Workgroups and Browsing
In order to make locating NetBIOS resources easier, vendors implement two technologies – Workgroups and Browsing. Workgroups are logical groupings of computers that appear to be in the same logical namespace. Browsing is a way of automatically identifying which NetBIOS servers are on the network. It is important to note that neither of these technologies is core to NetBIOS, and NetBIOS will work just fine without either.
Browsing consists of two general phases, registration and discovery. Whenever a NetBIOS server that supports browsing starts up, it forces an “election” on its local segment. This amounts to nothing more than a broadcast packet, requesting the names of other servers on the network and that servers role. A server can be a master browser, a backup browser, a potential browser or a non-browser. Only a server can become a browser and thus there must be at least one server in each workgroup for browsing to function. There is only one master browser per workgroup, and a number of backup browsers. The number of backup browsers is not directly configurable, but rather determined dynamically by the master browser, taking into consideration the number of servers in the workgroup.
Because browsing is limited to broadcasts on the local segment, configuration of intersubnet browsing is more difficult. In order for this to function, external helper services must be employed. These services come in the form of an LMHOSTS text file and a NBNS (NetBIOS Name Server) such as WINS. Employing these services eliminates many of the broadcasts required to facilitate browsing by storing the browse list and the name/IP of the master browser in a defined location.
Workgroups serve no other purpose than to group computers together for browsing. A master browser is responsible for a workgroup, and all computers that are going to use that master browser are made members of that workgroup. Windows Explorer displays computers as child objects of workgroups to make navigation of network resources easier.