7 Simple Steps to Diagnose a Network Problem
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Of all the types of problems you can have with your computer, network issues might be one of the worst. Though our computers can do a lot offline Take Your Reading Offline With These 5 Chrome Apps Take Your Reading Offline With These 5 Chrome Apps Thanks to Chrome's offline apps, you don't need to rely on the Internet to catch up on your e-reading. Read More , being cut off from the internet isn’t fun. Even worse, when you can’t get online, you can’t easily research fixes for your problem.

Let’s step through the process you should perform to diagnose network issues. That way, next time you open up your web browser to a “Cannot Connect” message, you’ll know what to do. Like all troubleshooting, we’ll start broadly and narrow down to specifics.

After each step, attempt to connect to a website to verify your connection is working. If it still doesn’t work, continue to the next part.

0. Make Sure It’s Your Problem

Sometimes what seems like a network outage is actually a problem on a specific website’s end. If you can’t get on Twitter, check another few websites to make sure that it’s not just them. You can use IsUp.me to check if a website is down for everyone or just you 3 Ways To Figure Out If Your Favorite Website Is Down 3 Ways To Figure Out If Your Favorite Website Is Down There are a few websites out there that are devoted simply to answering the basic question that you'll eventually ask: "Is this website down?" Here, we have three of these websites, and they are all... Read More .

1. Power Cycle Everything and Check Other Devices

There’s no need to get upset right away, as the fix to your problem might be as simple as rebooting your equipment. Restarting fixes a ton of issues Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? Why Does Rebooting Your Computer Fix So Many Issues? "Have you tried rebooting?" It's technical advice that gets thrown around a lot, but there's a reason: it works. Not just for PCs, but a wide range of devices. We explain why. Read More , so make sure it’s your first response to network issues, too.

Go ahead and reboot your PC, as well as your modem and router. To clear the modem and router caches, wait 60 seconds before you turn them back on again. Turning everything off and back on first ensures that it isn’t a temporary problem. It’s better to reboot now than to waste 30 minutes continuing on when you don’t need to.

Once you’ve restarted, if you have another computer (or a mobile device), try to get online with that machine. If you find that no devices can connect, it’s likely an issue with your equipment or your ISP.

Should you find that only one computer can’t get online, you can continue to narrow down the problem. On that device, make sure to run an antivirus scan to ensure you don’t have malware interfering with your connection. Make sure that your firewall Which Free Firewall For Windows Is Best For You? Which Free Firewall For Windows Is Best For You? We place emphasis on antivirus and malware removal, but don't ignore firewalls. Let's take a look at the best free Windows firewalls, comparing ease of setup, ease of use, and availability of features. Read More settings weren’t changed.

Finally, try using a different browser How Do Browsers Display Web Pages, and Why Don't They Ever Look the Same? How Do Browsers Display Web Pages, and Why Don't They Ever Look the Same? Read More to see if your usual one is damaged.

2. Check Physical Connections

Does your problem persist after rebooting? Before we start diving into settings and tests, the next thing to check is that you’re physically connected. If you use an Ethernet cable to connect to your router, check to make sure that it’s not unplugged. If your laptop has a physical wireless switch (check specific tips for fixing wireless connections How to Fix Your Wireless Internet Connection in Windows How to Fix Your Wireless Internet Connection in Windows Are you struggling to get a strong and stable wireless Internet connection? It could be the hardware or Windows itself causing the problem. Here are some troubleshooting tips. Read More ), make sure that it didn’t get bumped to the off position.

Once you’ve verified a proper connection, check your equipment. Are the lights on your router and/or modem flashing green as normal? If no lights come on after the reboot, the device could be dead. If you get red lights, or a power light but no connection light, your ISP is likely down.

3. Run the Network Troubleshooter

Windows includes some built-in troubleshooters The 6 Best Free Tools to Fix Any Problem in Windows 10 The 6 Best Free Tools to Fix Any Problem in Windows 10 If you're running into system problems or rogue settings, you should use these free tools to fix Windows 10 and avoid headaches. Read More that can automatically find and fix issues. To run the troubleshooter for network problems, right-click the network icon in your System Tray and choose Troubleshoot Problems. Once the troubleshooter runs, it could fix issues, find issues but fail to fix them, or find no issues.

