I’ve helped all kinds of people troubleshoot “slow” Internet connections, and more often than not it has something to do with the twenty toolbars they have installed in their browser. Sometimes, however, there has been a legitimate concern with their ISP. You might be able to identify the problem using the traceroute command, but as any experienced geek knows you can’t just rely on a single traceroute to pinpoint the issue. You have to run it several times to make sure the problem consistently appears. Let me introduce you to PingPlotter Freeware.
PingPlotter comes in a variety of flavors, and while the paid versions have some useful features my focus is going to be on the free version. With the free version you can specify the URL you want to trace, the duration between traces, and the number of “samples to include” in a set. The number of samples can be confusing, but it is important because it’s what the PL% and averages are based on (we’ll explain those later). So when you set the sample “samples to include” to “10” it will include the last 10 traces when calculating those numbers, and you can see in the status bar (like in the screenshot above) how far along in the traces it currently is. Since I have the sample size set to 10 only samples 117 through 126 are actually used in the calculations. If my sample size was 150 it would have been using all of the samples in the calculations and graph.
What does all the different information mean? Here’s a breakdown of the columns and how the graph works:
- Hop – You’ll notice that as you go down the Trace Graph from top to bottom, the Hop number increments. What the Hop number shows you is that, for instance, data from you to the target hits the device at Hop 1 first, and then goes to Hop 2, etc. al. Those hops you see are most likely network routers or servers, but they really could be anything that will forward the ping requests.
- PL% – The percentage number of data packets that have been lost in the current sample set. So if you have your “Samples to Include” set to 10, and five of the last ten traces PingPlotter sent to that hop didn’t even make it back to PingPlotter, your PL% for that hop will be 50. So PL%, or packet loss percent, gives you a number at a glance for that hop of how many packets have made it out and should have made it back. Obviously a high packet loss percentage here isn’t a good thing.
- IP – The IP address for that hop.
- DNSName – The DNS name for that hop. If you’re seeing “————” instead of a name, PingPlotter wasn’t able to get DNS information for that device.
- Avg – The average response time in milliseconds for the number of samples in that sample set.
- Cur – The roundtrip time (the ping time) in milliseconds for data to make it to that hop and back again. Another term for this roundtrip time is latency.
- The Graph
- Red line – represents the average response time for each host for the currently selected samples.
- Blue X – represents the response time for the current packet.
- Black horizontal lines – represent the minimum and maximum response times.
- Red horizontal bar (not pictured in my screenshot above) – shows the packet loss for that hop (same as the PL% column, but there for readability).
If you’ve ever dealt with traceroutes before you’ll likely already know of some situations where PingPlotter could have been valuable. I’d love for this to be packaged as a portable app, but you’ll unfortunately have to install it.
PingPlotter Homepage (Windows only; Freeware)