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Education Networking Linux

Visual Network Simulator To Teach Basic Networking? 138

unteer writes "I am a US Peace Corps volunteer currently teaching a computer technician course at a technical college in Kenya. My students have all completed the Kenyan equivalent of high school and have been accepted into a program where they give a year of nation-building non-military service in return for a technical education. My students' course load includes an introduction to computer networking, and this is where my problem lies. Do any of you know of a visual network simulator that can create an interactive network map that allows me, the instructor, to manipulate various components of a network, including the physical media, routing configuration, and which applications are being used to submit data? An example would be to have a visual of the differences between mail traffic and web traffic, and be able to show how the configuration of a wireless network might be different from a wired network. I know this may seem silly, but visuals of all this are critical to getting ideas across. It doesn't even have to be technically accurate, but rather just pictorially accurate, possibly just labeling the various components correctly. Also, it would be highly preferable if it ran on Linux, as I teach using FOSS only."
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Visual Network Simulator To Teach Basic Networking?

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  • Cisco Packet Tracer (Score:5, Informative)

    by MikeK7 ( 1826472 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:04AM (#32467176)
    The idea is not silly at all. When I did a Networking Fundamentals subject, we used Cisco Packet Tracer to do most of what you mentioned above. Unfortunately, it isn't exactly FOSS.
    • by Ruede ( 824831 )
      i thought of it too when i read the article. should do good ^^
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I believe that you have to be a member of Cisco Academy to use Packet Tracer - typical Cisco licensing agreement.

        • Could be. It was a valuable asset when I got my CCNA cert.

        • you do but, perhaps, he could talk to cisco about getting academy status for cheap or free? might be good PR for them. packet tracer is an excellent tool for the novice networker, even though its not a full replacement for hands on experience, its a damn decent start.

          • One of the biggest advantages to using Free software for education is being able to have the students set up the labs at home.

    • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) * on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:50AM (#32467332) Homepage
      We use CNET [], it lets you simulate any layer of a network stack, but really its better for teaching low-level networking by getting you to recreate a the OSI stack, rather than teaching you how to configure this or that type of node/router.

      If you want you can see frames and acks between this and that node as they travel across the various links needed to reach the final point, a thorough way to visualize what's going on, but not the fastest way to teach someone how to use ifconfig or configure a cisco router.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        ...written by my Comp-Sci lecturer the incomparable Mr Chris McDonald!

      • What's this? A useful and informative actual *answer* to an "Ask Slashdot" question? Not just some silly comment which spawns a huge thread with no actual answers at all?


    • I'd second this program, it's very good-- not FOSS, but it's also Linux-compatible. It's a very good program, I used it while taking networking in school (cisco's curriculum)
    • GNS3 / Dynamips (Score:5, Informative)

      by WML MUNSON ( 895262 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @05:27AM (#32467728)
      GNS3 [] is OSS. It runs best on a system with lots of RAM and a multi-core processor.

      All you need beyond the initial download is a router image file (Cisco 7200, etc).

      • by Comen ( 321331 )

        I have played with Dynamips before a couple years ago, and was wondering when someone would write a nice GUI for it, this is pretty awsome, this is exactly what the poster needs to use.

      • To say that it needs a lot of RAM and a multi-core processor is an understatement. I ran it on a somewhat high-end quad-core PC with 8Gb of RAM and it brought my system to a grinding halt whenever I tried to add more than five devices. I assume that's because it uses qemu to to emulate the routers' non-x86 processors and, as most are probably aware, emulation is a grossly inefficient way to do virtualization.

        I'm sure there are better commercial options out there, but I agree that for a FOSS option, GNS3 i

      • by soppsa ( 1797376 )
        Too bad a router image file is not OSS...
    • we use it on the networks class. nice one.
    • by nzwasp ( 1826456 )

      The idea is not silly at all. When I did a Networking Fundamentals subject, we used Cisco Packet Tracer to do most of what you mentioned above. Unfortunately, it isn't exactly FOSS.

