ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol)

ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) is an error-reporting and message-control protocol that network devices use to report problems in IP packet delivery.

ICMP (Internet Control Message Protocol) is an error-reporting protocol network devices like routers use to generate error messages to the source IP address when network problems prevent delivery of IP packets. ICMP creates and sends messages to the source IP address indicating that a gateway to the Internet that a router, service or host cannot be reached for packet delivery. Any IP network device has the capability to send, receive or process ICMP messages.

ICMP is not a transport protocol that sends data between systems.

While ICMP is not used regularly in end-user applications, it is used by network administrators to troubleshoot Internet connections in diagnostic utilities including ping and traceroute.

One of the main protocols of the Internet Protocol suite, ICMP is used by routers, intermediary devices or hosts to communicate error information or updates to other routers, intermediary devices or hosts. The widely used IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) and the newer IPv6 use similar versions of the ICMP protocol (ICMPv4 and ICMPv6, respectively).

ICMP messages are transmitted as datagrams and consist of an IP header that encapsulates the ICMP data. ICMP packets are IP packets with ICMP in the IP data portion. ICMP messages also contain the entire IP header from the original message, so the end system knows which packet failed

The ICMP header appears after the IPv4 or IPv6 packet header and is identified as IP protocol number 1. The complex protocol contains three fields:

  • The major type that identifies the ICMP message;
  • The minor code that contains  more information about the type field; and
  • The checksum that helps detect errors introduced during transmission.

Following the three fields is the ICMP data and the original IP header to identify which packets actually failed.

ICMP has been used to execute denial-of-service attacks (also called the ping of death) by sending an IP packet larger than the number of bytes allowed by the IP protocol.

This was first published in April 2015

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