Five steps to ward off network-printing woes

Having trouble with a networked printer? Steven Pittsley offers five basic steps to make those inevitable printer problems more manageable.

Experienced network administrators will tell you that printing problems generate a large percentage of network issues. The majority of the problems that arise are simple and benign. However, a small percentage of printing problems can truly test your patience. If you follow these basic troubleshooting steps, correcting printing problems will be much more bearable.

Define the problem
The first step that you should take is to define the problem. Many reports will simply state generic descriptions such as “my printer doesn’t print.” Try to determine if the problem is hardware related or software related. Ask the customer if the printer is displaying an error message. Error message descriptions will normally explain the problem to you. If the customer reports that the printer is jamming, making strange noises, or producing smeared reports, you can safely assume that the problem is hardware related. You may not be able to resolve the problem yet, but you should be able to focus your efforts in a particular direction.

Check the hardware and software
If your initial investigation reveals a hardware problem, you will be required to visit the printer and perform some sort of physical repair to the device. Common hardware issues that I see are paper jams, worn rollers, faulty toner cartridges, and damaged fusers.

Should the printer require more than minor repairs, my personal preference is to take an identical printer with me to the place from where it was obtained and swap the device. Users generally tolerate the temporary interruption of service.

Once you have eliminated a hardware problem with the printer, there are a number of roads you can take to determine the trouble. I usually start by cycling the power on the printer and print server and ensuring that all of the physical connections are in place. Surprisingly, these basic steps resolve many problems.

Since I work in an environment that contains both Novell and UNIX print queues, I always ask users which application they're trying to print from. If they're attempting to use a UNIX print queue, have them try printing something that uses the Novell print queue. If the Novell queue is working, then the problem is most likely related to the UNIX print queue.

Test the network connection
If neither print queue is working, the print server or network connection might be the culprit. If this is the case, try to ping the print server. Good responses normally prove that the network connection is working, but the print server might not be configured properly. If you are unable to ping the print server, you might be experiencing a faulty network connection.

Try the print queue
Once you determine that the print server is working correctly, check the print queue for pending print jobs. If there are a number of jobs waiting to print, delete the first print job in the queue. Sometimes users will try deleting an erroneous print job, causing the print queue to stall.

If there are no print jobs in the queue, ensure that the user has selected the correct printer for the application. You might also try printing a test page to see if it enters the print queue. This will determine if the print job can get to the print queue.

During your troubleshooting steps, you may determine that the network connection is good, the print server is working, and the printer is physically ready to print. Now what? Try deleting the printer from the workstation and then recreating it using new print drivers.

Check directory services settings
I would also examine the NDS printer objects. Maybe someone has accidentally deleted or improperly configured the printer, print queue, or printer server. Perhaps the objects have lost their association to one other.

You can check the objects' associations using NetWare Administrator. Select the print server object, and then click Print Layout. You should see the three printing objects having a relationship with one other.
If you’re having trouble on a Windows 2000 network, be sure to check Active Directory to confirm that print permissions haven’t been changed. Use Start | Settings | Control Panel | Printers to check printer permissions on an NT network.
These basic steps may not resolve all of your printing problems, but they can help give you a good start. You will never totally eliminate printing problems from your daily workload, but you can definitely reduce the time it takes to resolve them.

Steve Pittsley is a desktop analyst for a Milwaukee hospital. He enjoys playing drums, bowling, and most sports.

If you'd like to share your opinion, please post a comment at the bottom of this page or send the editor an e-mail.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox