Using Trace Route and Ping to trace pathways on the Internet

Dennis Faas's picture

Tracert.exe? Ping.exe? What the heck is that?

Trace Route (tracert.exe) is a DOS command line utility program that traces connection pathways along the Internet using the TCP / IP protocol. Ping (ping.exe) calculates how long it takes to transfer a packet of information from origin [you] to destination [a web site] and back again [to you].

What is TCP / IP?

The TCP / IP protocol is a method used to communicate computers on the Internet. Any computer using the TCP / IP protocol has a unique address, referred to as an IP (Internet Protocol) address. An IP address can be thought of as a special "mailing address" to your computer, much like your home address.

An example of the ping.exe command

Ping can be accessed from an MS DOS Prompt / Command Prompt by clicking START -> RUN -> and type in "" (without quotes).

When the command line is loaded, type in "ping" at the prompt and press enter. What you will see is something similar to this:

  • c:\> ping
  • Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:
  • Reply from bytes=32 time=60ms TTL=51
  • Reply from bytes=32 time=75ms TTL=51
  • Reply from bytes=32 time=74ms TTL=51
  • Reply from bytes=32 time=68ms TTL=51
  • Ping statistics for
  • Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
  • Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
  • Minimum = 60ms, Maximum = 75ms, Average = 69ms

Alright, so what's the major difference between ping.exe and tracert.exe?

Ping.exe is very similar to the tracert.exe program, except that tracert.exe identifies pathways taken along each hop, rather than the time it takes for each packet to return.

A hop is similar to a "bounce", since packets of information bounce from one computer to the next on the Internet.

An example of the tracert.exe command

  • c:\>tracert
  • Tracing route to []
  • over a maximum of 30 hops:
  • 1 19 ms 27 ms 27 ms
  • 2 * 43 ms 26 ms []
  • 3 32 ms 29 ms 37 ms []
  • 4 30 ms 48 ms 29 ms []
  • 5 20 ms 21 ms 18 ms []
  • 6 35 ms 33 ms 31 ms []
  • 7 * * * Request timed out.
  • 8 * * * Request timed out.
  • 9 31 ms 36 ms 38 ms []
  • 10 61 ms 57 ms 57 ms []
  • 11 44 ms 62 ms 50 ms []
  • 12 95 ms 76 ms 87 ms []
  • 13 95 ms 83 ms 92 ms []
  • 14 74 ms 68 ms 67 ms []
  • 15 68 ms 62 ms 68 ms []
  • Trace complete.

You see, the Internet is a large network of inter-connected computers.

Any information sent from a source computer must travel through many computers / servers / routers (they're all the same thing, essentially) before it reaches a destination.

All information that is sent from a computer using TCP / IP is broken up into smaller components, called a packet.

Packets are sent out in multiple directions and then recompiled into a single entity at the destination (a file, for example). Time wise, packets are sent almost instantaneously. However, packet speed can depend on a few factors, such as: the speed of your Internet connection, how far away the destination computer is, and overall Internet congestion (how many people are using the same path as you).

Did you ever wonder why this web site is called infopackets?

Sometimes, packets of information are lost along the way.

Because not all packets use the same pathway, some packets can get "lost" before reaching the destination computer. In many instances, the packets which are sent from the origin computer must arrive in the same order at the destination. If not, the receiving (destination) computer continually requests that the packets are resent until they are successfully delivered. It is for this reason that we experience "lag" or "slow response times" on the Internet.

Two reasons for a lost packet might include a "broken" or slowed connection.

Packets are bounced in different directions before reaching their final destination. Sometimes, a hardware malfunction can occur along the way (for single or multiple packets) and can result in slow response time or halt communication altogether.

A hardware malfunction on an Internet pathway can affect a few -- or many

A hardware malfunction may influence a large number of users depending on its location and its role of Internet connectivity. An example of a hardware malfunction might include a "downed router"; routers are responsible for delivering (routing) packets of information along various Internet pathways. Commonly, a web server is blamed to be "down", when in fact, the connection to the web server has been compromised (when in doubt, always use tracert.exe!).

There appears to be a broken connection to the web site

If you take note of the above example of tracert.exe, you will see that in hops 7 and 8 there is a Timed out Request. It would appear that there is a downed router somewhere on the Internet which is affecting the connectivity of the infopackets web site.

Looking into other alternatives for additional pathways

Big corporate web sites like Yahoo, and Amazon would lose thousands and thousands of dollars if a major pathway to their web site were interrupted -- even if it was for a couple of hours. It is for this reason that I am going to be looking into a solution to provide different pathways to the web site (if the cost is reasonable).

I'm not exactly sure what this entails, but I have an idea. I'll keep you posted!

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