Windows 8 Network Browsing Problems

Screen shot showing the Advanced Sharing Settings area of the Windows 8 control panel.
Check if these are disabled.

Network browsing in Windows has always been a fragile system plagued with bugs and configuration pitfalls.  If you’ve arrived at this page to find a solution, rest assured you are not alone.

I recently encountered a Windows 8 problem where the “Network” folder only showed the local computer and file shares.  When trying the “net view” command, the response was “A remote API error occurred.”  Not at all helpful, is it?  The Windows 2003 domain controller was not experiencing any problems, and the Windows 8 computer showed up normally on the server.

Symptoms Identified December 8, 2013

After struggling with this dysfunctional operating system for seven months without a solution, I found the pattern that would help identify the main problem.

With only Windows XP and Windows 2003 machines on the network, everything works fine.  Computers can see and browse each other without any problems.

With only Windows 8 and Windows 2003 machines on the network, network browsing may or may not work, depending on the Windows 8 network client configuration.

In a mixed environment of Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows 2003 machines, the Windows 8 machines are sometimes able to browse the network.  However, once the Windows XP machines are shut down, the Windows 8 machines are never able to browse the network.

Once I had all these variables figured out, I came up with a list of settings that are compatible across all versions.

Step 1, Server Configuration

The dysfunction of Windows 8 network browsing seems semi-random, but really boils down to an incompatibility between different versions of the NBT browser backup servers.  I have no idea why they are incompatible, but I do know that browser backup servers are not needed in most situations.

Screenshot showing GPO configuration of the Computer Browser service.
First, shut down all client-based backup servers.

If all Windows computers on the local network are members of the same domain, then it is easy to solve this problem at one of the domain controllers:

  1. Open the Domain Controller Security Policy object.  This can be found several ways through the Administrative Tools, MMC, or by using Group Policy Management in Windows 2003 R2 or later.
  2. Click on System Services.
  3. Scroll down to the Computer Browser service and double-click it.
  4. Select the “Define this policy setting” option and make sure this service is set to the Automatic startup mode.
  5. Click OK and then close the Domain Controller Security Policy window.
  6. Open the Domain Security Policy object.
  7. Click on System Services.
  8. Scroll down to the Computer Browser service and double-click it.
  9. Select the “Define this policy setting” option and make sure this service is set to Disabled.
  10. Click OK and then close the Domain Security Policy window.

When the steps above are completed, the domain policy will prevent browser servers from running on client computers, and the domain controller policy will override that setting on the server computers to allow them to act as browser servers.

Step 2, Reboot All the Things

As with any changes to the GPO Computer Configuration, the changes will not take effect until every computer is either restarted or forced to apply the new settings with the gpupdate command.  There are some well-documented bugs in Windows XP that may prevent automatic GPO updates, so it might better or even necessary to issue the gpupdate /Boot command to every computer.

Also, a full reboot is going to help flush all of the NBT cache information and the WINS server information, both of which are likely involved in the Windows 8 browsing problems.

Step 3, Make Sure Browsing is Actually Enabled in Windows 8

As best as I understand the following settings, Windows 8 comes with a default configuration called “Turn off network discovery” that prevents domain network browsing.  This is one of the more annoying aspects of the problem.

I made a several changes:

  1. In the Network and Sharing Center control panel, click on “Change advanced sharing settings”.
  2. Enable network discovery.
  3. Enable file and printer sharing.
  4. Disable public folder sharing.
  5. Click the “Save changes” button.
  6. Reboot the Windows 8 computer.

Additional Details

The other symptom that will appear while network discovery is disabled is a pair of system events that occur about 10 minutes after each reboot:

Log Name: System
Event ID: 8021
Level: Warning
The browser service was unable to retrieve a list of servers from the browser master …

Log Name: System
Event ID: 8032
Level: Information
The browser service has failed to retrieve the backup list too many times on transport … The backup browser is stopping.

If you are getting those errors, it means that you are using a default configuration that:

  1. Enables the Computer Browser service, which may be incompatible with other computers, and
  2. Disables the computer’s ability to access file sharing services.

