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What is Ping Monitoring?

What is Ping Monitoring?

Better Stack Team
Updated on August 2, 2022

Ping monitoring is an automated way of checking whether an internet destination such as an IP or a domain address responds to ping. When service becomes unavailable or stops responding during an outage (downtime), ping monitoring spots the issue and alerts the right person on the development team.

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How does ping monitoring work?

The ping monitoring process works by sending automated ICMP echo requests at a pre-defined frequency to the desired destination and checking for the desired response. The pre-defined frequency depends on the specific user's need but generally ranges anywhere from 30 seconds for business use-cases up to 10 or more minutes for hobby projects.

The desired response from the monitored destination is the reply, where no packets were lost. If the correct reply is received no further action is taken and the monitoring continues. When the ping doesn’t receive a reply, the monitor starts what is called a downtime incident and starts alerting according to the on-call calendar.

đź’ˇ What is an ICMP echo request and an ICMP echo reply?

ICMP stands for Internet Control Message Protocol. It supports the communication between particular end-points on the internet network, including your device connected to the internet.

Control messages used by ICMP provide communication feedback between two destinations on the internet. Communication has two phases: echo-request and echo-reply. The first device sends the message to the destination requesting the reply. The destination gets the message and replies back to the sender. That's what we call the echo-reply. The ICMP messages were designed to help identify network issues and the accessibility of the devices on the internet.

What is a downtime incident?

A downtime incident is a period of time during which a given destination is not responding to ping. This is how a ping response would look like in terminal if Cloudflare DNS was down for example.

Output
PING 1.1.1.1 (1.1.1.1) 56(84) bytes of data.
From 169.154.0.0 icmp_seq=1 Destination Host Unreachable
From 169.154.0.0 icmp_seq=2 Destination Host Unreachable
From 169.154.0.0 icmp_seq=3 Destination Host Unreachable
From 169.154.0.0 icmp_seq=4 Destination Host Unreachable
From 169.154.0.0 icmp_seq=5 Destination Host Unreachable
--- 1.1.1.1 ping statistics ---
5 packets transmitted, 0 received, +5 errors, 100% packet loss, time 9ms
pipe 3

A downtime incident can be also a situation where the request sent by the ping monitor doesn’t receive a response in a given time frame. The request timeout can be anywhere from 5 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the priority of the monitor. Setting the monitor sensitivity correctly is key in avoiding large amounts of alerts.

How to receive downtime incident alerts?

After an incident is spotted by the ping monitoring tool it needs to be communicated to you. This process is called incident alerting or on-call alerting. On-call (or on-call calendar) is basically a scheduled duties calendar that defines which team member is responsible for incoming incidents.

The most common types of getting alerted by a ping monitor are automated phone calls, SMS, Slack, and Microsoft Teams messages. Ways of alerting depend on factors like the importance of the monitored service, time of the day, and team preference. For example push notifications or emails are generally used for less vital monitors.

What information do ping alerts include?

Ping alerts include information about what monitor went down and when. It also includes information about the error that triggered the incident, specifically the details about received packages. There are 3 situations that can cause a ping incident:

  • The host doesn’t respond to ping.
  • No packets are returned.
  • There is partial packet loss.

Downtime alerts also include a call to action for the on-call person to take. Those usually include the option to acknowledge the incident or to view the incident.

Process after receiving an alert? The downtime incident resolution process

After an alert is received it should be acknowledged immediately. If the alert is not acknowledged in a specified time frame (usually 3 minutes), the person next in line on the on-call duty is alerted. This process could continue further until the whole team is alerted. The best practice however is to have the on-call schedule set up in a way that the first team member is always ready to solve incoming incidents.

Once the incident is acknowledged the escalation process is paused and the team can fully focus on solving it. The speed by which an alert is acknowledged is called Time to acknowledge (TTA). Its average from different incidents called Mean Time to Acknowledge (MTTA) is a widely used incident management metric.

The next steps in the downtime resolution process are individual to different teams and apps. For larger teams, they can include collaborations between a few developers or even teams of developers, delegations of incidents to dedicated team members, and more. There are some best practices that should be used by all teams managing incidents. These include incident communication (both internal and external) and incident post-mortems.

Why use ping monitoring?

Fix issues before they affect your users

Ping monitoring is a fully automated process that can run as often as every 30 seconds, which helps to discover any issues right away. In a best-case scenario, any downtime is fixed quickly, keeping the number of affected users to a minimum.

Investigate network issues

Ping is the most basic way of checking IPs availability and is the first thing to check when troubleshooting unknown downtime errors. Compared to more complex ways of monitoring like HTTP monitoring or API monitoring it gives a basic network situation overview so any investigation can start from there.

Benchmark and plan improvements

By consistently running over a long period of time ping monitoring gives a unique insight into apps performance - specifically uptime and response times (round-times). This set of historical data allows to benchmark against competitors or older versions of the same apps or products. Here is an example of spiked response times in the Asia region shown by the Better Uptime dashboard.

Better Uptime global testing dashboard

What are the main benefits and drawbacks of ping monitoring?

Benefits

  • Automated with regular frequency: Ping monitoring can run every minute, every hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the whole year. It’s a fully automated script and once set it needs little to no maintenance, while still providing the same valuable information.
  • Simple to set up and use: Monitors for any IP or address can be set up in minutes while providing the availability information right from the start. Since it provides simple up/down information it can be applied widely across websites, apps, servers and more.
  • Global testing: It allows for testing from different endpoints around the world. This allows distinguishing regional errors from incidents affecting all users and allows for optimization for a global audience.
  • Lower layer monitoring: Ping monitoring allows you to create dedicated monitors for your database, email client, or website and check them separately, instead of having a single monitor for an entire system.

Drawbacks

  • Limited downtime cause reporting: Ping monitoring lacks the information that could answer why the downtime happened. Since it only monitors the final output and not the actual workings of the app. To get a better idea about the root cause, application performance management (APM) or a log management tool needs to be used.
  • Limited functionality monitoring: Since it only monitors a specific IP status it can miss smaller issues that don’t cause downtime, but still significantly interfere with the user experience. For example, a website is available but a significant part doesn’t work correctly, to monitor functions other tools like API monitoring, transaction monitoring, or keyword monitoring within uptime checks need to be used.

Where does ping monitoring fit in the synthetic monitoring setup?

Ping monitoring is the main but not the only part of the synthetic monitoring toolbox. When it comes to monitoring, ping checks of servers, DNS or IP addresses are ideally accompanied by regular uptime checks. This provides better visibility into functionality of monitored services.

When dealing with public websites SSL certificate checks and domain expiration monitoring is recommended to prevent any security issues or loss of valuable business assets.

How to start monitoring ping in 2 minutes with Better Uptime?

Better Uptime is an infrastructure monitoring tool that offers reliable ping monitoring. Here is how to get notified whenever an IP address becomes unavailable (doesn't respond to ping).

  • Once signed up, head to Monitors → Create monitor
  • Change Alert us when the host above selection to Doesn't respond to ping
  • Enter your IP address in the monitor text field, let’s make it 1.1.1.1 for example
  • Select the way how you want to get alerted, be it a phone call, Slack notification or an email
  • Click create monitor

For more information, explore Better Uptime docs.

Check Uptime, Ping, Ports, SSL and more.
Get Slack, SMS and phone incident alerts.
Easy on-call duty scheduling.
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