What is ping?

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Last updated on: July 15, 2024

Ping is a fundamental network utility used to test the reachability of a host on an Internet Protocol (IP) network. It also measures the round-trip time for messages sent from the originating host to a destination computer. 

The name “ping” comes from sonar technology, which describes the sound waves sent out to detect objects underwater.

How does ping work

When you execute a ping command, your computer sends a small packet of data to another device on the network. This packet is then echoed back to the originating device, confirming that the network path is functional. 

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During a ping test, Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) packets are exchanged. These packets contain essential information such as the source and destination IP addresses and a sequence number to keep track of each packet sent and received. 

The round-trip time (RTT) is calculated by measuring the time it takes for the ICMP packet to travel from the source to the destination and back again. This time is recorded in milliseconds and indicates the latency between the two devices.

The ping process involves several stages:

  • Packet Generation: Your device generates an ICMP echo request packet.
  • Packet Transmission: This packet is sent over the network to the destination device.
  • Echo Reply: The destination device receives the packet and responds with an ICMP echo reply.
  • Receipt of Reply: Your device receives the echo reply and calculates the RTT.

Ping times can vary depending on the type of network. In wired networks, ping times are usually lower and more consistent due to the stable nature of the physical connections. In wireless networks, factors such as signal interference and distance from the router can cause higher and more variable ping times. 

Ping commands and how to use them

Ping commands allow you to test the reachability of a host and measure the time it takes for packets to travel to the destination and back. Here’s a detailed look at how to use various ping commands, from basic to advanced options.

Basic ping commands

The most fundamental ping command sends an ICMP echo request to a specified host to check availability and measure response times. The syntax for this command is straightforward:

Ping Command:

ping [hostname or IP address]

You can control the number of ping requests sent to a host using specific options. This is useful for testing consistency and network stability over multiple packets.


ping -c 4 [hostname or IP address]


ping -n 4 [hostname or IP address]

In these examples, the -c or -n option tells the command to send four ping requests to the specified host.

Advanced ping command options

Ping commands offer several advanced options to refine your network diagnostics. Here are some useful ones:


Set a timeout for each ping request to ensure the test doesn’t hang indefinitely if there is no response.


ping -W 2 [hostname]


ping -w 2 [hostname]

This sets a timeout of 2 seconds for each ping response.

Packet Size

Change the size of the packet sent to test how the network handles different payload sizes.


ping -s 100 [hostname]


ping -l 100 [hostname]

This sets the packet size to 100 bytes.

Flood Ping

Flood ping sends packets as quickly as possible to stress-test the network. Use with caution, as it can overwhelm the network.


ping -f [hostname]

This option is not typically available on Windows systems due to its potential to cause network disruption.

Summary of Ping Commands

CommandDescriptionUnix/Linux ExampleWindows Example
Basic PingSends an ICMP echo request to a hostping [hostname or IP address]ping [hostname or IP address]
Number of RequestsSpecifies the number of ping requests to sendping -c 4 [hostname or IP address]ping -n 4 [hostname or IP address]
TimeoutSets a timeout for each ping requestping -W 2 [hostname]ping -w 2 [hostname]
Packet SizeChanges the size of the packet sentping -s 100 [hostname]ping -l 100 [hostname]
Flood PingSends packets as quickly as possible (Unix/Linux)ping -f [hostname]Not typically available

How to run a ping test

Running a ping test is a straightforward yet powerful way to diagnose and understand your network’s performance. According to Kristian Razum, DevOps Specialist, you “open up the command prompt (Windows) or terminal (Linux/Mac) and simply type ping – followed by destination DNS / IPv4 address.”

Here’s a more detailed step-by-step description of the process:

1. Open Command Prompt or Terminal: The first step in running a ping test is to open the command line interface. On Windows, you can open Command Prompt by searching for “cmd” in the Start menu. On macOS or Linux, open Terminal from your applications menu.

2. Type the Ping Command: Once you have the Command Prompt or Terminal open, type the ping command followed by the hostname or IP address of the target device. For example:

ping example.com

This command sends an ICMP echo request to the specified host and waits for a reply.

