Free Network Mapping Software
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Free Network Mapping Software

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By: Nihad Hassan
April 6, 2021

As the digital transformation revolution moves steadily to occupy all life aspects, human dependence on technology increases. Technology becomes an integral part of everyday life. We know we are using technology whenever we use a mobile phone, a laptop, a tablet, or other computing devices to work, to study, to socialize, to shop and for entertainment, and online communications. However, few of us know how these devices connect us to the different services in cyberspace.

Computer networks are considered the backbone of IT communication; whether wired or wireless, computer networks are used differently and for different purposes. A computer network can be defined in simple terms as computers connected to facilitate information sharing.

Throughout human history, maps were always perceived as the best tool to communicate ideas in a simplified manner. In old times, maps and other visual representation objects were drawn on paper and other materials (e.g., animal skins or engraved on stone or wood). However, after computer technology advanced, special computer programs were invented to draw maps on screens; this was a big move to utilize digital solutions in visual representation to all work fields.

IT administrators and network engineers draw a map of their network to see how everything is connected in reality. This helps them visualize connections between different devices (e.g., servers, routers, modems, switches, firewalls, workstations, and internet of things (IoT) devices). The network map helps IT administrators troubleshoot networking problems, decide the type and number of networking security appliances needed to protect the network, and see how data flows across from one segment to another.

Organizations of all sizes and industries utilize computer networks. For example, government and large enterprise networks are considerably big. A single network may contain thousands of interconnected devices. Thus, having a visual representation of all connected devices across a computer network becomes essential to avoid downtime, ensure everything is functioning as expected, and protect your network from various cyber threats.

Fortunately, network engineers do not need to draw their network maps manually as they used to do in the past. Today's specialized software can automatically detect connected computing devices in a short time. This article will shed light on the three most popular network mapping tools.

What is network mapping software?

In the past, network engineers used to visualize their networks on paper. This was a daunting task and required a considerable amount of time to finish, and is prone to errors. The network engineer has to update the map whenever a new device is added to the network.

A network mapping software solved this problem. By utilizing such an application, network engineers can draw a complete map of all connected devices on their networks without any hassle. The network mapping application works by sending a small packet of data across the network to collect real-time data about every hardware and software piece across the network, in addition to discovering the relationships between interconnected devices.

Top three free network mapping software

Nmap (Network Mapper) Nmap (see Figure 1) is a free and open-source program for network discovery and security auditing. Nmap is not just used for network mapping; it is used widely by the security world to conduct various security and auditing tasks such as network inventory, managing service upgrade schedules, and monitoring host or service uptime. Nmap utilizes the raw IP packets technique to discover all hosts available on the network, along with their running services (application name and version), type of operating systems (and OS versions), and the type of packet filters/firewalls already in use. Nmap was designed to scan large computer networks. However, it also works against single hosts. Nmap runs on all major computer operating systems like: Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. alt_text Figure 1 - Nmap program

Cacti Cacti (see Figure 2) is a comprehensive network graphing solution that utilizes the RRDTool's data storage and graphing functionality. It comes equipped with many features; the following are a few of them:

  • Wide support for all RRDTool's graph item types such as AREA, STACK, LINE, GPRINT, and COMMENT.
  • Supports more than one data source for RRD files and can utilize an RRD file stored anywhere on the local file system.
  • Built-in SNMP support.
  • Graph templates.
  • Graph display.
  • Rich user management allows a system administrator to create users and assign different permissions to the Cacti interface. alt_text Figure 2 - Cacti user interface

NetworkMaps Another free and open-source network mapping software for mapping computer networks in real-time. NetworkMaps (see Figure 3) has many rich features, following are some of them:

  1. Edit network diagrams on a 3D space.
  2. Allow multiple people to work on the same diagram simultaneously.
  3. Web-based interface, so you can utilize it using your favorite web browser.
  4. Separate between physical and logical network diagrams, namely L2 and L3 diagrams.
  5. Adopt client-server mode. Hence, the program is installed on a server. Clients can access it from anywhere as long as HTTP or HTTPS access is enabled.
  6. Cross platforms - It works on Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Android, or IOS devices. You only need a web browser to access it. alt_text Figure 3 - NetworkMaps - source: https://www.networkmaps.org

Summary

Computer networks continue to grow in complexity and size. Utilizing network mapping programs becomes essential to have complete visibility of all existing devices across your network and to perform other networking security and troubleshooting tasks.

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