If the troubleshooter finds a problem that it fixes, try to connect again. If you get a specific error or problem name that Windows can’t fix automatically, take note of it for later research.

4. Check for a Valid IP Address

At this point, we’ve verified that the problem is not temporary and that all of our hardware works. Since Windows can’t fix the problem on its own, we need to pinpoint the spot along the connection where the problem is occurring.

It’s a good idea to make sure that you don’t have any strange IP settings selected. To check this, type Network and Sharing Center into the Start Menu to open that utility. On the right side, where you see Connections, click the name of your Wi-Fi or wired network. Choose Properties and double-click internet Protocol Version 4.

Unless you’ve set up a static IP (if you don’t know what this is, you probably don’t use one), make sure to check Obtain an IP address automatically and Obtain DNS server address automatically. Repeat this process for internet Protocol Version 6 to ensure that everything is automatic there, as well.


Once you’ve done this, we can check to confirm the router is giving you a valid IP address. Open up a command prompt by typing cmd into the Start Menu. Type ipconfig and look for the text under Ethernet adapter (for wired connections) or Wireless LAN Adapter (for wireless connections).

If IPv4 Address starts with 169.x.x.x, your computer is not receiving a valid IP address from your router. Typing the following two commands may resolve this:

ipconfig /release 
ipconfig /renew

Should you still have a 169.x.x.x address after typing the above commands and ipconfig again, your machine still isn’t receiving an IP from the router. Try plugging your PC directly into the modem with an Ethernet cable and see if you can get online. If so, your router is the problem.

5. Try a Ping and Trace Its Route

If your IP address starts with anything other than 169 when you run ipconfig, you have a valid IP address from your router and the problem is occurring between your router and the internet.

Type this command to ping Google’s DNS servers to see if you can get online: (you can replace with anything, such as www.msn.com)


This will send four packets to Google. If they fail to send, you’ll be told what the problem was. For more information, type this line to trace the route between your computer and Google’s DNS servers:


The above command gives you a step-by-step breakdown of the path that the information takes to reach the destination you specify. Watch it, and if it fails, check to see where the problem occurs. If an error pops up early in the route, the issue is likely with your local network.

6. Contact Your ISP

Should all the above steps complete successfully, we’ve verified that our equipment is working, we have a valid IP address from the router, and the problem is occurring outside of our network for multiple devices. If this is the case, your next best option is to find out if your ISP is having issues.

Using your smartphone will prove useful here, as you can look up an outage map (like DownDetector.com) for your provider or check Twitter to see if others in your area are experiencing issues as well. If you don’t see anything of note online, try giving your ISP a call to see if there are known issues. Perhaps line issues are affecting a small area; they will be able to run tests to check.

7. Wait It Out

Once you’ve let your ISP know of the issue and confirmed that it’s not just one computer having a problem, all you can do is wait. Many times, you can’t fix network issues on your own. When attackers took down half the internet in late October Why Your Favorite Website Was Down Today [Updated] Why Your Favorite Website Was Down Today [Updated] Hackers launched a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against Dyn this morning. The attack was responsible for taking down or interrupting traffic to a host of popular websites. Read More , none of the above steps helped users get back online. If your ISP is aware of the issues, hopefully they’ll get everything fixed in a short time.

While you’re waiting, there are plenty of things to do when you can’t get online.

Get Connected

These steps are a general template for diagnosing network issues, as your exact setup may differ. There are lots of things you can do to troubleshoot your network connection. In general, respond by restarting everything, seeing if multiple devices are having trouble getting online, and checking to make sure your settings are correct, per the above. If you’ve checked all of this, the issue is probably with your ISP.

Fixed your network problem, but still have a slow wireless connection? Find out how to fix slow Wi-Fi and how to boost your Wi-Fi signal How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal: 6 Methods How to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal: 6 Methods Wi-Fi signal dropping as you move further from your router? Try these Wi-Fi signal boosting tricks for better connectivity! Read More .