6 thoughts on “Windows 8 Network Browsing Problems”

  1. The problems only start there.

    I had shares up and running on an old XP-based machine. Windows 8 saw them and had no problems allowing access to them… And then suddenly just forgot about them. Now it can see the machine there, but it has a completely separate name from the one the old XP machine uses or otherwise acks. It won’t connect to those shares even though it did so in the past. I can’t set up the shares via the network control panel because the
    whole system acts like it has any clue what the hell is going on, and it clearly does not.
    The name it’s using is the “inpiron 15r” name that is the model name of the pc — it appears nowhere in the windows xp setup information. It’s not the computer name in the windows SYSTEM setup. It’s pulling it from somewhere but it’s not sharing that information with anyone else. It insists that the “homegroup” is set up by the dell. It was never set up there, so I can’t find out what the mystery-magic randomly created “password” for it is, because the DELL has no freaking idea what the hell you’re talking about, it’s an XP machine and no explicit homegroup was created. You can’t tell the W8 machine to create its own homegroup… Naw. that might make sense. If I try and log onto the “inspiron 15r” computer, it demands I enter a password… the dell is a single-user computer that has one user and no password at all. There’s NO WAY to enter this information to log onto the inspiron computer from the w8.

    The W8 interface is a senseless abortion of an idea from the start — I can see its target, which is touch-screens. Except I’m not using a touch screen, so it serves little purpose. But even there, there appear to be things you can’t readily access from the “Metro” interface and need to go to the desktop for.


    Face it. Windows is one massive cluster eph from start to finish. They’ve NEVER gotten even basic home networking vaguely correct, much less improved on that process. By now it should be almost plug-and-play, but instead it’s just getting more and more complex and retarded.

    The not-too-far-off date when Android desktop kicks Microsoft’s ass out of the computing universe cannot come soon enough.

    1. I suggest using “nbtstat -n” on the XP command line to find out which names that computer is advertising. It sounds like that might provide more information to work with.

    2. You are so smack dab on the money OhBloodyHell it hurts. As a 13 year IT veteran than owns an SMB it service company with 8 employees I can’t have expressed it better.

      I’m drooling over the day when I can either implement a Linux desktop or an Android solution into a SMB business and be free of the ass-ache that is all things Microsoft. They so rarely get anything right that if it wasn’t for their hegemony over the desktop office suite of tools and their bullish and abusive litigious manner that ship would have sank years ago.

      Thank you MS for suing your way into perpetuity. I’m sure you patents will sully the waters of future IT development for generations.

  2. Here’s one gotcha that MSFT rarely mentions in connection with network discovery: the following services are usually turned OFF by default. They must be turned on in order for network discovery to turned on. Otherwise you’ll click “turn on network discovery: and then go back to the same advanced settings page and see that your change was not saved. These services must be turned on and set to “automatic”:

    • DNS Client
    • Function Discovery Resource Publication
    • SSDP Discovery
    • UPnP Device Host

    1. Thanks for this useful mention Tom.

      I had a discovery problem on my home network with 3 Windows 10 PCs and one Windows 7 PC, plus a few routers, printers and miscellaneous non Windows devices.
      I had all PCs able to browse each other by name except one Windows 10. All 3 Win 10 were clean installs not upgrades, ie I ran an upgrade then ran a clean install afterwards.

      The one that could not be seen had the 2 Function discovery services not running (Win 10 must have added another.) As soon as I started them it popped up in the “network neighbourhood” list with all the others.

      A happy man now, thank you.

      Weirdly, on the Win7 machine these services were absent, and I found that the machine had a Homegroup started but never finished or used. I turned off the Homegroup and the Function Discovery services came back to life.

      I have a thought on how these services could get mucked up and be turned off, bbecause of this find on the Win 7 box.
      If you turn Homegroup on on a PC it removes these services and replaces them with 2 others (forget the names now), but if you then don’t complete the Homegroup because of it’s limited sharing abilities, and turn the homegroup off again, the Function Discovery services are re-instated but off…….and you have a missing machine in your NW Neighbourhood.

      I haven’t run a series of tests on this scenarion and I’m not going to waste any of my life on it, but it may be of use to someone.

  3. Tom of Manhattan
    Thank you very much for this.
    This was happening on my small domain running server 2012 and only windows 10 clients.
    If only one win 10 computer was on it could browse the network. As soon as another one was turned on both could not browse.
    I was really pulling my hair out. Turning on those services you mentioned did the trick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.