How does ping work?

Ping is a command which measures how long it takes for two devices to communicate with each other. Primarily a diagnostic function for checking that computers and networks are operating correctly – delivering strong connectivity and response time – ping is a crucial management and security tool for any network admin.

Ping works by sending an Internet Control Message Protocol Echo Request to a hosted device on a shared network. This signal is actually a very small data packet, and the hosted device responds to the request with a small data packet of its own. The speed of this electronic “conversation”– otherwise known as latency – is measured in milliseconds. The basic process of ping can be broken down into these three steps:

  1. An echo request is sent from one hosted device to another on the same network
  2. A response to the request is sent back to the original device
  3. The amount of time this exchange took is measured and stored

 

When do I need to send a ping request?

If a network is running slowly, or you’ve reason to believe that a hosted device on a network has a performance issue, or you need to check whether a certain host is “alive” or not, a ping request is a valuable troubleshooting tool. Depending on what response is received to a request, you know whether to wait things out for a moment or get in touch with a professional.

The ping utility is one of the most recognisable and helpful networking commands and most commonly used by IT or network professionals, and domestic users such as gamers. Therefore, sending a ping request isn’t something that everybody will need to do. But if you are one of those users, it’s important to ensure you’re aware of the factors that can seriously affect ping – otherwise you could be misled by a response and take costly, disruptive and unnecessary action.

 

What can affect my ping?

A slow or dead response can be caused by several issues. The three usual suspects are:

  • Internet connection speeds
    • The speed at which your device can send a ping signal will naturally affect the total ping measurement
  • Network congestion
    • Network congestion occurs when a network is unable to handle the amount of traffic flowing through it. Network congestion can result in delays, packet loss and timeouts
  • Geographical distance between the two parties
    • The further apart the sender and receiver are, the longer the ping signal will take

 

How quick should a ping response be?

The average ping time is between 30 and 50 milliseconds. Anything much longer than this indicates a high latency and could ultimately result in a noticeable delay in performance. But there could be a harmless reason behind a slow response – one that is actually protecting a device from far greater risk than a dodgy connection. A firewall! So, how does a firewall affect ping and how can you alleviate any delays it may cause to connection speed?

Do firewalls block ping?

If you’ve ever asked the question, “is my firewall affecting my ping request”, the answer is probably yes. A firewall places a digital blockade between a network and the hosted devices connected to it, filtering out safe and unsafe traffic to protect the network and devices, data and applications on it from cyberthreats.

To check that a ping request and response doesn’t pose a risk, a firewall will inspect it and therefore inflict a small delay on the speed at which the digital conversation takes place. It makes perfect sense that the firewall barrier will slow down the ping process! So, if you’re experiencing connection delays, we always recommend checking your firewall configuration first and monitoring performance changes prior to taking more drastic remedial action.

For more about firewalls, why not check out our Firewalls: Back to Basics guide or read about what a firewall will and won’t protect you against here.

 

How to stop firewalls from slowing down ping requests

Some firewalls will block ping signals by default. For example, Windows devices have built-in firewalls which when enabled with default settings, will automatically block ping requests. If you’re a domestic user, these settings can be configured to your preferences (if you’re a gamer, for example) by opening the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security” app and selecting “Inbound Rules. A word of warning – if you’re a business user, do not do this. Speak to your IT team in the first instance.

More advanced firewalls such as those developed by SonicWall can be configured more intelligently. Administration dashboards allow network admins to grant more precise ping permissions – such as those made from certain IP addresses only, connected to certain networks and requested by certain users. This ensures that the firewall remains effective for business purposes while enabling the fastest possible latency.

Of course, your connection speed woes may be the result of malicious activity or a technical issue within IT infrastructure. If you’re still experiencing lacklustre speeds when a firewall block has been ruled out, speak to an IT provider about a systems audit. You can enquire with K3 about a consultancy session here.

 

For more about firewalls, click here or get in touch with us on 0844 579 0800.

by Craig Bradshaw

Head of Account Management

A technology enthusiast working in the Technology industry for almost 20 years, looking to deliver exceptional customer experience.

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