Image Credits:connectivity by Andreas Beer via Flickr

Explore more about: Computer Networks, LAN, Troubleshooting, Wi-Fi.

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  1. gravityusa
    August 11, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    I love this article. This is very well written. You have truly enriched me with some excellent knowledge.

  2. tueksta
    December 20, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Hi Ben,

    being a blog writer and a content producer, you probably know it is frustrating when someone steals your work, right? As you probably didn't intend to do so with my picture of the ethernet jack, please add the proper Creative Commons attribution including a link to the source of the picture.

    I love when people use my photos, but please stick to the rules.

    Thanks, and keep on writing!

    • Ben Stegner
      December 20, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Hi Andreas,

      I'm not in charge of adding featured images to my articles, and have contacted my team members who do so. I'm sure they missed the image credit by mistake; I'll let you know when they've fixed it.

      Thanks for letting me know, and I apologize.

    • Azamat Bohed
      December 22, 2016 at 9:12 am

      Hi Andreas,

      I'm in charge for the featured images here and I am really sorry about this. It's unusual for me not to credit an author of the original image, but I guess either I just forgot to insert credits or I found your image on a CC0 site (like Pixabay).

      I've added your credits (found on Flickr). Once again sorry for this!
      Azamat "Bohed"

      PS: I advise you to check those CC0 sites for your images, since someone might just upload your stuff up there. I've seen this before.

      • tueksta
        December 23, 2016 at 11:25 am

        Hey, thanks for fixing this. I checked pixabay, but came up with none of my pictures. Maybe you confused the usage on culture-numerique.fr, as they used also another picture which was from pixabay under CC0? Anyway, no drama, I'm just happy you responded so quickly :)

  3. jhaze
    July 1, 2016 at 12:18 am

    IPCONFIG is closing when im trying to open it how can i fix it ?

    • Imran Khan
      July 21, 2016 at 6:02 am

      click on start on windows, in the textbox type cmd
      this should open a command prompt window
      now you can enter commands suchs as ping, ipconfig, tracert so on.

  4. Deepak
    June 24, 2016 at 6:05 am

    All information is true.


  5. nancy albert
    March 8, 2016 at 12:35 am

    this is unintelligible unless you are a trained tech. It is of no help to me. I have had a tech out from my internet company [liberty] twice, and he doesn't seem to know what he is doing, either. All he did was give me a new cable box and check the cords.

    • Jake
      April 13, 2016 at 1:52 pm

      If this too complicated for you then you probably wont be able to solve your problem yourself. Networking is not an on/off switch.

    • Slate
      October 4, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      Chances are the "tech" is a barely trained low wage parts changer with no real training or expertise. They are usually little more than a set of hands and eyes that are expected to call in to the service department for instructions which usually doesn't work out when said dep is inundated with calls. You'd be better off calling a third party. Maybe geek squad can help. But then you are paying for service while the trained monkey from liberty is probably free.

  6. Panda-Neko
    March 22, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I think Angry IP scanner has been infested now so don't download stick to command prompt

  7. Neil
    January 17, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Link for AskTheAdmin's in the article doesn't work. The one in the footer does.

    • Karl Gechlik | AskTheAdmin.com
      January 18, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      Fixed! Thanks!

  8. Steve
    January 17, 2010 at 6:21 am

    This is great info, but can you post something similar to address difficulties getting computers on the same workgroup to discover and communicate with each other. I've done all the simple things, like making sure they are on the same workgroup, turning on network discovery, and setting up identical user name accounts on each.

    • Karl Gechlik | AskTheAdmin.com
      January 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm

      What OS Steve?

      • Graeme
        January 14, 2016 at 4:39 am

        hi I have same problem I think as Steve upgraded to win 10 and now can not get network in home or homegroups to work properally Have tried lots things including new router , setting computers back to default and reconfig
        Running out of ideas can you help ?

  9. Rahul
    January 17, 2010 at 6:12 am

    very usefull information for me.