Reader favorites: 10 great free network tools

From sniffing to mapping to monitoring, these utilities perform surprisingly sophisticated tasks

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Zenmap runs common Nmap scan commands and displays the actual command-line command in a window for verification. You can also modify the command manually or run Nmap completely from the command prompt. Although Zenmap is a great interface for Nmap, it doesn't replace the need for knowing what it is you are actually scanning for.

Nmap is one of those "initial probe" tools that hackers love to use to discover vulnerabilities on a target network. Use it on your network before they do, or you may be in reactive mode when you could have been proactive.

ZipTie

Admit it. You have many devices on your network, but no easy method of storing the configurations of your routers, switches and firewalls.

ZipTie executes command-line statements, such as a simple <I>ls -la</I> command against a Nokia Firewall (one of the core supported products). This feature is useful not only for configuration management but also for other administrative applications.

ZipTie executes command-line statements, such as a simple ls -la command against a Nokia Firewall (one of the core supported products). This feature is useful not only for configuration management but also for other administrative applications.

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Maybe you do store configurations, but it's via a cumbersome file transfer process, cut and paste, or some other time-consuming method that is not only a drain on time but may not always work the way you would like it to.

Sure, some vendors have proprietary packages to manage the configurations of their equipment, but what about configuration management in a heterogeneous environment? How many networks out there are truly composed of a single vendor's equipment? Even in a single-vendor network, wouldn't it be wonderful to manage those configurations without paying the network vendor's licensing and maintenance fees for their packages?

ZipTie is an open-source, no-cost product designed to provide multivendor network equipment configuration management. It allows for discovery of network devices, backup and restoration of configurations, and comparison of configurations among devices or over time (to track changes). As a bonus feature, it also contains several basic network design and management tools, including a subnet calculator (who doesn't need one of those?).

There is nothing magic about ZipTie. It is, at the core, a nice front end to communication protocols (SNMP, Secure Shell (SSH), Telnet, HTTP, Trivial File Transfer Protocol and so on). But it uses those, and other protocols, to discover and consolidate information on network devices. Do you manage your network devices with HTTP running on a nonstandard port? No problem; just create another protocol entry and specify the desired port.

One drawback is that ZipTie only supports a small number of network vendors in its core release. However, being open source, a large and growing database of user-submitted add-on modules extends the functionality of ZipTie significantly. These add-ons provide SNMP Management Information Base (MIB) data so that ZipTie can recognize the devices.

Installing ZipTie is somewhat more complicated than installing some of the other reviewed tools. Read the prerequisites page before downloading and installing. Links are provided for the Sun Java Development Kit and Perl for the server, and Sun Java Runtime for the client. Install these first. Be sure to change the default administrator password before using it on your production network. It's not intuitive how to do so but read the documentation; it requires that a command be run at the command line interface on the server.

ZipTie does operate in a true client/server model, so you can allow one source for your configuration management and still have multiple clients manage it via the client piece. It's definitely worth looking into. If a particular module doesn't exist for one of your network devices, consider submitting a module yourself. That is after all the backbone of open source.

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