By Laura Chappell, Author of Wireshark Network Analysis (wiresharkbook.com)
Editor's note: This top 10 list outlines the reasons why network analysts should learn Wireshark, the open source network analyzer. Laura Chappell, author of Wireshark Network Analysis, gives a light-hearted yet serious list of ways in which this open source network analysis tool can help any network analyst become better at his or her job.
1. Wireshark is the de facto standard in network analyzer tools. With more than 500,000 downloads a month, the IT industry has embraced Wireshark as the go-to tool for network troubleshooting, optimization and security! Be at the front of the IT pack and show your true colors as a geek leader.
2. Set yourself apart as a network analyst. It's one thing to be able to configure a TCP/IP network; it's entirely different to understand the inner workings of that network. Consider yourself a true "doctor of networking" with the ability to peer into the communications to pinpoint the cause of problems quickly and accurately. Be prepared for house-call requests. IT professionals are the new "doctor in the family," as you probably already know.
3. Bond with the only source of networking truth -- the packets. The packets never lie. Users do. Salespeople do. Consultants do. You know the drill. You can live in a pure environment of "truth" when you simply watch the hosts communicate with each other and see which one totally messes up the process. (Insert calming relaxation and meditation music here.)
4. Entertain yourself -- network traffic is never boring. From analyzing the yappy traffic from your hyperactive iPhone to the itty bitty stinkin' packets seen during a database operation, there's a lot of hidden "personality" on your network. Take advantage of the fact that it's legal in every country to profile protocols and products. Witness the overbearing protectiveness of network firewalls. Marvel at the blatantly callous disregard that lousy applications have for our precious standards. This is better than Avatar (and your nose won't hurt from those 3D glasses).
5. Find problems before the users do. You can become an IT superstar by identifying problems before the users make those whimpering or demanding calls blaming everything from their PCs to the Internet itself. Proactive analysis can decrease your stress levels in the long run, enabling you to live longer and enjoy your retirement on that small secluded cove by your new beach house.
6. Wireshark is free. Wireshark is considered one of the top open source projects in the world. It costs you nothing to download it from wireshark.org, install it and start your network trace file collection today. This is much better than collecting Star Wars or Star Trek memorabilia (and better for your social life).
7. Get geeky. IT professionals have a deep-seated desire to be geeky -- look at the popularity of the slingshot monkey, for example. Non-IT folks really don't hyperventilate at the chance to win one of those monkeys at a trade show. Heck, they don't even understand the "I will wait in line 10 hours for anything Apple releases" mentality either. (Hmmm… then again, neither do I.) Wireshark lets you see packets in their dissected form or even in hex form (for a special treat on the weekends!).
8. Solve ever-changing puzzles. Extreme Sudoku can be humbling and you've already hit level 80 in World of Warcraft (or higher, with the upcoming expansion pack). Try something new. Try to analyze each packet involved in your login process. It can be solved, and there's a pay-off. You can identify login problems that may occur in the future after you learn the purpose of each packet. Become a modern-day Rubik's-cube-solving kind of freak and impress everyone at the bar (or in that line at the Apple store).
9. Know what's really happening on your network (at home or work). When your kids say they're doing research for homework you can easily sniff the traffic and see which sites they are hitting. Clear text chat traffic offers wonderful parental insight. Don't tell 'em how you know this information -- it's all part of the "eyes in the back of my head" mystery of über-parenting. (Consider blocking their access to wireshark.org to protect your magical mojo.)
10. You don't want to flip burgers for a living. Yup -- learning Wireshark is definitely a big step up from flipping burgers at the local grease pit. You'll run faster, jump higher and even begin counting in binary just for fun. ("OK, little Jimmy… I said stop that… I'm counting… 1…. 0! Time's up!" Hee hee.)
It's never too late to learn network analysis and the true inner workings of your network. Pull up a chair, pour a cup of hot java and settle in for a nice self-improvement session with Wireshark and the Wireshark Network Analysis Book. Together they are the best girlfriends/boyfriends/wives/husbands/lovers/dogs/cats/power tools you've ever had! Enjoy!
This was first published in May 2010