3. Analyze the Results: After executing the ping command, you will receive a series of responses from the target device. These responses will include information such as the number of packets sent and received, round-trip time (RTT), and any packet loss. By analyzing these results, you can gauge the health and performance of your network connection.

Common parameters for a ping test

You can adjust the size of the packets sent during the ping test using the -s option on Unix/Linux systems or the -l option on Windows systems. For example:

ping -s 100 example.com   # Unix/Linux
ping -l 100 example.com   # Windows

This sets the packet size to 100 bytes, allowing you to test how the network handles different payload sizes.

Timeout: To set a timeout for each ping request, use the -W option on Unix/Linux systems or the -w option on Windows systems. For example:

ping -W 2 example.com   # Unix/Linux
ping -w 2 example.com   # Windows

This command sets a timeout of 2 seconds for each ping response, ensuring the test doesn’t hang indefinitely if there is no reply.

✔️One of the most common mistakes when running a ping test is using an incorrect hostname or IP address. Always double-check the address to ensure it’s accurate.

✔️If your pings fail, it might be due to network configuration issues. Ensure that your network settings are correctly configured and that no firewall rules are blocking ICMP packets.

Interpreting ping test results

The round-trip time (RTT) values indicate the time it takes for a packet to travel from your device to the target and back again. Low RTT values suggest good connectivity, while high RTT values can indicate latency issues. For instance, an RTT of less than 50 milliseconds is generally considered excellent, while anything above 200 milliseconds might indicate a problem.

Packet loss is another critical metric to monitor. It represents the number of packets sent that did not receive a reply. Any packet loss is a sign of network issues, such as congestion or faulty hardware. For example, 0% packet loss indicates a healthy network, whereas any packet loss percentage suggests that there are problems that need to be addressed.

Expert Opinion By Kristian Razum

Most importantly we should check if we got a reply from the target we are pinging. If we see ‘Reply from,’ it means that the target host is alive and replying to our ICMP request. The second most important thing in this request is the ‘time’ – this shows us how long it took for the packet to travel from us to the destination, and back to us.

What impacts ping and ways to improve it

Several factors can influence ping times, leading to increased latency and slower network performance. Understanding these factors can help you take steps to optimize your network.

Network Congestion: High traffic on a network can significantly slow down responses. When multiple devices are using the same network, the data packets must compete for bandwidth, leading to delays. This is especially common during peak usage times, such as in the evening when many users are streaming videos or gaming.

Physical Distance: “The longer the distance, the higher the latency because of the distance the data package has to travel in the optical cable,” says Razum. This is because the packets must pass through more routers and switches, each introducing a small delay. For example, pinging a server located on another continent will typically result in higher ping times compared to a server in the same city. 

Interference: In wireless networks, interference from other electronic devices, physical obstructions like walls, and competing Wi-Fi networks can cause delays. Wireless signals can be disrupted or weakened, leading to increased ping times and packet loss.

Best practices for improving ping times

Improving ping times involves optimizing your network and minimizing the factors that cause delays. Here are some best practices:

FactorImpact on PingImprovement Strategy
Network CongestionSlows down responses during high-traffic periodsEnsure network settings are optimized for performance and configure QoS settings to prioritize important traffic. Implement bandwidth management techniques to distribute network resources more effectively.
Physical DistanceIncreases RTT with greater distancesChoose servers that are geographically closer to you to reduce RTT. Use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to cache content closer to your location. Optimize routing paths through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for more efficient data travel.
InterferenceCauses delays in wireless networksWired connections offer lower latency and more stable performance compared to wireless connections. Use Ethernet cables to connect devices, especially for activities requiring low ping times, such as online gaming or video conferencing.

Whether you’re gaming, video conferencing, or simply browsing, optimizing your ping can make all the difference. 

Diana Bocco

Written by

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco combines her expertise to offer in-depth perspectives on uptime monitoring and website performance. Her articles are grounded in practical experience and a deep understanding of how robust monitoring can drive business success online. Diana's commitment to explaining complex technical concepts in accessible language has made her a favorite among readers seeking reliable uptime solutions.