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What is Ping?

Ping is a command for a network troubleshooting tool to send a signal made up of letters and numbers (encoded in the ASCII format) to another computer and measures the time it takes to receive a response. This response time, called ping or latency, is measured in milliseconds and indicates the time it takes for a small data set to be transmitted from your device to a server on the Internet and back to your device again. 

Ping can be used to optimize network connections by identifying network issues such as high latency, packet loss, or jitter, allowing administrators to diagnose and fix network problems, optimize network hardware, and fine-tune network settings for better performance and reliability. It is also commonly used by gamers to measure the latency between their device and the game server.

On average, the ping time for a stable internet connection ranges from 20 to 50 ms. It is also worth noting that certain factors such as distance, network congestion, and server response times can affect the ping time. 

Dissecting Ping

In the 1980s, Mike Muuss, a computer scientist and U.S. Army employee, developed ping, a network troubleshooting tool that sends a small packet of data to another computer and measures the time it takes to receive a response. This method is similar to how sonar sends out a sound wave and listens for the echo. Ping provides a simple, automated method for testing connectivity and measuring latency, replacing time-consuming manual methods like "traceroute" that network administrators relied on previously.

The term "ping" is an abbreviation of "Packet InterNet Groper," a name Muuss came up with to describe the tool's ability to probe a network and provide a response. It was coined from the sonar technology used in submarines to detect other vessels.

Calculating Ping

Ping helps network administrators ensure that devices connected to a specific network can communicate quickly and smoothly with each other. To do so, network administrators utilize a troubleshooting tool to track and analyze signals sent through ping. The process for calculating ping involves the following steps:

Step 1: Sender Sends ICMP Packet

The sender device sends a small packet of data (ICMP echo request) to the target device's IP address. This is typically done using the ping command in a command prompt or terminal window, followed by the target device's IP address.

Step 2: Target Receives ICMP Packet and Sends Reply

The target device receives the packet and sends a reply (ICMP echo reply) back to the sender device. This reply confirms that the target device received the packet successfully and is able to respond.

Step 3: Sender Measures Time it Took to Travel

The sender device receives the reply and measures the time it took for the packet to travel from the sender device to the target device and back. This is typically done by subtracting the time the packet was sent from the time the reply was received, and dividing by two (since the round-trip time is being measured).

Step 4: Sender Displays the RTT as "Ping" Time

The sender device displays the round-trip time (RTT) in milliseconds (ms) as the "ping" time. This time represents a measure of the network latency or delay.

Factors that Affect Ping

Ping times are also susceptible to fluctuations because there are several variables that can affect the time it takes for a packet to travel from the source to the destination and back.

Internet Access Technology

Different types of Internet connections, such as optical fiber, DSL, cable, or UMTS, can have varying ping times. The average ping times for each type of network technology can vary depending on several factors, including the quality and condition of the network infrastructure, the distance between the source and destination devices, and the amount of network congestion at any given time. However, as a general guideline, here are the average ping times for each technology:

  • Optical fiber: 5-10 ms
  • DSL: 10-50 ms
  • Cable: 20-100 ms
  • UMTS (3G cellular): 100-500 ms
  • 4G (LTE): 30-70 ms
  • 5G: 20-30 ms 

Utilization Level

The utilization level refers to the amount of data traffic being transmitted through a network or specific component of a network. If a network is congested with too much traffic, ping packets may have to wait in a queue before being transmitted, causing ping times to increase. Additionally, if packets are lost due to congestion or other factors, the ping packet may have to be retransmitted, causing further delays and increasing ping times.

Transmission Routes

If a user is accessing a remote server that is located far away, such as in another country or on a different continent, the data packets may need to travel a longer distance, which can result in higher ping times. 

The transmission route for ping may vary depending on the network topology, routing protocols, and the physical location of the devices. 

  • Local network: If both devices are connected to the same local network, the ping packets may travel directly between them without passing through any other network devices.
  • Router: If the devices are on different networks, the ping packets may travel through one or more routers to reach their destination. 
  • Firewall: If there is a firewall between the devices, the ping packets may pass through the firewall, which may inspect or filter the packets based on predefined rules.
  • Internet: If the devices are on different networks connected via the Internet, the ping packets may travel through several routers, switches, and other network devices operated by different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) before they reach their destination.

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