Tracing a Message
If you're using a Microsoft Windows-based system, you can see just how many routers are involved in your Internet traffic by using a program you have on your computer. The program is called Traceroute, and that describes what it does -- it traces the route that a packet of information takes to get from your computer to another computer connected to the Internet. To run this program, click on the "MS-DOS Prompt" icon on the "Start" menu. Then, at the "C:\WINDOWS>" prompt, type "tracert www.howstuffworks.com". When I did this from my office in Florida, the results looked like this:
The first number shows how many routers are between your computer and the router shown. In this instance, there were a total of 14 routers involved in the process (number 15 is the Howstuffworks.com Web server). The next three numbers show how long it takes a packet of information to move from your computer to the router shown and back again. Next, in this example, starting with step six, comes the "name" of the router or server. This is something that helps people looking at the list but is of no importance to the routers and computers as they move traffic along the Internet. Finally, you see the Internet Protocol (IP) address of each computer or router. The final picture of this trace route shows that there were 14 routers between the Web server and me and that it took, on average, a little more than 2.5 seconds for information to get from my computer to the server and back again.
You can use Traceroute to see how many routers are between you and any other computer you can name or know the IP address for. It can be interesting to see how many steps are required to get to computers outside your nation. Since I live in the United States, I decided to see how many routers were between my computer and the Web server for the British Broadcasting Corporation. At the C:\WINDOWS> prompt, I typed tracert www.bbc.com. The result was this:
You can see that it took only one more step to reach a Web server on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean than it did to reach a server two states away!
On the next page, we'll go into detail about Denial of Service attacks.