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3. About the CIFS and SMB Protocols

3.1 What is the Server Message Block (SMB) Protocol?

SMB is a filesharing protocol that has had several maintainers and contributors over the years including Xerox, 3Com and most recently Microsoft. Names for this protocol include LAN Manager and Microsoft Networking. Parts of the specification has been made public at several versions including in an X/Open document, as listed at No specification releases were made between 1992 and 1996, and during that period Microsoft became the SMB implementor with the largest market share. Microsoft developed the specification further for its products but for various reasons connected with developer's workload rather than market strategy did not make the changes public. This culminated with the "Windows NT 0.12" version released with NT 3.5 in 1995 which had significant improvements and bugs. Because Microsoft client systems are so popular, it is fair to say that what Microsoft with Windows affects all suppliers of SMB server products.

From 1994 Andrew Tridgell began doing some serious work on his Smbserver (now Samba) product and with some helpers started to implement more and more of these protocols. Samba began to take a significant share of the SMB server market.

3.2 What is the Common Internet Filesystem (CIFS)?

The initial pressure for Microsoft to document their current SMB implementation came from the Samba team, who kept coming across things on the wire that Microsoft either didn't know about or hadn't documented anywhere (even in the sourcecode to Windows NT.) Then Sun Microsystems came out with their WebNFS initiative, designed to replace FTP for file transfers on the Internet. There are many drawbacks to WebNFS (including its scope - it aims to replace HTTP as well!) but the concept was attractive. FTP is not very clever, and why should it be harder to get files from across the world than across the room?

Some hasty revisions were made and an Internet Draft for the Common Internet Filesystem (CIFS) was released. Note that CIFS is not an Internet standard and is a very long way from becoming one, BUT the protocol specification is in the public domain and ongoing discussions concerning the spec take place on a public mailing list according to the rules of the Internet Engineering Task Force. For more information and pointers see

The following is taken from

    CIFS defines a standard remote file system access protocol for use
    over the Internet, enabling groups of users to work together and
    share documents across the Internet or within their corporate
    intranets. CIFS is an open, cross-platform technology based on the
    native file-sharing protocols built into Microsoft® Windows® and
    other popular PC operating systems, and supported on dozens of
    other platforms, including UNIX®. With CIFS, millions of computer
    users can open and share remote files on the Internet without having
    to install new software or change the way they work."

If you consider CIFS as a backwardsly-compatible refinement of SMB that will work reasonably efficiently over the Internet you won't be too far wrong.

The net effect is that Microsoft is now documenting large parts of their Windows NT fileserver protocols. The security concepts embodied in Windows NT are part of the specification, which is why Samba documentation often talks in terms of Windows NT. However there is no reason why a site shouldn't conduct all its file and printer sharing with CIFS and yet have no Microsoft products at all.

3.3 What is Browsing?

The term "Browsing" causes a lot of confusion. It is the part of the SMB/CIFS protocol which allows for resource discovery. For example, in the Windows NT Explorer it is possible to see a "Network Neighbourhood" of computers in the same SMB workgroup. Clicking on the name of one of these machines brings up a list of file and printer resources for connecting to. In this way you can cruise the network, seeing what things are available. How this scales to the Internet is a subject for debate. Look at the CIFS list archives to see what the experts think.

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