Packet Capture: Packet Analyzers

In part 4 of our series from the O'Reilly book, Network Troubleshooting Tools, you will learn all about examining the data within packets using packet analyzers, complete with syntax and illustrated examples.

 By O'Reilly Press
Page 1 of 4
Print Article

Network Troubleshooting Tools
by Joseph D. Sloan

Packet Capture -- Part 4
Network Troubleshooting Tools - click to go to publisher's site

1.6. Packet Analyzers

Even with the tools described in our previous segments, the real limitation with tcpdump is interpreting the data. For many uses, tcpdump may be all you need. But if you want to examine the data within packets, a packet sniffer is not enough. You need a packet analyzer. A large number of packet analyzers are available at tremendous prices. But before you start spending money, you should consider ethereal.

1.6.1. ethereal

ethereal is available both as an X Windows program for Unix systems and as a Microsoft Windows program. It can be used as a capture tool and as an analysis tool. It uses the same capture engine and file format as tcpdump, so you can use the same filter syntax when capturing traffic, and you can use ethereal to analyze tcpdump files. Actually, ethereal supports two types of filters, capture filters based on tcpdump and display filters used to control what you are looking at. Display filters use a different syntax and are described later in this section. Using ethereal

Usually ethereal will be managed entirely from a windowing environment. While it can be run with command-line options, I've never encountered a use for these. (There is also a text-based version, tethereal.) When you run ethereal, you are presented with a window with three initially empty panes. The initial screen is similar to Figure 1-1 except the panes are empty. (These figures are for the Windows implementation of ethereal, but these windows are almost identical to the Unix version.) If you have a file you want to analyze, you can select File Open. You can either load a tcpdump file created with the -w option or a file previously saved from ethereal.

Figure 1-1 ethereal
Click image to view full-sized in a new window
(Click image for larger view in a new window)

To capture data, select Capture Start. You will be presented with a Capture Preferences screen like the one shown in Figure 1-2 (below). If you have multiple interfaces, you can select which one you want to use with the first field. The Count: field is used to limit the number of packets you will collect. You can enter a capture filter, using tcpdump syntax, in the Filter: field. If you want your data automatically saved to a file, enter that in the File: field. The fifth field allows you to limit the number of bytes you collect from the packet. This can be useful if you are interested only in header information and want to keep your files small. The first of the four buttons allows you to switch between promiscuous and nonpromiscuous mode. With the latter, you'll collect only traffic sent to or from your machine rather than everything your machine sees. Select the second button if you want to see traffic as it is captured. The third button selects automatic scrolling. Finally, the last button controls name resolution. Name resolution really slows ethereal down. Don't enable name resolution if you are going to display packets in real time! Once you have everything set, click on OK to begin capturing data.

This article was originally published on Nov 27, 2001
Get the Latest Scoop with Networking Update Newsletter