Reader favorites: 10 great free network tools

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

Ten great free network management tools were recently showcased. Readers responded with some of their own favorites, so I'm going to take a look at those tools and report on their capabilities and usage from my perspective as an experienced network manager.

But first, let's address security. Readers mentioned the possible security implications of downloading free tools, which is a valid concern. What's to stop a coder from producing a neat network administration tool that secretly sends information about your network to a collection point for exploitation at a later date?

That's why it's a good idea to only download applications from valid sites -- such as SnapFiles.com and Download.com -- that test applications before releasing them -- or from open-source sites such as SourceForge.net. Sometimes, such as in the case of Multi Router Traffic Grapher, the application is so widely used that it can be assumed that it's safe simply by virtue of its popularity; if the tool had a problem, someone would have found it.

No matter what, never install an application that has the ability to cut into and examine your network without understanding what it does and doesn't do. Some applications ask you to enter an administrative username and password or a Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) community name so they can probe deeper into certain devices. Others aggressively scan the network to the point where security devices -- and other administrators -- may detect the scan and classify it as an attack. Try these in a safe environment (test network or DMZ) and use a free sniffer like Wireshark to verify what the application is doing before deploying it in a production environment.

Also, some readers noted that "freeware" applications aren't always completely free. Some applications are open source and designed as part of a greater good, which elicits input from users to make the applications better. In the case of ZipTie, that would mean plug-ins for currently unsupported network equipment. Other freeware applications are self-supporting via ad sales. Other freeware vendors hope that if you like their free version, you'll purchase the "platinum" version with bells and whistles and the ability to slice bread.

So with those caveats in mind, let's take a look at readers' favorite free network tools.

Note that I only include Windows tools. Some readers suggested Linux tools, but not everyone can afford the time to learn Linux just to evaluate a useful tool. Also, some of these tools, such as Nessus, can run on both Linux and other operating systems. And if you're really into Linux, you can read my previous article "Linux primer for networkers."

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Greg Schaffer

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?