First, let’s look at the term “winsock.” It’s short for Windows Sockets. Winsock.dll is a file that contains the windows programming interface for any program that wants to talk across a network using TCP/IP (the communications protocal of most of the Internet). A .dll file is a “Dynamic Link Library” — a collection of subroutines that can be called by any program that knows what to do with them.
There have been a number of official Microsoft versions of winsock.dll. There are also versions written by third parties for use with Windows.
Unfortunately, if you’ve run into the problem, you also know that the different versions can cause you problems, too.
Sometimes, a program that you install will install its own version of winsock.dll so that it is sure to run correctly. Guess what may happen to some other program that you already had installed? You guessed it — the new file broke the old program!
Different Windows versions were susceptible to the problem to different extents. However, their difference was not something that protected you from a problem.
Originally, Microsoft’s instructions to programmers boiled down to “install any .dll files you need into the C:\windows\system directory.” Anyone see a problem here?
What happens when Program #2 installs a .dll file that has the same name as Program #1 used for its .dll? Yes, it overwrote the earlier file. The result: try to run Program #1 and Windows crashed and burned.
Gradually, across Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT and Windows 2000, Microsoft allowed programmers to install .dll files in places other than C:\windows\system. Now, the first place that Windows looks to find a .dll file is in the directory from which a program is running.
The next layer of problem was that Windows would continue to store the .dll in memory, which was a major benefit of the design. Unfortunately, once Windows loaded a .dll file into memory, it didn’t understand which program to which the .dll applied.
For example, let’s say you ran your word processor, which loaded a .dll file called “specialfunctions.dll.” Then, you ran your email program which happened to have its own .dll file called specialfunctions.dll. Windows would try to use the word processor’s .dll file with the email program. Of course, the email program wouldn’t know what to do with the other .dll and would promptly crash the first time it tried to use code in the .dll file.
Ever wonder why the immediate suggestion by “tech support” — whether at work, at the computer manufacturer, the software company, or a computer-savvy friend — is to reboot? Now, you know.
Windows XP is the first Windows version that actually loads a .dll file into memory and remembers to what it applies. This is one of the major stability increases that came with Windows XP — programs don’t crash as often because they don’t try to use the wrong .dll file.
So, a winsock.dll error is just one case of the more general “wrong DLL file” error. It just happens to be the one that knocks out your network and Internet connection.