Windows Foundation

Windows XP Peer-to-Peer Networking

Windows XP's Peer-to-Peer Networking Wizard allows you to set up a firewall-protected network. This month, we go through the process step by step.

The micro-business space—defined often as home offices and small retailers with between one to 10 users&—has bedeviled Microsoft, which has tried to provide a well-accepted solution within this niche. Some published reports claim that the micro-business space is where the company's competitors such as Linux have enjoyed success. But Microsoft hopes to turn it around with a little-known capability in Windows XP Professional known as peer-to-peer networking. This feature allows these micro-businesses to easily deploy a functional network without a server-class machine.

Windows XP's peer-to-peer networking capability is based on the following functionality:

  • A physical network that connects all computers
  • Folder sharing
  • Printer sharing
  • Sharing-level permissions
  • Workgroup networking model (not domain)
  • Basic Internet firewall

It's called peer-to-peer networking, but one of the machines in the network is actually made superior to the others. While all machines are capable of sharing folders and printers, the "mothership" computer (a user workstation) is designated to host the Internet and firewall configuration. Windows XP does this by creating a separation zone between the network interfaces (e.g. NIC cards) on the mothership computer. It's here that the built-in firewall capability provides basic network address translation (NAT) that effectively prevents shared resources from being visible on the Internet. Granted, this firewall capability may not meet everyone's needs, but at least it's available. I don't blame you if you seek out a more robust hardware-based firewall to increase your security comfort level.

Stepping into Peer-to-Peer
So let's get going. I assume you have Windows XP Professional in front of you. Note that the Windows XP Home Edition does not support this peer-to-peer network functionality.

  1. Click Start, Control Panel, Network Connections.
  2. Select Set up a home or small office network link under Network Tasks on the left-side.
  3. The Welcome to the Network Setup Wizard screen on the Network Setup Wizard appears. Click Next.
  4. The Before you continue screen appears, listing the steps that will be completed. Click the checklist for creating a network link. The result is shown in Figure 1.

Peer Creation Steps
Figure 1. The steps for creating a home or small office network screen is truly a methodology for successfully deploying a peer-to-peer network. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. Close the Steps for creating a home or small office network screen.
  2. Click Next on the Before you continue screen.
  3. If the wizard finds disconnected networking interfaces, you'll see the screen in Figure 2, entitled The Wizard found disconnected network hardware. You'll need to connect the network interfaces or select the Ignore disconnected network hardware checkbox to continue. Once you've resolved this problem, click Next.
Resolve Network Connections
Figure 2. You need to resolve network interface connectivity before proceeding to a connection method. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. The Select a connection method screen appears. Here you will select from three connection options (see Figure 3). Make your selection and click Next.

Define network topology
Figure 3. Define the network Internet connection topology. (Click image to view larger version.)

Note: For the first computer you set up, which typically acts as the "mothership" of the peer-to-peer network, you should click the This computer connects directly to the Internet radio button. For the computers that you set up thereafter (second, third, fourth, etc.), select the second radio button, which says that another computer is already hosting and managing the Internet connection.

  1. On the Select your Internet connection screen, select the network connection that relates to the Internet under Connections and click Next. You must make a selection or the Next button will remain grayed out (see Figure 4).
Configure Internet Connection
Figure 4. Configuring the Internet connection. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. The next screen, Your computer has multiple connections, is very important for both Internet connectivity and firewall issues (see Figure 5). It's here you begin to assist the wizard by defining the "inside" network adapter (local area network) and the "wild-side" network adapter (Internet connection). Make the appropriate selection and click Next. In my case, I selected Let me choose the connections to my network.

Local routes to Internet
Figure 5. Establishing the routed connection between local computers and the Internet. (Click image to view larger version.)

Note. Figure 5 is conceptually similar to the early screens of the Internet Connection Wizard (ICW) in Small Business Server 2000 where the inside/wild-side definition occurs. If you select Determine the appropriate connection for me (Recommended), Windows XP performs tests to see which network interface returns Internet information.

  1. Because of the selection I made in, the Select the connections to bridge appears. This is shown in Figure 6. Make the connection selection and click Next.

Select network interface for LAN
Figure 6. Select the network interface that applies to the local area network. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. Complete the Computer description and Computer name fields on the Give this computer a description and name screen (similar to Figure 7), and click Next.
Name of computer
Figure 7. Name the computer and provide a description. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. Complete the Workgroup name field on the Name your network screen and click Next (see Figure 8).
Create workgroup
Figure 8. You are creating a workgroup, not a domain. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. Review your settings on the Ready to apply your network settings screen and click Next (see Figure 9).

Selections summarized
Figure 9. Your selected settings are summarized here. Don't forget you can select this information with your mouse and copy and paste it into a WordPad document for future reference. (Click image to view larger version.)

  1. Click Finish after the configuration process is completed.

You have now created the mothership machine on the peer-to-peer network. Next, you will configure a client computer (any other client computers you add to the peer network will be configured in a similar manner). This is easily accomplished by running the wizard on the other Windows XP Professional computers and at Step 8 (see Figure 3), selecting the second radio button. You would then complete the screens that follow asking for network naming information.

