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4. Designing A SMB and CIFS Network

The big issues for installing any network of LAN or WAN file and print servers are

If you buy Netware, Windows NT or just about any other LAN fileserver product you are expected to lock yourself into the product's preferred answers to these questions. This tendancy is restrictive and often very expensive for a site where there is only one kind of client or server, and for sites with a mixture of operating systems it often makes it impossible to share resources between some sets of users.

The Samba philosophy is to make things as easy as possible for administators, which means allowing as many combinations of clients, servers, operating systems and protocols as possible.

4.1 Workgroups, Domains, Authentication and Browsing

From the point of view of networking implementation, Domains and Workgroups are exactly the same, except for the client logon sequence. Some kind of distributed authentication database is associated with a domain (there are quite a few choices) and this adds so much flexibility that many people think of a domain as a completely different entity to a workgroup. From Samba's point of view a client connecting to a service presents an authentication token, and it if it is valid they have access. Samba does not care what mechanism was used to generate that token in the first place.

The SMB client logging on to a domain has an expectation that every other server in the domain should accept the same authentication information. However the network browsing functionality of domains and workgroups is identical and is explained in ../BROWSING.txt.

There are some implementation differences: Windows 95 can be a member of both a workgroup and a domain, but Windows NT cannot. Windows 95 also has the concept of an "alternative workgroup". Samba can only be a member of a single workgroup or domain, although this is due to change with a future version when nmbd will be split into two daemons, one for WINS and the other for browsing ( ../NetBIOS.txt explains what WINS is.)

Defining the Terms


means a collection of machines that maintain a common browsing database containing information about their shared resources. They do not necessarily have any security information in common (if they do, it gets called a Domain.) The browsing database is dynamic, modified as servers come and go on the network and as resources are added or deleted. The term "browsing" refers to a user accessing the database via whatever interface the client provides, eg the OS/2 Workplace Shell or Windows 95 Explorer. SMB servers agree between themselves as to which ones will maintain the browsing database. Workgroups can be anywhere on a connected TCP/IP network, including on different subnets or even on the Interet. This is a very tricky part of SMB to implement.

Master Browsers

are machines which holds the master browsing database for a workgroup or domain. There are two kinds of Master Browser:

Subnets are differentiated because browsing is based on broadcasts, and broadcasts do not pass through routers. Subnets are not routed: while it is possible to have more than one subnet on a single network segment this is regarded as very bad practice.

Master Browsers (both Domain and Local) are elected dynamically according to an algorithm which is supposed to take into account the machine's ability to sustain the browsing load. Samba can be configured to always act as a master browser, ie it always wins elections under all circumstances, even against systems such as a Windows NT Primary Domain Controller which themselves expect to win.

There are also Backup Browsers which are promoted to Master Browsers in the event of a Master Browser disappearing from the network.

Alternative terms include confusing variations such as "Browse Master", and "Master Browser" which we are trying to eliminate from the Samba documentation.

Domain Controller

is a term which comes from the Microsoft and IBM etc implementation of the LAN Manager protocols. It is tied to authentication. There are other ways of doing domain authentication, but the Windows NT method has a large market share. The general issues are discussed in ../DOMAIN.txt and a Windows NT-specific discussion is in ../DOMAIN_CONTROL.txt.

Sharelevel (Workgroup) Security Services

With the Samba setting "security = SHARE", all shared resources information about what password is associated with them but only hints as to what usernames might be valid (the hint can be 'all users', in which case any username will work. This is usually a bad idea, but reflects both the initial implementations of SMB in the mid-80s and its reincarnation with Windows for Workgroups in 1992. The idea behind workgroup security was that small independant groups of people could share information on an ad-hoc basis without there being an authentication infrastructure present or requiring them to do more than fill in a dialogue box.

Authentication Domain Mode Services

With the Samba settings "security = USER" or "security = SERVER" accesses to all resources are checked for username/password pair matches in a more rigorous manner. To the client, this has the effect of emulating a Microsoft Domain. The client is not concerned whether or not Samba looks up a Windows NT SAM or does it in some other way.

4.2 Authentication Schemes

In the simple case authentication information is stored on a single server and the user types a password on connecting for the first time. However client operating systems often require a password before they can be used at all, and in addition users usually want access to more than one server. Asking users to remember many different passwords in different contexts just does not work. Some kind of distributed authentication database is needed. It must cope with password changes and provide for assigning groups of users the same level of access permissions. This is why Samba installations often choose to implement a Domain model straight away.

Authentication decisions are some of the biggest in designing a network. Are you going to use a scheme native to the client operating system, native to the server operating system, or newly installed on both? A list of options relevant to Samba (ie that make sense in the context of the SMB protocol) follows. Any experiences with other setups would be appreciated. refer to server FAQ for "passwd chat" passwd program password server etc etc...


For Windows 95, Windows for Workgroups and most other clients Samba can be a domain controller and share the password database via NIS transparently. Windows NT is different. Free NIS NT client


Kerberos for US users only: Kerberos overview Download Kerberos


Other NT w/s logon hack via NT

Default Server Method

Client-side Database Only

4.3 Post-Authentication: Netlogon, Logon Scripts, Profiles

See ../DOMAIN.txt

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