Take advantage of the Details view in the Network section of Windows 8 File Explorer to map your network topology.
The Network Map
The Network Map feature's visual representation of the network was its most recognizable characteristic. However, there were other more substantial benefits just under the surface. Of course, what I am referring to is that when you hovered your mouse pointer over any computer or network device shown in the map, you could instantly see the MAC and IP addresses assigned to that item. Being able to easily obtain this information for all the computers on a network can come in very handy in any number of troubleshooting situations.
When I first discovered that the Network Map feature was no longer a part of the operating system, I immediately went to the Network section of File Explorer hoping that Microsoft might have added a similar hover feature to the computer or network device icons that appear there. However, I quickly discovered that was not the case. Then, I stumbled onto the fact that when you switch the View setting of the Network from its default Tiles view to the Details view, you can add more column headings to the display. And, I found that MAC Address and IP Address were among the available column headings.
I also recently discovered a neat little Windows 8 app in the Windows Store called Lanscan that will scan you network and display the IP addresses assigned to every device on your network. While it doesn't show MAC addresses, it is still a very handy tool.
In this article, I'll show you how to take advantage of the Details view in the Network section of File Explorer. I'll also introduce you to the Lanscan app and show you how it works.
In Windows 7
Even though the focus of this article is on Windows 8 and the Network Map feature that is not available in this operating system version, it is worth taking a look at how it functions in Windows 7 for the sake of comparison.
When you access the Network and Sharing Center in Windows 7, you see a small basic map, or diagram, of your system on the network. Adjacent to that basic map you'll find a link titled See full map, as shown in Figure A.
The Network and Sharing Center shows a basic map and provides you access to the full Network Map.
When you click See full map, you'll find a more detailed screen that shows how all the devices on your network are connected, as shown in Figure B. You can also hover your mouse pointer over any icon and find out the MAC and IP addresses assigned to that device.
The Network Map feature does a reasonable job of creating a visual representation of your network.
To create this map, the Network Map feature uses a special network protocol called Link-Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) that essentially queries every device on the network in order to determine how the network is organized. More specifically the LLTD protocol relies on two components in order to do the job.
To begin with, each device on the network uses the LLTD Responder component which allows it to be discovered by another computer running the Network Map feature. The computer on which you run the Network Map feature uses the LLTD Mapper I/O component to seek out and discover devices on your network and to create a diagram that shows how the devices on your network are connected. Unfortunately, this isn't a perfect system and not all devices are recognized. Those that aren't recognized get clumped together down at the bottom of the screen with this caption: The following discovered device(s) cannot be placed in the map. Click here to see all other devices.
Network and Sharing Center Windows 8
Now that you know how the Network Map feature worked in Windows 7, let's take a brief look at Windows 8's Network and Sharing Center for comparison. As you can see in Figure C, Windows 8 doesn't even include a basic map of your system on the network nor is there a See full map link. There's not even an icon next to the network name.
Windows 8's Network and Sharing Center doesn't even include a basic map of your system on the network.
However, if you check out the Ethernet Properties as shown in Figure D, you'll find that the entire Link-Layer Topology Discovery protocol is present and functioning in Windows 8. Since the LLTD is functioning, we know that the network information it contains is available.
The entire Link-Layer Topology Discovery protocol is present in Windows 8.
The Network Explorer
Let's now take a look at the Network section of File Explorer. As you can see in Figure E, the default List view shows just the name of the device and the context menu is devoid of a Properties command. As such, on the surface it appears as though the Network won't be of much assistance.
In the default List view, only the device name is available.
However, if you change the View to Details and then access the Choose Details dialog box from the Current view tab, you can add more network based information to the display. As you can see in Figure F, I have selected the IP Address and MAC Address check boxes.
The Choose Details dialog box will allow you to select network specific details including the IP Address and the MAC Address.
After clicking OK, you'll see the IP Address and MAC Address for each device on your network, as shown in Figure G. Keep in mind that that you may see IPv6 addresses for some or all of your devices, but if you click the Refresh button, you will eventually see the IPv4 addresses.
Using the Details view, you can see the IP Address and MAC Address for each device on your network.
As you can see, there are two special cases in my example. The first one is that the computer named Asteroid is running Windows XP, which by default doesn't have the Link-Layer Topology Discovery protocol. (Note that you can download and install a version of the LLTD protocol for Windows XP.) The second special case is the computer on which you are working, which instead of its actual IP address, will show the Localhost IP Address.
The Lanscan app
As I mentioned, in addition to using the modified Network section of File Explorer to seek out IP addresses, I recently discovered a Free app on the Windows Store called Lanscan. Once you have installed Lanscan, you can launch it, specify start and end addresses, and click the Scan button. When you do, Lanscan will traverse your network and create a list showing every device's name, IP address, and port number, as shown in Figure H.
The Lanscan app builds a detailed list of all the devices on your network.
If you don't wish to see all of the IP ports, you can go to the Services screen and select just those that you want to see.
What's your take?
Have you missed not having the Network Map feature in Windows 8? What do you think of the Network Details View technique? Have you used the Lanscan app? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.