Network issues suck. When you can’t get online, you likely get frustrated and want to get connected again as soon as you can. We’ve outlined the basic process for diagnosing network problems, and you can be even more prepared for your next outage by knowing how to use native Windows tools and downloading a few third-party utilities.
Install and review these tools and you’ll have a solid game plan next time you can’t get online. Never be afraid of your network again!
1. Command Prompt Commands
The first place you should visit when you run into a network issue is the Command Prompt. We’ve already taken a look at the most important commands for networking, so we’ll summarize two of them here.
First, ipconfig provides information about your current connection. One of the most useful entries here is the IPv4 Address — any address beginning with 169 means that your computer isn’t receiving a valid IP address from your router.
Second, use the ping command to send a few packets of information to a remote server. Add the -t flag and it will continue to ping until you stop it. This is a much more efficient way to check if you’re connected to the internet than refreshing a web page over and over. A good address to ping is 126.96.36.199 — one of Google’s DNS servers.
Typing ping 188.8.131.52 -t will try to reach a Google server every few seconds until you press Ctrl + C to stop the command.
2. Built-In Troubleshooting Utilities
Windows contains built-in troubleshooters for common problem areas like printing, Windows Update, and audio. This includes an option for network issues. While these utilities don’t have the best track record, they’re worth a quick try.
Open the Settings app, then head to Update & Security > Troubleshoot. Select Internet Connections from the list to run the troubleshooter and see if it finds any problems.
If you want, you can also scroll down and try the Network Adapter troubleshooting option, which might find a different cause of your problem.
If it seems like your connection isn’t as fast as it should be, running a speed test can help confirm your suspicions. These will show your estimated upload and download speeds, as well as your ping to the server (lower is better).
Speedtest.net is one of the best-known services for this. You can visit the website, or use the Windows 10 Store app to do it right from your desktop. If you’re paying for 100Mbps speeds and are only getting 10Mbps, you know there’s a problem.
Wireshark is one of the most-used network analysis tools around. Its power comes by showing you every bit of traffic on your network — quite overwhelming if you don’t filter it down to only see what you need.
After selecting a wired or wireless connection, you’ll see a live list of all the network traffic from your machine. Every packet, from loading web pages to streaming music to downloading a file, shows up here. Double-clicking a packet will show you more about it.
Wireshark is an advanced tool and you could fill several articles with information on using it. From finding out if apps are phoning home without your permission to seeing if your traffic is going to the right destination, Wireshark is a great tool to have in your kit.
5. NetCrunch Tools
If you prefer a suite of tools that take on multiple roles, NetCrunch Tools can replace several other downloads. It’s free, though you have to register for an account with the developer, AdRem Software, before you use it. You can sign in with a Facebook, Google, or Microsoft account, or make an account the old-fashioned way with your email address and password.
Once that’s done, the homepage shows the three categories of included tools: Basic IP Tools, Subnet Tools, and Scanners. Several of the basic tools, like Traceroute, are graphical versions of command-line commands. If you don’t like the Command Prompt and prefer the prettier version here, it’s a great alternative method way to access them.
Some of the tools here, like Subnet Calculator, are meant for business use and probably won’t be useful for home users. But having twelve tools all in one attractive package is a smart idea, even if you don’t use each one of them.
6. Microsoft Message Analyzer
If the built-in tools aren’t enough for you, but you’d prefer to use an official Microsoft tool for network monitoring, Microsoft Message Analyzer is the answer. Like Wireshark, it packs a ton of options into its package and is thus a bit overwhelming for new users. But if you take some time to learn it, you can pick up useful insights about your network.
Launch the tool as an administrator, and you can start a trace just like Wireshark. Clicking New Session lets you start tracking traffic from a variety of sources, like a file, Microsoft Azure table, or PowerShell command. If you need one of these, it’s worth installing. But everyone else will probably do fine with Wireshark.
7. JDisc Discovery
Our final tool isn’t a packet sniffer like some of the above — rather, it’s an auditing tool for your network. JDisc Discovery scans every device on your network (up to 25 in the free versions), and collects details on them. After the scan, you’ll see information on each device’s name, IP address, firmware version, serial number, and more.
This is a great way to take inventory of the devices on your network. Saving this info will prove helpful when you have a problem. For example, you can compare the known firmware version of your router with the most recent download on the vendor’s website. The automated scan will save you the hassle of logging into every device or checking its stickers.
Check the downloads page to grab the Professional Edition of the software, which collects more information but is limited to 25 devices. The Starter Edition only collects basic info but is not limited by device count.
Which Network Tools Do You Count On?
These seven tools help you understand, analyze, and diagnose your network. You might not need all of them every time a problem comes up, but they can help you better understand home networking. And that’s an exciting way to learn!
Have you used these network tools to diagnose issues before? What other tools are essential parts of your toolkit? Share your favorite utilities with us in the comments!