Screenshot of Wireshark network protocol analyzer
Screenshot of Wireshark network protocol analyzer

A packet analyzer, also known as packet sniffer, protocol analyzer, or network analyzer,[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] is a computer program or computer hardware such as a packet capture appliance, that can intercept and log traffic that passes over a computer network or part of a network.[8] Packet capture is the process of intercepting and logging traffic. As data streams flow across the network, the analyzer captures each packet and, if needed, decodes the packet's raw data, showing the values of various fields in the packet, and analyzes its content according to the appropriate RFC or other specifications.

A packet analyzer used for intercepting traffic on wireless networks is known as a wireless analyzer or WiFi analyzer. While a packet analyzer can also be referred to as a network analyzer or protocol analyzer these terms can also have other meanings. Protocol analyzer can technically be a broader, more general class that includes packet analyzers/sniffers.[9] However, the terms are frequently used interchangeably.[10]


On wired shared-medium networks, such as Ethernet, Token Ring, and FDDI, depending on the network structure (hub or switch),[11][a] it may be possible to capture all traffic on the network from a single machine. On modern networks, traffic can be captured using a network switch using port mirroring, which mirrors all packets that pass through designated ports of the switch to another port, if the switch supports port mirroring. A network tap is an even more reliable solution than to use a monitoring port since taps are less likely to drop packets during high traffic load.

On wireless LANs, traffic can be captured on one channel at a time, or by using multiple adapters, on several channels simultaneously.

On wired broadcast and wireless LANs, to capture unicast traffic between other machines, the network adapter capturing the traffic must be in promiscuous mode. On wireless LANs, even if the adapter is in promiscuous mode, packets not for the service set the adapter is configured for are usually ignored. To see those packets, the adapter must be in monitor mode.[citation needed] No special provisions are required to capture multicast traffic to a multicast group the packet analyzer is already monitoring, or broadcast traffic.

When traffic is captured, either the entire contents of packets or just the headers are recorded. Recording just headers reduces storage requirements, and avoids some privacy legal issues, yet often provides sufficient information to diagnose problems.

Captured information is decoded from raw digital form into a human-readable format that lets engineers review exchanged information. Protocol analyzers vary in their abilities to display and analyze data.

Some protocol analyzers can also generate traffic. These can act as protocol testers. Such testers generate protocol-correct traffic for functional testing, and may also have the ability to deliberately introduce errors to test the device under test's ability to handle errors.[citation needed]

Protocol analyzers can also be hardware-based, either in probe format or, as is increasingly common, combined with a disk array. These devices record packets or packet headers to a disk array.


Packet analyzers can:

Packet capture can be used to fulfill a warrant from a law enforcement agency to wiretap all network traffic generated by an individual. Internet service providers and VoIP providers in the United States must comply with Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act regulations. Using packet capture and storage, telecommunications carriers can provide the legally required secure and separate access to targeted network traffic and can use the same device for internal security purposes. Collecting data from a carrier system without a warrant is illegal due to laws about interception. By using end-to-end encryption, communications can be kept confidential from telecommunication carriers and legal authorities.

Notable packet analyzers

For a more comprehensive list, see Comparison of packet analyzers.

See also


  1. ^ Some methods avoid traffic narrowing by switches to gain access to traffic from other systems on the network (e.g., ARP spoofing).


  1. ^ Chapple, Mike; Stewart, James Michael; Gibson, Darril (2018). (ISC)2 CISSP Certified Information Systems Security Professional Official Study Guide. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-119-47587-3. A sniffer (also called a packet analyzer or protocol analyzer) is a software application that captures traffic traveling over the network.
  2. ^ Rakibul, Hoque, Md; Edward, Bashaw, R. (2020). Cross-Border E-Commerce Marketing and Management. IGI Global. p. 186. ISBN 978-1-7998-5824-9. Packet Sniffing: It is also known as packet analyzer, protocol analyzer
  3. ^ Trost, Ryan (2009). Practical Intrusion Analysis: Prevention and Detection for the Twenty-First Century: Prevention and Detection for the Twenty-First Century. Pearson Education. ISBN 978-0-321-59188-3. A packet sniffer (also known as a packet analyzer, protocol analyzer, or networkanalyzer) monitors network traffic
  4. ^ Cyber Law, Privacy, and Security: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications. IGI Global. 2019. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-5225-8898-6. Packet Sniffing: A packet analyzer, also called as a network analyzer, protocol analyzer or packet sniffer
  5. ^ Asrodia, Pallavi; Patel, Hemlata (2012). "Analysis of Various Packet Sniffing Tools for Network Monitoring and Analysis". International Journal of Electrical, Electronics and Computer Engineering: 55. CiteSeerX ISSN 2277-2626. Packet Sniffing... also known as Network or Protocol Analyzer or Ethernet Sniffer
  6. ^ "What is a Packet Sniffer?". 2018.
  7. ^ "Definition of network analyzer". PCMAG.
  8. ^ Kevin J. Connolly (2003). Law of Internet Security and Privacy. Aspen Publishers. p. 131. ISBN 978-0-7355-4273-0.
  9. ^ Sikos, Leslie F. (2020). "Packet analysis for network forensics: A comprehensive survey". Forensic Science International: Digital Investigation. 32: 200892. doi:10.1016/j.fsidi.2019.200892. ISSN 2666-2817. S2CID 212863330. Those protocol analyzers that are designed for packet analysis are called packet analyzers (packet sniffers, sometimes network analyzers).
  10. ^ Poulton, Don (2012). MCTS 70-642 Cert Guide: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring. Pearson Education. ISBN 978-0-13-280216-1. protocol analyzer. Also known as a network analyzer or packet analyzer, a protocol analyzer is a hardware device or software program that enables you to capture, store, and analyze each packet that crosses your network
  11. ^ "Network Segment Definition". Retrieved January 14, 2016.