The question of whether you can use Domain Name System (DNS) instead of Windows Internet Name Service (WINS) has come up frequently since Microsoft released Windows NT 4.0. With this version, Microsoft started shipping a Request for Comment (RFC)-compliant, functional DNS service. Many people wonder whether they can use DNS instead of WINS in an NT 4.0 environment. Unfortunately, the answer is a qualified no. This incompatibility is because NT workstations and servers rely on the NetBIOS protocol and APIs to provide native services such as file and print, messaging, database access. To accommodate this dependence, WINS provides some capability above and beyond basic name-to-address resolution. Specifically, every NT name contains a special 16th-byte hexadecimal value that identifies the type of NetBIOS service it provides. This 16th-byte value is critical for functions such as locating domain controllers and master browsers.

DNS provides only basic name resolution. Because DNS does not support 16th-byte types, you cannot use it for most NT-specific functions. I qualified my no answer to using DNS instead of WINS because, in theory, you can run a TCP/IP-based NT network without WINS if you use a combination of DNS for basic name-to-address mapping services, and LMHosts files for NetBIOS-specific entries. However, maintaining static LMHosts files in a large network can quickly become unwieldy. So, we're stuck with WINS. The good news is that with NT 5.0, Microsoft will free us from the bonds of WINS, letting us use DNS, or even the emerging Dynamic DNS standard, for NT name resolution services.