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Ping (networking utility)

Ping is a computer network administration software utility used to test the reachability of a host on an Internet Protocol (IP) network and to measure the round-trip time for messages sent from the originating host to a destination computer and back. The name comes from active sonar terminology which sends a pulse of sound and listens for the echo to detect objects underwater.[1]

Ping operates by sending Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) echo request packets to the target host and waiting for an ICMP echo reply. It measures the time from transmission to reception (round-trip time)[1] and reports any packet loss.

Options and output vary widely depending on implementation (see man ping for the system you are using). They frequently include changing the size of the payload, count of tests, and limiting the number of hops (TTL). Many systems provide a companion utility, ping6, for testing using Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). The results of the test usually include a statistical summary of the response packets received, including the minimum, maximum, and the mean round-trip times, and standard deviation of the mean.


The ping utility was authored by Mike Muuss in December 1983 as a tool to troubleshoot problems in an IP network. He was inspired by a remark by David Mills on using ICMP echo packets for IP network diagnosis and measurements.[2] The author named it after the sound that sonar makes, since its methodology is similar to sonar's echo location.[1][3]

RFC 1122 prescribes that any host must process an echo-request and issue an echo-reply in return.[4]

Sample ping test

The following is the output of running ping under Linux with as the target:

$ ping
PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=56 time=11.632 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=1 ttl=56 time=11.726 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=2 ttl=56 time=10.683 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=3 ttl=56 time=9.674 ms

--- ping statistics ---
4 packets transmitted, 4 packets received, 0.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 9.674/10.929/11.726/0.831 ms

In this example the shortest round trip time was 9.674 ms, the average was 10.929 ms, and the maximum value was 11.726 ms. The measurement had a standard deviation of 0.831 ms.

Message format

ICMP packet

IP Datagram
  Bits 0–7 Bits 8–15 Bits 16–23 Bits 24–31
IP Header
(20 bytes)
Version/IHL Type of service Length
Identification flags and offset
Time To Live (TTL) Protocol Checksum
Source IP address
Destination IP address
ICMP Header
(8 bytes)
Type of message Code Checksum
Header Data
ICMP Payload
Payload Data

Generic composition of an ICMP 32-byte packet:[5]

  • IP Header (in blue):
  • ICMP Header (in red):
    • Type of ICMP message (8 bits)
    • Code (8 bits)
    • Checksum (16 bits), calculated with the ICMP part of the packet (the IP header is not used). It is the 16-bit one's complement of the one's complement sum of the ICMP message starting with the Type field[6]
    • Header Data (32 bits) field, which in this case (ICMP echo request and replies), will be composed of identifier (16 bits) and sequence number (16 bits).
  • ICMP Payload
    • Payload for the different kind of answers; can be an arbitrary length, left to implementation detail. However, the packet including IP and ICMP headers must be less than the maximum transmission unit of the network or risk being fragmented.

Echo request

The echo request ("ping") is an ICMP message whose data is expected to be received back in an echo reply. The host must respond to all echo requests with an echo reply containing the exact data received in the request message.

00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 8 Code = 0 Header Checksum
Identifier Sequence Number
  • The Identifier and Sequence Number can be used by the client to match the reply with the request that caused the reply. In practice, most Linux systems use a unique identifier for every ping process, and sequence number is an increasing number within that process. Windows uses a fixed identifier, which varies between Windows versions, and a sequence number that is only reset at boot time.
  • The data received in the Echo Request must be entirely included in the Echo Reply.

Echo reply

The echo reply is an ICMP message generated in response to an echo request, and is mandatory for all hosts and routers.

00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Type = 0 Code = 0 Header Checksum
Identifier Sequence Number
  • Type and code must be set to 0.
  • The identifier and sequence number can be used by the client to determine which echo requests are associated with the echo replies.
  • The data received in the echo request must be entirely included in the echo reply.

Possible reply messages include the following:

Other replies

In case of error, destination host or intermediate router will send back an ICMP error message, For example: "host unreachable" or "TTL exceeded in transit". In addition, these messages include the first eight bytes of the original message (in this case header of the ICMP echo request, including the quench value), so ping utility can match responses to originating queries.[7]


The payload of the packet is generally filled with ASCII characters, as the output of the tcpdump utility shows:

16:24:47.966461 IP (tos 0x0, ttl 128, id 15103, offset 0, flags [none],
proto: ICMP (1), length: 60) > ICMP echo request,
id 1, seq 38, length 40
       0x0000:  4500 003c 3aff 0000 8001 5c55 c0a8 9216  E..<:.....\U....
       0x0010:  c0a8 9005 0800 4d35 0001 0026 6162 6364  ......M5...&abcd
       0x0020:  6566 6768 696a 6b6c 6d6e 6f70 7172 7374  efghijklmnopqrst
       0x0030:  7576 7761 6263 6465 6667 6869            uvwabcdefghi

The payload includes a timestamp of when the message was sent and a sequence number. This allows ping to compute the round trip time in a stateless manner without needing to record when packets were sent. In cases of no answer and no error message, most implementations of ping display nothing, or periodically print notifications about timing out.[citation needed]

Ping is considered a security risk by some[8] and therefore may be ignored by A simple denial-of-service attack may be attempted in the form of a ping flood, in which the attacker attempts to overwhelm the victim with ICMP echo requests.

Host discovery, scanning or ping sweep is a feature of network scanning tools, such as nmap which utilize ICMP echo packets.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Mike Muuss. "The Story of the PING Program". Adelphi, MD, USA: U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Archived from the original on 8 September 2010. Retrieved 8 September 2010. I named it after the sound that a sonar makes, inspired by the whole principle of echo-location. 
  2. ^ "The Story of the PING Program", Mike Muuss
  3. ^ Salus, Peter (1994). A Quarter Century of UNIX. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-54777-5. 
  4. ^ "RFC 1122 - Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Communication Layers". p. 42. Retrieved 2012-03-19. Every host MUST implement an ICMP Echo server function that receives Echo Requests and sends corresponding Echo Replies. 
  5. ^ "RFC 792 - Internet Control Message Protocol". Retrieved 2014-02-02. 
  6. ^ "RFC Sourcebook's page on ICMP". Retrieved 20 December 2010. 
  7. ^ "ICMP: Internet Control Message Protocol". January 13, 2000. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Shields Up, Firewall Test". Retrieved 4 June 2010. [text shown if your computer replies to ping requests] "Ping" is among the oldest and most common methods used to locate systems prior to further exploitation. 

External links