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up vote 5 down vote accepted

This QotW is now posted:
Windows 7 Network Awareness: How Windows knows it has an internet connection

This question from @nhinkle has sparked quite the interest given that it has only so few views:

How does Windows know whether it has internet access or if a Wi-Fi connection requires in-browser authentication?

In Windows 7, the notification area networking icon will show an error indicator if there is no internet access wifi-err, and the error icon goes away once there is a successful connection to the internet networking normal. Sometimes, if the WiFi connection requires an in-browser authentication step, like on many guest networks in hotels or universities, then the following pop-up bubble appears, saying as much:

additional log on information may be required, click to open your browser

How does Windows know whether or not it has a successful internet connection?
Presumably it is checking some online Microsoft service to see whether it has a successful connection, gets redirected to some other page, or doesn't get any response at all, but I haven't seen anywhere that this process or the services used are documented. Can anybody explain how this works? I would prefer answers that refer to facts, rather than just guessing, but if you have a really good guess, then go for it.

And the answers are quite interesting as well!

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I support this and would be willing to blog about it. We have several QOTW still waiting to be written about though, so it might be a while until this one gets written. –  nhinkle May 3 '11 at 4:26
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