PingER Measurement Pathologies

Last updated by: Les Cottrell on May 20, 2000

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Using ping to measure Internet performance, we have encountered several pathologies which are probably worth reporting on to help other people who may encounter them, and to describe how we resolved them.

Out of order ping responses

More general studies on out of order packets can be found at: Occasionally a response to a ping will be received out of order to that which the request was sent. Monitoring out-of-order packets for two weeks in December 1998, in an approximate total of 224,448 sets of pings sent from SLAC in that time, 24 had out of order packets, roughly 1 in 10,000.

Of the 24, 5 came in a short burst on December 16th between 04:00 and 10:00 (PST) all from 4 more occurences to happened on December 10,11,12 and 15. 3 Other sites (,, had 3 occurences each, there were two occurences to, and 4 other sites had one incident each.

In all cases the out-of-order packet was due to an extraordinarily long response time. Some were long for all the pings, some had just the out-of-order ping taking up to 68 times as long to return as the minimum time for that sample.

Duplicate ping responses

Occasionally, but often consistently, a site will respond to a ping with greater than one response. This may be due to misconfigured routers. For example we may send out 6 pings (sequence numbers 0 thru 5) and the sequence number of the responses are 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4. I.e. the pings with sequence numbers 0 and 3 are lost and the system stops listening after 6 ping responses are received, so the response from the ping with sequence number 5 is ignored. From a survey of about 10,000 Web sites in early 1997, we found about 0.2% of the sites responded this way.

The standard ping process, for most systems that we monitor with, stops when it has received the number of pings sent. We discard the 0th ping since it is regarded as "priming the pump". So in the above case we record 5 pings sent (we don't count the ping with sequence 0) and 6 received, which results in zero packet loss. The pathology of pings received being > pings sent probably needs an alert to be raised.

Ping packet rate limiting

Routers give low priority to responding to pings

Since a router is designed for routing, it may give low priority to responding to pings directed at the router. Thus if the router is busy, yet successfully passing packets, it may not respond to pings making it appear that performance to the router is bad.

This is just a fact of life, so we avoid pinging routers when possible.

Routers do not correctly handle IP fragmentation for ICMP packets

Many routers will pass ping packets that require IP fragmentation (e.g. host pings of greater than 1472 bytes), yet if one pings the router itself with such a packet it will give 100% packet loss. This is illustrated below for such ping requests sent from a host at SLAC ( to a host at CERN ( by the program that pings each node along the route.

