon.

Once Network Connections is open, choose the Advanced menu and select Advanced Settings. On the Adapters and Bindings tab, under "Bindings for [your network connection name]," remove the check mark beside Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click OK.

Finally, test your NetBEUI installation. Reboot all your PCs and check that they're able to connect to all shared drives, folders, and other resources. Either the Guest account will need to be turned on or the workstation names of the other PCs on your network must be added to Users and Groups. In tests, I've found freshly installed NetBEUI to be a little sticky (and this may affect any computer on your network). After opening My Network Places, you'll sometimes see an error message the first two or three times you attempt to connect to another PC. Once it connects the first time, it usually connects reliably after that.

5.16.1 See Also

  • [Hack #54]

?Scot Finnie