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Wireshark Lab: Getting Started

Version: 2.0 © 2007 J.F. Kurose, K.W. Ross. All Rights Reserved

Computer Networking: A Topth down Approach, 4 edition.

“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.” Chinese proverb One’s understanding of network protocols can often be greatly deepened by “seeing protocols in action” and by “playing around with protocols” – observing the sequence of messages exchanged between two protocol entities, delving down into the details of protocol operation, and causing protocols to perform certain actions and then observing these actions and their consequences. This can be done in simulated scenarios or in a “real” network environment such as the Internet. The Java applets that accompany this text take the first approach. In these Wireshark labs1, we’ll take the latter approach. You’ll be running various network applications in different scenarios using a computer on your desk, at home, or in a lab. You’ll observe the network protocols in your computer “in action,” interacting and exchanging messages with protocol entities executing elsewhere in the Internet. Thus, you and your computer will be an integral part of these “live” labs. You’ll observe, and you’ll learn, by doing. The basic tool for observing the messages exchanged between executing protocol entities is called a packet sniffer. As the name suggests, a packet sniffer captures (“sniffs”) messages being sent/received from/by your computer; it will also typically store and/or display the contents of the various protocol fields in these captured messages. A packet sniffer itself is passive. It observes messages being sent and received by applications and protocols running on your computer, but never sends packets itself. Similarly, received packets are never explicitly addressed to the packet sniffer. Instead, a packet sniffer receives a copy of packets that are sent/received from/by application and protocols executing on your machine. Earlier versions of these labs used the Ethereal packet analyzer. In May 2006, the developer of Ethereal joined a new company, and had to leave the Ethereal® trademarks behind. He then created the Wireshark network protocol analyzer, a successor to Ethereal®. Since Ethereal® is no longer being actively maintained or developed, we have thus switched these labs over to Wireshark with the 4th edition of our text. 1

Figure 1 shows the structure of a packet sniffer. At the right of Figure 1 are the protocols (in this case, Internet protocols) and applications (such as a web browser or ftp client) that normally run on your computer. The packet sniffer, shown within the dashed rectangle in Figure 1 is an addition to the usual software in your computer, and consists of two parts. The packet capture library receives a copy of every link-layer frame that is sent from or received by your computer. Recall from the discussion from section 1.5 in the text (Figure 1.202) that messages exchanged by higher layer protocols such as HTTP, FTP, TCP, UDP, DNS, or IP all are eventually encapsulated in link-layer frames that are transmitted over physical media such as an Ethernet cable. In Figure 1, the assumed physical media is an Ethernet, and so all upper layer protocols are eventually encapsulated within an Ethernet frame. Capturing all link-layer frames thus gives you all messages sent/received from/by all protocols and applications executing in your computer.

packet sniffer packet analyzer application application (e.g., www browser, ftp client)

operating system packet capture (pcap)
copy of all Ethernet frames sent/received

Transport (TCP/UDP) Network (IP) Link (Ethernet) Physical
to/from network

to/from network

Figure 1: Packet sniffer structure

The second component of a packet sniffer is the packet analyzer, which displays the contents of all fields within a protocol message. In order to do so, the packet analyzer must “understand” the structure of all messages...
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