3cottrell@flora01:~>bin/ -s 1473 -c 5
Architecture=SUN5, commands=traceroute -q 1 and ping -s node 1473 5, version=1.4, 5/16/00, debug=1 version 1.4, 5/16/00 using traceroute to get nodes in route from flora01 to
traceroute: Warning: ckecksums disabled
traceroute to (, 30 hops max, 40 byte packets version 1.4, 5/16/00 found 12 hops in route from flora01 to
1  RTR-CORE1.SLAC.Stanford.EDU (  4.545 ms
2  RTR-CGB6.SLAC.Stanford.EDU (  0.945 ms
3  RTR-DMZ.SLAC.Stanford.EDU (  1.071 ms
4  ESNET-A-GATEWAY.SLAC.Stanford.EDU (  0.820 ms
5 (  56.938 ms
6 (  59.278 ms
7 (  169.370 ms
8 (  169.680 ms
9 (  171.845 ms
10 (  169.180 ms
11 (  171.702 ms
12 (  171.861 ms
Wrote 12 addresses to /tmp/pingaddr, now ping each address 5 times from flora01
         pings/node=5                              100 byte packets           1473 byte packets
         NODE                                  %loss    min    max    avg %loss   min    max    avg from flora01     RTR-CORE1.SLAC.STANFORD.EDU       0%    0.0    0.0    0.0   0%    1.0    1.0    1.0 Sat May 20 17:36:47 PDT 2000    RTR-CGB6.SLAC.STANFORD.EDU        0%    0.0    1.0    0.0 100%    0.0    0.0    0.0 Sat May 20 17:36:55 PDT 2000    RTR-DMZ.SLAC.STANFORD.EDU         0%    1.0    1.0    1.0 100%    0.0    0.0    0.0 Sat May 20 17:37:13 PDT 2000   ESNET-A-GATEWAY.SLAC.STANFORD.    0%    0.0    1.0    0.0   0%    2.0    2.0    2.0 Sat May 20 17:37:31 PDT 2000    CHICAGO1-ATMS.ES.NET              0%   57.0   64.0   58.0   0%   59.0   62.0   59.0 Sat May 20 17:37:39 PDT 2000                    0%   58.0   62.0   59.0 100%    0.0    0.0    0.0 Sat May 20 17:37:47 PDT 2000  CERNH9-S5-0.CERN.CH               0%  168.0  170.0  169.0 100%    0.0    0.0    0.0 Sat May 20 17:38:06 PDT 2000    CGATE2.CERN.CH                    0%  169.0  170.0  169.0 100%    0.0    0.0    0.0 Sat May 20 17:38:24 PDT 2000   CGATE1-DMZ.CERN.CH                0%  169.0  171.0  169.0 100%    0.0    0.0    0.0 Sat May 20 17:38:42 PDT 2000   B513-B-RCA86-1-GB0.CERN.CH        0%  169.0  176.0  171.0   0%  175.0  175.0  175.0 Sat May 20 17:39:01 PDT 2000    B513-C-RCA86-1-BB1.CERN.CH        0%  169.0  172.0  170.0   0%  175.0  178.0  176.0 Sat May 20 17:39:09 PDT 2000  WEBR.CERN.CH                      0%  169.0  172.0  170.0   0%  175.0  176.0  175.0 Sat May 20 17:39:17 PDT 2000
It is seen that routers (a Cisco 8500),,,, B513-C-RCA86-1-BB1.CERN.CH and the end host all correctly repsonds to 1473 byte pings; while routers and (Cisco 7500s),,, and see 100% loss.

Also some routers cannot correctly form and send ping packets that require fragmentation (i.e. pings longer than 1500 Bytes).

Ping problems in some OS'


SGI IRIX appears to have a nasty bug in that if one sets up multiple processes to make sets of pings to multiple, then the last ping of a set of 10 pings to each site is not responded to. We noticed this first at TRIUMF where there was a big asymmetry between SLAC pinging TRIUMF and TRIUMF pinging SLAC. SLAC was seeing very low packet loss, but TRIUMF was seeing 10% packet loss or greater. The effect was also seen at KFKI where they are also using IRIX for the monitoring platform.

This problem has been reported to SGI. One way to get around this problem is to use a standard system for the monitoring such as a NIMI or Surveyor platform.

Linux to PC

When pinging (using the standard Linux ping or the NIKHEF ping) from a Linux (Red Hat release 5.2) operating system running on a PC to a Windows NT (version 4 service pack 4) host on a PC or another Linux/PC host (all hosts are on the same subnet) then there are artificial regularities in the RTT when plotted versus ping sequence number. They do not occur when pinging from the same Linux/PC to a Solaris/Sun host or when using the standard ping from a Sun/Solaris host to the same Windows NT host. The effect has also been observed between 2 Linux/PC hosts using the NIKHEF ping by Eric Wassenaar at NIKHEF in Amsterdam. An example of the regularity (one feature of the regularity shown is that the points shown with RTT > 10 msec. in the example are separated from the adjacent points by 1141 in sequence number) is shown below where we plot the ping sequence number (seq) along the x axis, and the RTT (in msec.) along the y axis.

