Ping Away Your Problems

For systems builders whose customers want them to take a look at a suspicious Internet connection, there's a free, easy-to-use utility available. It's ping.exe, the de facto troubleshooting and analysis tool for anything and everything having to do with the public and private Internet and IP.

Ping comes with every version of Microsoft Windows, with the exception of the very earliest version of Windows 95. The tool is incredibly versatile; no other discovery protocol provides the same type of information, in as concise a fashion, whether testing the connectivity between intercontinental IP links located thousands of miles from one another or uncovering a problem with an old telephone cable that may need to be changed by a local phone company.
Ping can provide a world of information to the white-box builder concerning the overall health of a customer's Internet connection. While Ping.exe itself is a small and unglamorous program, large software-development companies have spent millions of dollars to build utilities based on Ping. For example, HP OpenView relies on Ping.exe for its network-discovery and troubleshooting processes. When large ISPs add new locations to their networks or need to analyze a failed location, they use Ping, or a utility built around it, to identify and fix problems.

Ping uses timed IP/ICMP Echo Request and Echo Reply packets to probe the "distance" to the target machine. What this means is that Ping can actually measure the time needed, in milliseconds, for a packet of data to make the round trip from a PC to a remote server and back.

Ping At Your Service

If a customer complains about dropouts or overall lousy service, Ping can hunt down and locate intermittent failures. If customers are angry because they believe they're not getting the bandwidth they're paying for, Ping, in concert with PC Pitstop, will prove out the bandwidth. PC Pitstop is a popular site that offers free online PC utilities and information. It's an excellent place to test just about any function of a given PC, PC components or Internet service.
To get started with Ping, you'll need an executable Ping.exe file, which, again, is included with all versions of Microsoft Windows, the capability of command (DOS) prompt and a connection to the Internet. Then, follow these steps:

1. Click on Start in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Then type Command in the box.

2. You will now see the Command Window. Type in ping

-n 8. A generic domain must be put here. But note, if you type in the domain of the customer's local ISP or domain name, you will not get a great stress-test. That's because it's simply a local ping to the ISP or, even worse, a customer-hosted server. In the latter case, you'll be analyzing nothing more than the customer's intra-office wiring, which generally is problem-free.

3. As Ping.exe starts doing its job, it sends eight "hello" signals to the server at This hello signal is actually a small file that contains the address of your PC, requesting a hello signal back from (Note: "Ping varbusiness
.com -n 50" will send 50 signals. You can set this value as high as you like.)

Here's a sample of one of the reply messages: Reply from bytes=32 time=56 ms TTL=51. The time parameter ("time=") is most important. The value refers to the time needed, in milliseconds, for the hello signal to make its trip from the test PC to the domain and back.

4. Examine the time values for your Ping.

5. Close the Command Window.

Should Ping.exe report your connection to be problem-free, it still can't hurt to run a few free Internet speed tests, which you can find at the PC Pitstop site. n
David Kary is the founder and CEO of>