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Messenger Service and Net Send

This page talks about the Messenger Service, which is built in to all versions and variants of Windows NT, which includes NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and Windows XP. It is not included in the Windows 9x line (95, 98 and ME). It should also not be confused with the Windows Messenger or MSN Messenger application which is a separate product.

What is It Used For?

The service is primarily designed for use on a network. It allows network administrators or applications to send messages to users or machines. These are one way messages, that appear in the form of a pop up message similar to the one below. You cannot reply to them directly - you would have to send a new message.

Example uses would be a network wide announcement (Server going down), an application sending an alert to a certain group of users or a message sent from one individual to another.
You can send messages to an individual, a computer or a group of users (on a domain).

How Do I Use It?

If you want to use the service yourself, you need to know either of the following:

  • IP address of the target computer
  • Name of the computer (domain or workgroup only) - useful if you don't know who is logged in to a machine
  • Username of user (domain only) - will send the message to every machine that user is logged in to.
  • Group you want to target (domain only) - as for an individual - will send the message to all members at all workstations they are logged in to.

Unless you use extra switches in the command line tool, to use those marked domain or workgroup only, you must be in the same domain or workgroup. The message will not look on other domains or workgroups for a username to match. However they will cross IP networks. For example if you are in the same domain but a different site, you should get the message.

Using built in tools, there are two ways to send a message to another computer and just one for sending to an individual.

Command Line Tool

You can send to any of the targets from the command line.

  1. Start a MS DOS or Command Prompt (Start, Programs Accessories or Start, Run and type cmd)
  2. Type

    net send <username> "Message text"

    (including the " ")
    For example, if you wanted to send a message to Andrew saying "come here I have the answer" you would type:

    net send Andrew "Come Here I have the Answer"
  3. Press enter to send the message.

Computer Management Console Tool

You can also send a message to another computer ONLY via Computer Management Console.

  1. Start Computer Management Console (either RIGHT click on My Computer and choose "Manage", Choose Computer Management from the Administrative Tools menu on the Start menu (if enabled) or From the Administrative Tools Control Panel applet.
  2. From the menu at the top, choose "Action" then "All Tasks".
  3. Choose "Send Console Message..."
  4. In the top box you can enter your message.
  5. In the lower box you will see a computer shown (probably your own). Highlight it and click "Remove" (unless you want to send a message to yourself to test).
  6. Click Add and use the standard tools to find the computer names that you want to send a message to.
  7. Once you have selected the computer (s) that you want to send a message to, click "Send".

Third Party Tools

There are also third party tools which you can download which provide a nice interface for this command instead of the command line.

Real Popup

Alternatively check your favourite download site to find others.

Not Receiving the Messages

If you are not receiving the messages, you should check the following:

  • You are in the same domain as the machine sending the message or you have set the domain options correctly.
  • The machine you sending the message from can see the machine that you are sending the message to.
  • The "Messenger" service is not stopped or disabled on your machine. This is the default on Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Drawbacks of Messenger Service

There are some drawbacks with using the Messenger service without third party applications:

  • It interrupts the user - as it uses the alert system, if a user is typing and doesn't hear or acknowledge the alert, any typing etc is not entered in to the system as the focus as been taken away. Some people might use this feature to their advantage.
  • No message caching - if you are not logged in to any console then you will not see the message. They should be stored in the event viewer, but this is not a reliable way of checking for messages.
  • No message storage - once you press OK - the message is gone. There is no way to retrieve it. Take a screen shot if it contains important information.
  • No Automatic Messages Clearance - if you are sending messages to the "Administrator" account on a domain then some of your servers could have lots of messages on their screen if you haven't logged in for a while.

Abuse of the Messenger Service

The messenger service has started to be abused by people advertising on the Internet, in a form of "messenger spam". More information on what this is and how you can stop it can be found here.

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