In another test we ran 65000 pings from the Linux host to the WNT/PC host and for 34532 of these pings looked at the "wire time" using tcpdump on the Linux host. For all the pings that had an RTT time of >= 10 msec. (tcpdump on the Linux host has a resolution of only 10 msec. as observed by reviewing the tcpdump output and also according to the man pages which say:
By default, all output lines are preceded by a timestamp. The timestamp is the current clock time in the form

and is as accurate as the kernel's clock (e.g., +-10ms on a Sun-3). The timestamp reflects the time the kernel first saw the packet. No attempt is made to account for the time lag between when the ethernet interface removed the packet from the wire and when the kernel serviced the `new packet' interrupt (of course, with Sun's lousy clock resolution this time lag is negligible.))
we compared the host ping RTT with the wire RTT. For these pings there was exact agreement in the date stamp of the tcpdump and the time of the ping, and there were 23 such pings recorded. In the table below we report: the index (i) of the packet; the tcpdump round trip time (rtt), to an accuracy of 10 msec., calculated by sutracting the wire time of the echo request packet from the wire time of the corresponding echo response packet; the seconds from the start of the pings; the host ping reported sequence number; the RTT reported by the host; and the inter sequence number difference for the packets shown (i.e. dSeq(i)=Seq(i+1)-Seq(i) for i=1..22).
 i rtt  secs. Sequence #     Host RTT     dSeq
 1 0.03 21933 icmp_seq=21933 time=39.0 ms 1141
 2 0.02 23074 icmp_seq=23074 time=29.1 ms 1141
 3 0.01 24215 icmp_seq=24215 time=18.3 ms 2342
 4 0.05 26557 icmp_seq=26557 time=50.2 ms 1141
 5 0.03 27698 icmp_seq=27698 time=39.3 ms 1141
 6 0.02 28839 icmp_seq=28839 time=29.4 ms 1141
 7 0.01 29980 icmp_seq=29980 time=18.6 ms 2342
 8 0.04 32322 icmp_seq=32322 time=50.0 ms 1141
 9 0.04 33463 icmp_seq=33463 time=41.1 ms 2282
10 0.02 34604 icmp_seq=34604 time=29.3 ms 3483
11 0.01 35745 icmp_seq=35745 time=18.8 ms 2342
12 0.05 38087 icmp_seq=38087 time=50.4 ms 1141
13 0.04 39228 icmp_seq=39228 time=40.6 ms 1141
14 0.02 40369 icmp_seq=40369 time=29.8 ms 1141
15 0.01 41510 icmp_seq=41510 time=19.5 ms 1269
16 0.02 42779 icmp_seq=42779 time=21.0 ms 360 
17 0.01 43139 icmp_seq=43139 time=19.6 ms 3483
18 0.04 46622 icmp_seq=46622 time=41.2 ms 1141
19 0.03 47763 icmp_seq=47763 time=31.0 ms 1141
20 0.02 48904 icmp_seq=48904 time=20.3 ms 3483
21 0.04 52387 icmp_seq=52387 time=41.4 ms 1141
22 0.03 53528 icmp_seq=53528 time=31.6 ms 1141
23 0.02 54669 icmp_seq=54669 time=20.9 ms
It can be seen that within the resolution of our measurements, there is exact correlation in the host and wire reports for pings with RTTs of >= 10 msec. In addition a regularity in the inter sequence number differences is clearly visible. Out of the 22 differences, there are 13 with a value of 1141, 1 with 2*1141, 3 with 3483 and 3 with 2342, 1 with 360 and 1 with 1269. This would appear to indicate that the regularity is either caused by the ping responder (in this case a Windows NT host) or by the network.

Further tests (see PingER Measurement Pathology Examples) including "wire-time" measures with the ping client / requester, the ping server / responder and a NetXray sniffer (on an independent PC) all on the same shared 10 Mbps hub, showed the effect appears to be limited to one Windows NT host.

It is noteworthy that NetXray running on the WNT ping responder does not observe the longer RTTs of the pathological pings, whereas NetXray running on a separate WNT PC did see the longer RTTs. Another notable observation was that if the ping echo request comes from a Linux/PC or Windows NT/PC host, then the 16 bit ICMP sequence number embedded in the packet is written in byte reversed order, which makes reading the NetXray decoding tricky.

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