Why Do We Need It? Episode 1: Traceroute

Welcome to Why Do We Need It? A feature where I take an element of the Windows operating system or anything else computer related and discuss what it is and why we need it. In this first episode, we will be taking a look at the Traceroute command.

What is Traceroute?

One of the most important things to know about the internet is that data doesn't fly straight. The internet is a network of networks, so when data packets are transfered from device to device, such as when visiting a website, they have to pass through multiple computer networks before reaching their destination. The data packets start their journey by passing through your computer network to your gateway (internet router). From your router, they then pass through to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). They are then transported through multiple computer networks across the world before finally arriving at the destination device. Each time data packets pass through a computer network, it is known as a hop. The Traceroute command records these hops.

Why do we need Traceroute

Traceroute is a great and powerful trouble shooting tool to diagnose internet access problems. For example, if you are having problems accessing a website or a website is taking too long to load, it might be because the HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) packets are taking too long to reach a specific network, a node in one of the transporting networks is unresponsive or too many hops are required to reach the destination web server and the request has simply timed out. The Traceroute tool provides the number of hops it took to reach the destination machine, the hostname and IP address of each node the HTTP packet has reached and the amount of time (in milliseconds) it took to reach that node. This data can be used to help diagnose slow connections or those annoying page loading errors.

How do I use Traceroute

This guide assumes you are using a Windows PC. I don't know the steps to execute this command on any other OS.

  1. Press Windows + R to open the run box. The Windows key is located 2 places to the left of the space bar.
  2. Type
    cmd
    into the run box and press Enter/Return.
  3. Your screen reader should recite the directory you are currently working in (typically C:\windows\system32) followed by a greater than sign. This means you are ready to type commands.
  4. Type
    tracert ceiling.ddns.net
    and press Enter/Return. This will trace the route to the web server that hosts this website.
  5. The resulting output should contain the number of hops taken to reach the server, the time it took to connect to each network along the way and a list of hostnames and IP addresses of the network nodes reached. Your screen reader should have no problem reciting this output.
  6. If you want the output to be written to a text file instead of being printed to the screen, type
    tracert ceiling.ddns.net > %userprofile%\documents\tracert.txt
    . This will write the output to a text file called tracert and save the file to your documents folder.

Notes

  1. 1 second is equal to 1000 milliseconds.
  2. A node is simply another name for a device connected to a computer network.
  3. An IP address, or Internet Protocol address, is a unique address that identifies a device connected to the internet. It is a 12 digit code with each group of 3 digits separated by a dot. For example 123.123.123.123.
  4. A hostname is a memorable name that identifies a device connected to a Local Area Network (LAN) or the internet. Hostnames are mapped to IP addresses via the Domain Name System (DNS).
  5. The Traceroute command (tracert) is the same no matter what operating system you use to execute it.

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