E-mail Drawback
The only missing component in Windows XP's peer-to-peer networking solution is native SMTP e-mail support. With the solution you just implemented, you still must continue to use POP-based e-mail. This means that two co-workers who want to transfer a file as an e-mail attachment must do so over the Internet, not locally. If the attachment is large and the Internet connection is slow, this shortcoming will reveal itself front and center. My guess is that Microsoft will correct this limitation in the future by providing some type of workgroup post office SMTP-based e-mail solution.

Child Play or Good MCSE Consulting Pay?
So is this Windows XP peer-to-peer networking capability just child's play for the MCSE? No. There are bona fide experienced MCSEs already building their consulting businesses around this new micro-business opportunity. One MCSE doing this is Bea Mulzer of Intellisys in Cocoa, Florida. Bea, who is also an active MCT teaching at an AATP college, assessed that the Windows XP peer-to-peer networking capability was a perfect fit for her marketplace. As told to me, aside from NASA and a handful of prime contractors, the Florida landscape is decorated with micro-businesses (and alligators). In the past, Bea had met some resistance with a server-based solution such as Small Business Server 2000 over cost. Just a few weeks after the Times Square release of Windows XP, Bea had already implemented two peer-to-peer networks. This is truly a case of an MCSE consultant detecting and capitalizing on a new niche—not a bad accomplishment in this era of shifting technology landscapes.

Not Lost On Microsoft and Gateway
The type of early Windows XP success that Bea the MCSE has achieved isn't lost on Microsoft. The company not only knew that this micro-business market existed and was underserved, but it's also the SBS "farm league." A micro-business today is a bona fide small business tomorrow. So Microsoft can sell these types of business the Small Business Server 2000 product one year hence, when the micro-business outgrows peer-to-peer networking. Gateway Computers has also latched onto that idea, with its network of 300 stores dedicated to serving small businesses. Several business solution advisors in different regions of the U.S. have told me that they sell a lot of machines to businesses with only a handful of users. These same BSAs are only too happy to sell a Gateway server down the road when the firm wants to implement a true client-server LAN.

The Future
All MCSEs should appropriately scrutinize technology solutions before deployment. And while the peer-to-peer networking capability is easy to set up and manage, the bigger question is, will it enjoy Microsoft's support in the future? In my interaction with the development team at Microsoft, I get the sense that the small business sector has support at the highest levels and XP's peer-to-peer networking capability will progressively improve.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Dec 13, 2010

DO you need the internet to do this ?

Mon, Jun 7, 2010 manila

i was trying to configure a peer to peer connection with tweo laptop with an os of vista and windows 7 they already connected to each other but when i try to access one of them unable to connect. I used also the remote desktop connection but still some error occured. anyone can help me

Mon, Oct 12, 2009 sherwin maynila


Mon, Sep 29, 2008 Anonymous Anonymous

no you don't need internet

Sat, Jun 30, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

do i need internet to sep up a network?

Wed, Apr 18, 2007 Ryan Bloomington,IL

Very Well Written

Wed, Nov 8, 2006 Jay Nimble Home

nice steps but make it simplilar and explain more. And explain why

Wed, Jul 5, 2006 ashraf india

Good, but i didn't find the stuff i needed.

Thu, Oct 27, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

è conforme os dias!!!!!

Tue, Oct 11, 2005 naved kabul

It is a very good that teaching the peer to peer but it is be audio video guides

Sat, Jul 16, 2005 Reggie Mar Laura Manila, Philippines

it gives me a lot information about networking.

Sun, Jan 9, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

xp should have an option to setup a p2p including security

Sun, Jun 13, 2004 arul singapore

do we use cross or straight cable.

Thu, May 20, 2004 Jack A-Town,Texas

Thank you. I was trying to help a friend with this very issue today.

Thu, Apr 1, 2004 Anonymous Phoenix

Misleading article - you don't need XP Pro for peer-to-peer. I use a cable modem/router/wireless AP for home office network: three XP Home's, a 2000, two 98SE's, a 98, and a 95; half wired, half wireless; they all communicate. The only trick is that to access shared files, the same user name must exist on both PC's. And I'm only an MCSD...

Wed, Mar 31, 2004 Elvis Cameroon

Am proud of the knowledge i got there

Wed, Mar 24, 2004 seref Istanbul, Turkey

I want to thank you for great clearness and understandability of your work done.
I was searching for this subject for almost a whole day, but what I found was mostly nonsense. I hope finding a similar help in troubleshooting of Peer-to-Peer networking, too.
Thans a lot...

Thu, Dec 18, 2003 mike melillo NJ

what are the maximum number of peer to peer connections

Tue, Dec 2, 2003 Fenaikh, Mohamed ,Riyadh, SA

Well done

Fri, Nov 21, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

great info thanks

Mon, Aug 25, 2003 bob benson Anonymous

XP peer to peer is absolutly Awfull. . . The &%$ wizardchanges IP settings if you have manual ip's. . . if setup disk lost you have to run wizard again. . . even if you use all the same settings in wizard this resetting "f's" the whole Damned Network!!!!

