Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Implementing a Ping client in Python - Part III


This is Part-3 of the N Part Series where we develop a Ping client in Python.

Until now, we understood the structure of the ICMP Packet, and also looked at python code to serialize and deserialize the packet from the network.

In the current installment, we will complete the program. First, let us implement the checksum.

ICMP Header Checksum

A checksum is a 16bit value used for error checking the header and the data. A checksum allows the receiver to make sure that the data it received did not get corrupted or altered in transit. The transmitter adds a checksum to the outgoing packet, this checksum is calculated by looking at the packet. The receiver calculates a checksum on the received packet, and compares it with the checksum in the packet. If they match, then there was no corruption on the wire.

As per Wikipedia:

The checksum field is the 16 bit one's complement of the one's complement sum of all 16-bit words in the header and text. If a segment contains an odd number of header and text octets to be checksummed, the last octet is padded on the right with zeros to form a 16-bit word for checksum purposes. The pad is not transmitted as part of the segment. While computing the checksum, the checksum field itself is replaced with zeros.

Using this definition, we have the following checksum function

Socket Introduction

The Wikipedia article on Sockets gives some background info on this topic. For our case, since we are going to be dealing with a lower level protocol like ICMP, we will be creating a Raw socket.

In order to create a RAW socket, you need to be a superuser. On UNIX machines, you will need to use "sudo" to run the program. On windows, you need to be a member of the Administrator group to run the program

The python documentation for Socket is a great resource as well.

A raw socket is created as follows:

sock.setsockopt(IPPROTO_IP, IP_HDRINCL, 0)
sock.bind(('', 0))

Since we are only sending the ICMP packet, and not it's encapsulating IP packet, we will need to indicate to the network driver using setsockopt(IPPROTO_IP, IP_HDRINCL, 0). This will let the network driver encapsulate our data in an IP packet.

Main Entry Point

Now that we have all the scaffolding in place for the program, here is the main() function that ties it all together.

Note a couple of imports.
On my mac, I run this program as
sudo python ping.py

Complete Program

The complete program is checked into Github. I encourage you to check it out.



This concludes our 3 part series. I hope you liked this, and learned something about low level network programming in Python.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Implementing a Ping client in Python - Part II


In Implementing a Ping client in Python - Part I, we gave an introduction to Ping, and showed how it is implemented using the ICMP protocol. Specifically, it uses the ICMP Echo Request and Response mechanism. The client sends the server an ICMP Echo packet, and the server responds with an ICMP Response packet.

We also defined the python class structure of the ICMP packet.

In this chapter, we will implement the serialization and deserialization routines so that we can send the packet over wire, and read the response back into a python class.

First, a word about byte ordering....

Byte Ordering

Every CPU architecture has a byte ordering specification. Byte ordering, also called Endianness defines how data types that are more than 1 byte in size are ordered in memory. For eg, if you have a word with value 0xAB, how is it written in computer memory, given that memory only stores bytes? Do you store the high order byte first (i.e at the lower memory location) and then the lower byte, or the other way around? This is called Endianness.

There are two kinds of Endianness, Big Endian and Little Endian.

Big Endian

In this scheme, the higher order byte is stored at the lower memory location. So, a 16 bit value 0xAB will be stored as follows:

0 0xA

Little Endian

In Little Endian, the lower order byte is stored at the lower memory location, and then the high order byte. So, a 16 bit value 0xAB will be stored as follows:


When sending data over the network, it is always sent in Big Endian order, i.e higher byte first. So, for our program, we will need to implement routines to send word and integer on the network, and read them back as well.

Network Byte Order Conversion

We will take the icmp_pkt class defined in the Part-I of this series, and add the following methods to it.

These two functions, _write_word and parse_word are the complements of each other.

_write_word serializes a 16byte value in BigEndian order.

parse_word reads a word from a buffer.

Note the usage of python ord function. Since the input to parse_word is a string ( parameter data is a string type) the character at position i in the buffer will be the character value of the byte. However, we are interested in the raw byte value, not the mapped unicode value. So, we will need to use the ord() function to map it back to it's raw value.

There is a slight discrepancy between _write_word() and parse_word() functions. _write_word takes a list. The reason for that is that the caller is going to pass in the list. Whereas parse_word() has to deal with network data that is stored in a string buffer returned from the socket call.

Next, we will write code to serialize the python class into a network buffer, and also deserialize it.

ICMP Packet Serialization/Deserialization

The ICMP echo packet structure is very simple. It just consists of bytes and words. There is also a variable length byte array to hold user data that is sent by the client and echoed back by the server. Serializing this is very simple. Just write them in order defined in the packet.

Note the starting offset of 20 in the parse() method. This is needed because on unix, when the socket.recvfrom() returns, it will read from the start of the IP header, which will be wrong. ICMP header is encapsulated inside the IP header, and we will need to go past
the IP header (which is 20 bytes in size) to read the ICMP response.


In the current installment, we looked at byte Encodings, specifically Big Endian and Little Endian. Then we saw how to encode the ICMP packet into a byte array for sending over the wire. We also saw how to parse the byte array back into a python class instance.

In the next installment, we will start to fill in the code for the checksum and sockets.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Implementing a Ping client in Python - Part I


In this series of posts,  I will demonstrate how to implement a Ping client using Python.

Ping is one of the most useful tools that a computer programmer might use. It is used to figure out if a target machine is reachable or not.

Ping is implemented using the ICMP Protocol

ICMP Protocol

The Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) is defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force. The specifications of the protocol are in RFC 792

The Ping utility uses the ECHO request/response facility of the ICMP protocol. The client sends an ICMP Echo request to the server, and the server responds with an ICMP Echo response. It is a very simple request/response protocol and makes it ideal to use in order to learn low level network programming.

ICMP Packet Description

The following table describes the ICMP Echo Request/Reply Packet

Type (8 bits)Code (8 bits)Checksum (16 bits)
Identifier (16 bits)Sequence Number (16 bits)

The Type is 8 for Echo message, and 0 for reply message.

Code has to be zero.

Identifier can be used to match request/reply packets.

Sequence Number can be used to distinguish multiple request/responses from each other.

The client sends an ICMP Echo packet to the server. An echo packet has the type code 8.

The server responds with an ICMP Response packet. An ICMP Echo response packet has a type code of 0.

Python Implementation Details

I have been programming in Python for quite some time, but have never attempted low level programming at the socket level until now. Normally, in C, C# or Java, one would use byte arrays to send/receive data. However, the only byte array abstraction in Python is the String datatype ( and the StringIO buffer ). It was challenging for me to wrap my head around using a string as a byte buffer. I will mention some of the pitfalls to avoid as I go along.

Ping using C#

At my previous company, I had written a Ping utility using C#/.Net on Windows. That was described here: