Network Operating System Features and Functions

This tutorial explains the features and functions of a network operating system. Learn what a network operating system is and how it is different from an operating system.

An operating system controls the host system. It provides locally significant services. A network operating system (NOS) controls other operating systems. It provides services that are used to control applications running on other computers.

If you have one computer and want to use it for personal purposes, you will install an operating system on it. An operating system allows you to control all features and functions of the computer.

If you have many computers and want to control all computers from a single computer, you will install a network operating system on the computer that you want to use to control the remaining computers, and on the remaining computers, you will install the operating system that supports the installed network operating system.

Companies that make a NOS also make an OS that takes commands from the NOS and executes them on the local computer. The OS that accepts commands from the NOS is called a client OS. For example, Microsoft makes NOS under the brand name Windows Server. Microsoft also makes OS that supports the NOS.

The following table lists some of the popular network operating systems made by Microsoft and their supporting operating systems.

NOS (Server) OS (Client)
Windows 2000 Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000
Windows Server 2003 Windows 2000, Windows Me, Windows XP
Windows Server 2008 Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
Windows Server 2012 Windows 8.1, Windows 7
Windows Server 2016 Windows 10, Windows 8.1
Windows Server 2019 Windows 10, Windows 8.1
Windows Server 2022 Windows 11, Windows 10

Functions of a NOS

The most common functions of a NOS are the following.


  • Providing access to remote printers.
  • Managing which users are using which printers at what time.
  • Managing how print jobs are queued.
  • Recognizing which printers are offline.

Files and storages

  • Enabling and managing access to files on remote systems.
  • Determining which user can access what files.
  • Specifying a storage location for each user.
  • Preventing users from storing files outside the allowed storage locations.
  • Monitoring and controlling file access.

Applications and resources

  • Granting access to remote applications and resources, such as the Internet.
  • Making resources seem like local resources to the user.
  • Allowing users to work on a single application from multiple computers.
  • Storing the data of the application in a single location.

Routing and monitoring

  • Providing routing services, including support for major networking protocols, so that the operating system knows what data to send where
  • Monitoring the system and security, to provide proper security against viruses, hackers, and data corruption.

Administration and security

  • Providing network administration utilities (such as SNMP, or Simple Network Management Protocol).
  • Enabling an administrator to perform tasks involving managing network resources and users.
  • Blocking unauthorized accesses

NOS services

A NOS provides several services. Most of them are inbuilt. If you need more services, you can install them separately. The most common services are the following.

DHCP services: - These allow the administrator to configure the server to assign IP addresses to clients on the network.

DNS services: - These services allow the administrator to map hostnames with related IP addresses.

E-mail services: - These services allow the administrator to configure the server to send and receive e-mail using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).

Web services: - These services allow the administrator to host websites and related applications on the server.

File and print services: - These services allow the administrator to share files and printers among clients.

Directory services: - These services allow the administrator to build a centralized database of objects, such as user accounts that may be used by clients to log on to the network. On Windows Server, the directory service is known as Active Directory.

Group policies: - These services allow an administrator to deploy settings down to the client operating systems from a central point. Some of the types of settings that can be applied to clients through group policies are user rights, folder redirection, file permissions, and installation of software.

NOS features

The common features of a NOS are the following.


One NOS can handle many thousands of tasks simultaneously. A NOS also runs each service separately. This means, if one service fails, it does not affect other services. Other services will be running without any lag.


A NOS can run for years without crashing. Most services running on the NOS can be restarted without a system-level restart. It means a NOS does not restart for every change or update.


A NOS allows several users to log into the system simultaneously. A NOS initiates a separate login session for each user. A NOS allows a user to log into the same system at the same time as another user.

High performance and hotplug support

A NOS supports the largest capacity of hardware devices. A NOS also supports the hotplug feature. The hotplug feature allows the administrator to replace or upgrade most of the hardware without shutting down the system.

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