Fri, May 30, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Is there something you can add to the Home version of WinXP to get peer to peer working?

Wed, Feb 26, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

not troubleshooting tips. nothing about the incompatibility issue with win XP and 98 SE.. i see from the search engines that many people are having this problem. this article is good for a beginner.. but did not help me at all.

Mon, Jan 6, 2003 Tom Whitehouse Falls City Ne.

This article just rewrote the instructions you get from the screen. In the real world, we need to know what to do when the screen directions don't work, or if we need to connect an XP machine to a win 98 machine.

Sat, Dec 28, 2002 paul Uk

well i have doone all that but can u answer my question?

can you do this with the mother comp as xp proffesonal and the other computers as xp home? please reply to

Thu, Dec 26, 2002 Terry Taberer UK

Well Presented

Fri, Nov 29, 2002 Marcos Campos Anonymous

answered my basic questions as I consider migrating my 5 peer-to-peer machines to windows xp

Mon, Nov 25, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I appreciate this articles straight forward explaination about the missing mail client. Haven't we waited long enough?

Tue, Nov 19, 2002 Tony Anonymous

The author gave great instructions, but I was kind of upset that Microsoft changed the way we configure peer to peer networks. I already knew how to configure a P 2 P, and I was happy with the way it was done. Now we have to do it through a wizard that makes it more complecated that doing it manually.

Sat, Oct 19, 2002 Timthetman Anonymous

You mention nothing about how to connect to NT, 98, or any other platform, not to mention security, permissions, etc. in the XP environment.

Thu, Oct 10, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

simple, straightforward and clear advice - excellent

Sun, Mar 24, 2002 Anonymous Springfield, Missouri

Nice overview. No real substance of any value. What most probably want to know is this: pro's and con's of mixing 9x platforms with XP in a peer to peer.

Thu, Mar 7, 2002 Anonymous Oregon

What a bunch of perferct world happy horse doo-doo. What about the networking floppy for 95-98 computers on the network that is built into the wizard??? What about typical DSL vs. typical CABLE home / small biz connections. And about the firewall - neglects to mention you are not given a choice when on a hub and no computer chosen for gateway??? That is after one set of choices... If you know nothing about this topic the article is actually very misleading and has glaring omissions. What about serial vs. nic connections? What about... Bottom line, any article written for a homogenous home network is subject to Gross Concept Error!

Tue, Feb 12, 2002 sully houston texas

develop the mix of 98 and xp with a follow up with a discussion of Greg Peaks comment on the 98SE internet sharing connection

Thu, Feb 7, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

This article is a good overview of the capabilities. For those complianing about meat, another follow on article about mixed (98 and XP) netwroks would be good to see as well. Keep up the good work Harry!

Sun, Feb 3, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Marvelous ms sponsored ravings shame the reality is little different... What happens when it goes wrong? what about xp to 98 networking? more details less raving might make it worth the effort of reading...

Fri, Feb 1, 2002 kashif dubai

Good article but I don't think that at present a network consists of all XP's, should have mentioned about othe windows OS family members participation in the mentioned scenario

Mon, Jan 28, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

what about netbeui? thats all i want

Sun, Jan 13, 2002 INTEGRA Canada

uhmm... not bad use bigger fonts....... and keep it more User Friendly.

Sat, Jan 12, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

good description of peer to peer

Sat, Jan 12, 2002 talisin12 Anonymous

what happens if the Xp wizard does not work correctly?

Thu, Jan 10, 2002 Peter Gorecki Ireland/Dublin

Brilljant guys. What can I say, very clear and understandable.

Keep up the good work.

On-line Mag rules

Mon, Jan 7, 2002 shahid latif gujarkhan

very good and clear picture.

Sun, Jan 6, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Nothing is mentioned about manually configuring peer-to-peer. Not everyone wants what microsof's vanilla setup.

Thu, Jan 3, 2002 Anonymous MTL

what to do when you run into a problem?

Tue, Dec 18, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous


Wed, Dec 5, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

too many buzz words, not enough meat. skip the jargon, and use standard english. this writing business delights in showing how many big words can be fit in an article. I wrote my first assembly program in 1965 for a PDP 5 and the manuals were much more understandable than the jargon-filled material that is over-running the field now.

Tue, Dec 4, 2001 Greg Peek Anonymous

Though it's a good article I think Harry should have written than the discussed features were available even in Win98SE (Internet Connection Sharing). The peer-to-peer networking was and is available and used since Windows 3.1/Windows for Workgroups.

Thu, Nov 29, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Clear and concise.

Thu, Nov 29, 2001 Kp Tam Hong Kong

Very good present and clear picture.

Wed, Nov 28, 2001 Anonymous Dallas

Well presented

Wed, Nov 28, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous


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