One of the biggest pains when troubleshooting network problems is gathering all the information you need just to get started. Doing so usually involves running a series of operations, such as checking configuration settings in various dialog boxes or running DOS-based commands, such as ping, from the command line. Now, however, you can use the Network Diagnostics tool in Windows XP Professional to save time in the information-gathering phase of your search. In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll show you how to configure and use this tool to make quick work of your next network troubleshooting expedition.

A little background information
The Network Diagnostics tool is unique because it is actually based on the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) framework and implemented via an ActiveX object run from an HTML page in the Help and Support Center rather than from an executable file. When run, the ActiveX object polls the computer and its network connections, performs a series of network connectivity tests, collects all the results, and then delivers the data back to the page in an XML format.

Launching Network Diagnostics
The main place to launch Network Diagnostics is from the Help and Support Center. To begin, click the Start button and select Help And Support. On the Help And Support Center page, select the Tools button under the Pick A Task category. When the Tools page appears, select Network Diagnostics from the scrolling list in the Tools panel.

You can also launch the Network Diagnostics tool from the Control Panel. To begin, click the Start button and select Control Panel. If you’re using Category View, select the Network And Internet Connections category. Then, select Network Diagnostics from the Troubleshooters panel. If you’re using Classic View, select the Network Connections icon. Then, select Network Troubleshooter from the See Also panel. You’ll then select the Diagnose Network Configuration And Run Automated Networking Tests link.

Creating a Network Diagnostics shortcut

If you find yourself repeatedly running the Network Diagnostics tool, you can save yourself time and energy by creating a shortcut. Right-click on the desktop and select New | Shortcut. When the Create Shortcut wizard appears, type this command: Netsh diag gui.

Click Next, name the shortcut Network Diagnostics, and click Finish. You can leave the new shortcut on the desktop or move it to the Start menu for easy access.

When you launch the Network Diagnostics tool, it displays the page shown in Figure A. The Network Diagnostics page provides you with two options: You can immediately launch the scan operation with its default settings, or you can customize the scan operation such that it runs only those tests that you choose. Since customizing the scan operation can help you quickly drill down on the problem you’re attempting to solve, let’s take a closer look at the settings revealed by selecting the Set Scanning Options button.

Figure A
The Network Diagnostics tool runs from an HTML page in the Help and Support Center.

Configuring Network Diagnostics scanning options
When you select the Set Scanning Options button, the page will expand to show you a list of check boxes (Figure B) that you can use to configure the Network Diagnostics tool. The check boxes are broken down into two sections: Actions and Categories. There are five Actions that work in conjunction with the 14 Categories.

Figure B
There are a number of options you can use to configure how and what the Network Diagnostics tool tests during its scanning operation.

By providing you with the ability to pick and choose from Actions and Categories, the Network Diagnostics tool allows you to fine-tune your search to track down very specific problems. For example, if you suspect that there’s a TCP/IP connectivity problem somewhere on the network, you can quickly confirm your suspicion by selecting only Ping under Actions and only Network Adapters under Categories. Network Diagnostics will then ping the gateway, DHCP, and DNS servers, as well as the IP address assigned to the network card, and display the results in an easy-to-read HTML format.

If you hover your mouse over any of the Actions or Categories, Network Diagnostics will display a tool tip containing a description. For your convenience, Tables A and B contain a list of all the Actions and Categories along with the descriptions. The tables also specify whether the settings are enabled by default.

Table A
Network Diagnostics’ Actions: In its default configuration, Network Diagnostics will track down basic information about the computer, enumerate network adapters, attempt resource connections, and will attempt to ping configured network services.

Table B
Network Diagnostics’ Categories: You’ll notice that the last five categories aren’t selected by default. However, these tests are already included in the Network Adapter test. They’re listed separately to allow you more latitude in your testing and to help you narrow down the cause of the problem.

If you select a custom set of scanning options, you may want to repeat that same set of tests at a later date. If so, you can click the Save Options button.

Running a test
Once you’ve configured Network Diagnostics to perform the tests in which you’re interested, you can then initiate the scan operation by clicking the Scan Your System button. When you do, you’ll see a progress bar as well as a percentage that indicates the status of the operation. You’ll also see a brief message indicating which test is occurring at any one time, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
While Network Diagnostics is scanning your system, it keeps you apprised of its progress.

Analyzing the results
Once Network Diagnostics completes the scanning operation, it displays the results of the test in the same window in an easy-to-use HTML format, as shown in Figure D. The results are categorized under the following three headings:

  • Internet Service: Displays information related to Internet Explorer Web Proxy and Microsoft Outlook Express mail and news configuration.
  • Computer Information: Displays information about the local computer, including the computer name, hardware state and capabilities, operating system, and version information.
  • Modems And Network Adapters: Displays network hardware and software information, such as domain name, MAC address, IP address, and subnet information.

Figure D
Network Diagnostics displays the results of the test in the same window in an easy-to-use HTML format.

As you can see in my example test, Network Diagnostics scores each completed test as either Passed or Failed. Of course, if the feature isn’t in use, Network Diagnostics lists the result as Not Configured. You can get more details on each test by clicking the (+) button to drill down on the result listing.

By clicking the (+) button on the Default Outlook Express News result (Figure E), we can determine that the test failed because the ping operation was unsuccessful.

Figure E
By clicking the (+) button, you can drill down on any of the results and get more details.

If you plan on retesting the system after tinkering with the problem, you will want to save the results of your first test so that you can compare them with subsequent test results. To do so, click the Save To File button. Two copies of the file are saved on the hard disk. One copy is saved on your desktop for easy access (unless you deselected that option), and the other copy is saved for archival purposes in the following folder: C:\Windows\PCHealth\Helpctr\Syste\Netdiag.

You can then view the results at any time from within your Internet browser.

Working from the command line
In order to provide a comprehensive solution, Microsoft also included a command-line version of the Network Diagnostics tool. This serves two purposes: First, it gives the IT professional who prefers working from the command line a way to use this great tool, and second, it provides a way to build a custom set of diagnostics using scripting techniques.

The Network Diagnostics tool is provided to the command line via what Microsoft calls a “helper” to the Netsh utility. To access the Network Diagnostics tool from the command line, you’ll open a Command Prompt window and type the command:
Netsh -c diag

Once you do, you can learn more about using Network Diagnostics commands by typing any one of the following:

?” or “help

c” or “connect

p” or “ping

s” or “show


The workings of the Netsh utility, which is a command-line scripting utility that you can use to display or modify the network configuration of a local or remote computer, are beyond the scope of this article.

Windows XP provides you with an automated network-troubleshooting tool called Network Diagnostics that can instantly perform a wide variety of common troubleshooting tests and display the results in an easy-to-read format. You should now feel comfortable enough with Network Diagnostics to configure and use this tool to get the most out of your next troubleshooting mission.