Networking

Use Mac's Network Utility to troubleshoot networks

Erik Eckel argues for the ease of using Mac's Network Utility over the command line when it comes time to troubleshoot networking issues. Here, he goes over the eight operations it performs.

The command line is dying. Sorry to say it, but the console is losing favor. My advice to enterprise Mac administrators is don't fight it; embrace the change. Trifling with command switches and rudimentary displays occasionally has its place, such as when programming routers, but the Network Utility packaged in Mac OS X helps streamline most common network troubleshooting tasks.

Die-hard IT professionals likely forget the Network Utility is even present. All too often, in the heat of an unplanned outage or issue, the temptation is to jump right in and fire up a terminal window. Certainly, there are occasions when working from the command prompt is appropriate, but most Mac administrators would be well served to revisit the Network Utility.

Prepackaged commands

Quick quiz: name the eight operations the Network Utility performs. Many Mac admins won't even remember that the utility can perform that many functions, much less the actual operations. The actual network tasks and commands that the utility performs are:

  • Info (customizable by specific network interface)
  • Netstat
  • Ping
  • Lookup
  • Traceroute
  • Whois
  • Finger
  • Port Scan
The Info window returns detailed configuration information for a specific network interface. In addition to listing IP address, hardware (MAC) address, link speed and link status, the Info page also lists transfer statistics. The best part, like all the Network Utility tabs, all information is displayed within an easily read GUI. The Netstat tab displays results from canned Netstat operations, including routing tables, comprehensive network statistics for protocols, multicast information and socket state status. The Netstat data proves helpful when troubleshooting routing issues and network failures by offering route, destination and socket data. Ping, which tests connectivity and latency, offers just two options: address and number of pings. Techs simply enter the address (either a numeric IP or friendly web address) to test and specify either an unlimited number of pings or a specific limit. Lookup simplifies testing DNS resolution. Techs enter a numeric or Web address in the provided field, specify the type of information to look up and click the provided button. The command then runs. Among the lookup options are Internet addresses, canonical names, MX records, name servers, and host names, among others. Traceroute helps identify failures along a route. By tracing the path packets follow to a destination, enterprise administrators can learn where a breakdown is occurring. I've solved maddening routing issues with Traceroute's assistance. I've had clients whose attempts to connect to cloud-based servers in Minnesota from Kentucky failed due to bad handoffs by the ISP in Utah. Copying and forwarding the Traceroute screens are what convinced the ISP's technical staff that the problem was with their network. Whois assists administrators in determining the owner of registered Web addresses. Besides returning registrar information, Whois searches also display domain expiration dates, name server settings and related information. Multiple Whois databases can be searched, including those maintained by Internic, Network Solutions ,and APNIC. Finger enables supplying a user account and node address to learn more information about a user account, such as office location, telephone number, or other data. In the Internet's early days, seeking and obtaining such information was commonly accepted, but latter-day security concerns typically result in finger traffic being blocked by many networks. The Port Scan tab allows an enterprise administrator to list a specific IP address or site and perform a scan of open ports. To speed results, administrators can also test ports within specific ranges or just a single port using the supplied checkbox option. Such Port Scans can assist staff in ensuring only appropriate ports are enabled, thereby tightening a network's security configuration.

Quick work of complex commands

The Mac's Network Utility makes quick work of common, often complex commands. The addition of an easily read GUI makes the Network Utility, and the information it returns, that much more user friendly. Reached from /Applications/Utilities, the Network Utility.app tool assists engineers in diagnosing common network problems and obtaining critical information needed to speed repair.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

3 comments
cookspc
cookspc

Sounds a lot like Gnome's Network Tools. http://projects.gnome.org/gnome-network/ Does Apple provide access to the source code? They appear to be gui wrappers for command line tools. I use the linux version quiet often on systems running a gui.

Tommy S.
Tommy S.

Do they still wont let go of their IP without forcefully removing them from their cold dead hands?

vdesilva
vdesilva

each time I have to dirty my hands with a PC I fall back on my Mac. I use to operate a 25,000 node DEC Vax network from a single named server. And there came the PCs. At this stage I got a simple job. Now I use a Mac.

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