What Is Ping?

But what does it mean and what is ping? Well first of all we’ll start with what it isn’t, and that’s anything to do with a white bouncy ball and two small bats…


What ping is however is a network administrators utility which is used to test the reach ability of a host on an IP (AKA internet protocol) network, and to see how long the round-trip time is for the message sent from one computer on the network to the other (the ping). This is then is used to check that a network has been set up correctly and is in working order. At the same time it is used in order to establish how quick the connection is. This could be seen as a similar practice to dropping a stone down a chasm and waiting for the noise down the bottom in order to find out roughly how deep the chasm is (by listening out for a sound). Something very similar to this ping technique has been used in active sonar technology which has an actual ‘ping’ sound, and this is from where the term ‘ping’ is derived. Due to its use the term ping can also be used to refer more generally to connection speeds, and is used by gamers to refer to the lag time experienced when playing games across a local network (a set up of linked computers) or online. Of course these games involve the relay of messages between two or more machines just like ping.

Ping works by sending ICMP (internet control message protocol) echo-request packets to the ‘target host’. Here the target host means the recipient machine on the network (not always necessarily a computer) and the echo-request is the computer asking the target host to acknowledge receipt. The packet meanwhile refers to the contents of the message sent which will normally be made up of ASCII characters and can include things such as timestamps (indicating when the message was sent) and other relevant data. The test will also look for any loss of data in the round-trip which could also point to connection issues. 

In these echo request packets however will actually be multiple pings and many messages are really sent and received in reality. This allows for the summary to include a host of statistics such as the maximum ping time, the minimum and the mean average. This also means that elements of the ping can be altered by the sender such as specifying the packet size or time stamping. A ping flood can also be sent out and this is something that can be used as a form of attack whereby the target host is overwhelmed by ICMP echo-request packets. The process of sending a ping is referred to as ‘pinging’.

A ping of course has no set speed as this is what is used to determine the strength of a connection. However as a rule the speed of the ping will be fractions of a second due to the small ‘payload’ (amount of data) being exchanged.

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