Packet Capture, part 1 - Page 3
1.3. Capturing Data
Packet capture may be done by software running on a networked host or by hardware/software combinations designed specifically for that purpose. Devices designed specifically for capturing traffic often have high-performance interfaces that can capture large amounts of data without loss. These devices will also capture frames with framing errors -- frames that are often silently discarded with more conventional interfaces. More conventional interfaces may not be able to keep up with high traffic levels so packets will be lost. Programs like tcpdump give summary statistics, reporting the number of packets lost. On moderately loaded networks, however, losing packets should not be a problem. If dropping packets becomes a problem, you will need to consider faster hardware or, better yet, segmenting your network.
Packet capture software works by placing the network interface in promiscuous mode. In normal operations, the network interface captures and passes on to the protocol stack only those packets with the interface's unicast address, packets sent to a multicast address that matches a configured address for the interface, or broadcast packets. In promiscuous mode, all packets are captured regardless of their destination address.
On a few systems you may need to manually place the interface in promiscuous mode with the ifconfig command before running the packet capture software.