Your Guide to Winsock, Netsh, and How to Perform a Netsh Winsock Reset

When it comes to internet connections and our computers, many of us have a basic understanding that our computers must connect to and communicate with a network in order to maintain a link to the world wide web. For Windows computers, this connection is maintained through a specific type of software technology called Winsock, which comes with your Windows operating system. In this guide, we are going to go over what Winsock is, why it is important, and how you can use Windows network shell to do a Netsh Winsock reset.

What is Winsock?

Also known as Windows Sockets API (WSA), shortened down to Winsock, this software technology defines how your computer’s network software should access certain network services such as e-mail, online video games, video calls, etc.

Specifically, Winsock is a standardized interface that allows communication between TCP/IP-enabled client applications, that being an application you download and use like a web browser, and the underlying TCP/IP stack that facilitates access to the internet.

What Is TCP/IP?

The internet protocol suite is a set of communication protocols that are used in both the internet and in other types of computer networks. The TCP/IP are two foundational protocols that help link together the layers of connection between your computer and the internet. They provide end-to-end data communication and specify how data should be packetized, addressed, transmitted, routed, and received. Briefly, here is an explanation of both.

Hierarchy to show Winsock use for internet networks.
  • Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). The Transmission Control Protocol provides connection establishment, flow-control, and the reliable transmission of data in the transport layer. This layer allows host-to-host communications between local networks (you) or remote networks that are on separate routers (other people).
  • Internet Protocol (IP). The Internet Protocol addresses host interfaces, takes the data being sent from these interfaces, and compresses them into datagrams (packets/parcels – think container) and routes these from the source host (you) to the destination host across one or more IP networks (your friends). When you hear someone talking about the transportation of information packets across the internet, the Internet Protocol is responsible for this.

Why Is Winsock Important?

Prior to Windows 95 and Windows NT, Windows operating systems did not supply its own implementation of Winsock. While the earlier versions of Microsoft Windows did offer limited networking capabilities through NetBIOS, it did not support the TCP/IP protocol stack. This caused a number of vendors to pop up and introduce TCP/IP products for the earlier versions of Windows. Unfortunately, all of these vendors used their own application programming interfaces (APIs) and as such, software developers found it difficult to create networking applications that would work with all vendors.

This led to the creation of Winsock, which standardized and defined both the application programming interface (API) used by developers and the service provider interface (SPI). The API guaranteed that any conforming application would work with any network software vendor, and the SPI guaranteed that any new protocols created would conform and be usable by the API-application.

Can Winsock Error Out?

Absolutely. Just like any other software technology that you download and install onto your computer, integrated operating system software like Winsock can encounter errors. As of right now, there are 96 possible return code/value errors that you can encounter when your Winsock software fails. However, there are 3 which commonly pop up, which we will discuss below.

  1. You have insufficient resources. If your computer’s RAM becomes full or clogged, it can no longer take on and process additional information. When your RAM is being completely used up, you may get a Winsock error when one of your programs that requires network access, tries to connect to the internet or another computer. The error code is WSA_NOT_ENOUGH_MEMORY and the value is 8. This error can be fixed by rebooting the computer or closing down programs that hog memory.
Winsock Error Message for Insufficient Memory
  1. Your Winsock components are outdated, blocked, or corrupted. You may also get errors that denote that a connection was blocked. This can occur if your firewall or antivirus prevents the installed program from making an outside connection (e.g. to the internet). If your program is damaged or corrupted, a fresh install will fix the error. If you have outdated network drivers, updating them will resolve the issue. If your firewall is blocking the connection, allow it through in your firewall settings.
  2. Your Winsock components may be infected by malware or a trojan. An extremely common problem with malware and trojans is that they will infect your Winsock components so that they can create an outside connection. This is what allows them to travel through your home network and infect other devices attached to the network. Make sure to run your antivirus regularly, scan files/programs before downloading them, and never click on unknown links. You may need to do a complete Windows repair in order to fix the problem.

When Should You Perform a Winsock Reset?

If any of the above errors occur or if you cannot view any web pages despite having a stable internet connection, it may be time to perform a Winsock reset. The most common scenarios when you should perform a Winsock reset is if/when you experience any of the following situations.

  1. You have removed malware and are still experiencing issues.
  2. You are getting network errors.
  3. You are unable to look up your Domain Name.
  4. You have uninstalled network-related software (VPN, firewall).
  5. You are getting no connectivity or limited connectivity errors.
  6. If releasing and renewing your IP doesn’t restore internet access.
  7. When you can access the internet on other devices in your network but not on one specific Windows machine.

What Does a Winsock Reset Do?

When you complete a Winsock reset, this will undo any non-default configurations that were made to the Winsock Catalog on your Windows computer. In most cases, you won’t realize or know that changes have been made to your Winsock Catalog as these are done by networking programs that require the changes in order to connect to the network. Common networking programs that make changes include clients like email, web browsers, and even virtual private networks (VPNs). A Winsock reset will revert the wsock32 DLL file back to its default settings, providing all networking software a fresh connection to the TCP/IP protocols.

The Winsock reset is done through a network shell (netsh) command. The network shell is a command line utility that allows either local or remote configuration of network devices. The most common use of the netsh is to reset the TCP/IP stack to default parameters, but you can also use it to change your IP address, edit wireless settings, and read information from the IPv6 stack.

How to Do a Netsh Winsock Reset

In so long as you are a recognized administrator on the machine that needs the reset, you will be able to perform the Winsock reset. Here is how to do it:

How to Access Command Prompt
  1. In your computer’s search, type in Command Prompt.
  2. Under the Best Results, right-click Command Prompt.
  3. Run it as an administrator.
  4. Now use the netsh command line: netsh winsock reset [enter].
  5. You will get back a message that the Winsock Catalog was reset successfully.
  6. You will need to restart your computer to complete the reset.
  7. Restart your computer.
Command Prompt Command Line for Netsh Winsock Reset

If you are having issues connecting to web pages, open up a web browser and see if the problem has resolved.

Note: If you are using wireless only, you will need to re-connect to the internet by inputting in your internet password to create the connection.

Wrapping It Up

While you shouldn’t have to do a Netsh Winsock Reset more than a few times over the lifespan of your computer, if you are finding that a reset is required more often than not, you may have a larger, more serious problem on your hands. To help combat Winsock errors, make sure you are running a reputable antivirus program. If your computer’s Winsock components do get infected and they cannot be restored by removing the malware, you may need to wipe your hard drive, or you may need to do a full system restore.

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