Password Caching in Windows for Workgroups

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In Windows for Workgroups, password caching is a feature that maintains a list of the passwords you have used and the resources to which they apply. Passwords are saved and retrieved transparently to the user. The password cache facilitates restoration of connections to shared resources when you log on.

This article describes the functionality of file caching in Windows for Workgroups.


Password List File

When you log on to Windows for Workgroups, the network driver looks up your username in the [Password Lists] section of SYSTEM.INI. This entry gives the path to your password list file (PWL), which is encrypted to maintain system security. Part of this file is decrypted using your logon password. If the decryption is successful, your password cache file is unlocked. When you log off, the password to your PWL file is erased from memory.

If there is no SYSTEM.INI entry for your username, or if the file named there doesn't exist, a new PWL file is created for you, initially with no passwords in it. Windows for Workgroups asks you to confirm your logon password before it encrypts your PWL file.

When you need to establish a connection to a network resource (either explicitly, from the Connect dialog box, or implicitly, at logon), the network driver first attempts to make the connection with a blank password. If the resource requires a password, the network driver then searches your PWL file for an entry corresponding to the resource to which you are connecting. That password is used on the next attempt to make a connection. If there is no entry in the file for the resource, or if the password recorded in the file is not correct (if, for example, the owner of the server changed the password), a password prompt is displayed.

Whenever a password prompt is displayed, and the password you type turns out to be the correct one for the resource, it is saved in your PWL file for later use. If the server is running with share-level security (this applies to Windows for Workgroups servers and to some Microsoft LAN Manager servers), the server name and share name are recorded in the PWL file. If the server is running with user-level security, the password you used works for any share on that server, so a separate record containing only the server name is created.

Additionally, if you choose to have your logon validated at a LAN Manager domain controller, your LAN Manager logon password is stored in your PWL file also, so that the only logon password you need to type is the one that encrypts the PWL file.

NOTE: If a Windows for Workgroups client belongs to a workgroup and a domain, and is using the same password (which may be cached) to logon, a problem may occur if the passwords expire at different times and are no longer synchronized. This can occur if the Windows for Workgroups administrator enforces password changing (also called "aging"). The user is prompted to change the workgroup password, but not the domain password. When the domain password eventually expires, the user may not be able to remember it and may not be able to logon to the domain.

How to Prevent the Saving of a Password in Your PWL File

Sometimes you may not want Windows for Workgroups to save a password. To prevent the saving of a password, clear the Save This Password In Your Password List option in the Enter Network Password dialog box. Next time Windows for Workgroups attempts to connect to this resource, another password prompt appears.

If you connect from the MS-DOS prompt (using the NET USE command), use the /SAVEPW:NO option to prevent Windows for Workgroups from recording the password in the PWL file.

If you connect without saving the password, Windows for Workgroups does not add the password to your PWL file, but it does not delete the password if it's already in the PWL file.

To disable password caching and prevent your PWL file from being accessed, add the following line to the [NETWORK] section of the System.ini file:

PWL File Limits

Windows for Workgroups does not limit the length of time a password remains valid. The PWL file is limited to 255 password entries. Once there are 255 entries in the PWL file, adding another password causes Windows for Workgroups to delete the oldest password. Each time a password entry is used to make a connection, it's marked as the "newest" entry, so frequently-used passwords are not the first candidates for removal.

Password Caching Does Not Work When You Connect Using a UNC Name

If you try to open a file on a password-protected share by typing the UNC name, password caching is not activated, so Windows for Workgroups cannot make later connections for you. This happens because password caching is done by the network driver, at the user interface (UI) level (the UI level is where most interaction with the password cache occurs in Windows for Workgroups). To make it possible for password caching to be available in all circumstances, it would need to be implemented in the redirector instead of at the UI level. Password caching at the redirector level would have made Windows for Workgroups more complicated, due to the additional interfaces, which would result in slower connection time. Password caching at the redirector level would also increase the amount of memory used by the basic and full redirectors, leaving less available memory for other MS- DOS-based applications.

Location of the PWL File

Your PWL file can reside on any directory that Windows for Workgroups can access without a password. If you move your PWL file, you must edit the [Password Lists] section of your SYSTEM.INI file so it lists the correct path. If you want to put the PWL file on a network server, there are some restrictions:
  1. Because persistent connections are not restored until after the PWL file is open, if the file is to be stored on a Windows for Workgroups or LAN Manager server, you must type the path in UNC format, such as \\server\share\user\user.pwl (rather than x:\user\user.pwl).
  2. Because the file is accessed using UNC when it is located on a network server, the server or share cannot require a password to connect. Additionally, Because the PWL file is not yet open, caching the password for the file's location does not help.
  3. If you do not have write access to the server, you cannot save any new passwords in your PWL file.


"Microsoft Windows for Workgroups User's Guide," version 3.1, page 144


Article ID: 90271 - Last Review: October 13, 2003 - Revision: 2.0
  • Microsoft Windows for Workgroups 3.1
  • Microsoft Windows for Workgroups 3.11
Retired KB Content Disclaimer
This article was written about products for which Microsoft no longer offers support. Therefore, this article is offered "as is" and will no longer be updated.

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