      You can run Packet Tracer through WINE

    • by MattBD ( 1157291 )
      I did the same course and used that. It was an interesting way to learn about networking. I'd love to find something similar that was free to use.
  • Boson? (Score:5, Informative)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:05AM (#32467180) Journal
    There's a program from Boson(I think, not sure if the spelling is correct) that does this sort of thing. You drag and drop icons of computers, switches, routers, etc, and draw lines between them. It then simulates this network. You can see the various packets, such as ARP packets, routing protocol packets, etc, and can examine the various header bits and bytes. We used it in the network lab at the school I attended. I'm pretty sure it wasn't open source, though.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Boson NetSim Simulation software was designed specifically for that purpose. I used it couple years ago and i do highly recommend it. It also has a lot of other networking aid features.
      the url

  • Visual Netkit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:13AM (#32467202)

    The Visual Netkit project may interest you.

  • by gabort ( 1826542 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:15AM (#32467206)
    Hi, I would advise to try OMNeT++ it is widely used at various universities. The source code is open, and you can use it for free for non-profit and academic purposes. You can make it as simple, or as complicated as you like. Simulations can be explored live, and there is a useful animation and sequence chart feature that will make complex processes easier to communicate and understand. some links to look at: main community page. This walkthrough of the INET Framework might actually be useful: [] To get a feel for the whole thing, I suggest you check out some of the videos (for example, the one titled "Using the IDE" from here: [] Or get some working demos (still the old version, but the idea is the same) from here: [] I hope that helps.
    • by gabort ( 1826542 )
      Here is a concrete example. Do you think this could be useful? []
    • by QaDN ( 538361 )

      Hi, I would advise to try OMNeT++ it is widely used at various universities. The source code is open, and you can use it for free for non-profit and academic purposes.

      You can make it as simple, or as complicated as you like. Simulations can be explored live, and there is a useful animation and sequence chart feature that will make complex processes easier to communicate and understand.

      Way, way back when I was an CS undergrad the networking course used OMNeT++. Even though we hadn't done anything in C++ before it was quite easily usable for our stuff.
      (We had to design a simple network protocol for an extremely unreliable short-range wireless network (eyesnodes). Model this in OMNeT++ and then implement it).

  • Well... (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by djupedal ( 584558 )
    Few years back, someone found out that a certain plant grows branches and leaves identical to network simulation maps. Go organic. Walk outside and study ivy. []
  • try GNS3 (Score:5, Informative)

    by bhenson ( 1231744 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:18AM (#32467224) Homepage Journal
    I use GNS3 located at [] and it works very well and is very easy to learn and teach others to ues
    • If you want to do GNS3 legally you are going to have to shell out some cash though. It uses actual cisco firmware. If you are in the peace corp in Kenya and don't care the firmware is easy to find online.

  • OPNET (Score:4, Interesting)

    by radradrobotank ( 1742836 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:22AM (#32467236)

    The academic version is free. Unfortunately OPNET is Windows only.

    OPNET and Wireshark make for some very informative lab work.

    URL to some labwork used by various universities: []

    (I'm not sure where these labs came from, I think from a book. My networks lecturer used them as lab work for a 2nd/3rd year network course)

  • You have a problem (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mysidia ( 191772 )

    Also, it would be highly preferable if it ran on Linux, as I teach using FOSS only."

    You are sacrificing your effectiveness as a teacher, and potentially failing to help your students learn, in the name of supporting FOSS?

    Look.. I like FOSS, when available and when the most suited to the task, it's great.

    I believe in the classroom, you should be using the most effective instructional tools available, not ones whose licensing model you personally prefer

    Of course if the Non-FOSS options' license mode

    • by Luke has no name ( 1423139 ) <> on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:39AM (#32467282)

      I agree he might have to stick with a pencil and paper, but the question is well worth asking. GNS3 is free, but I thought it required non-free components to be useful (aka Cisco IOS isos or something).

      He might require FOSS not just for philosophical reasons, but because he's a VOLUNTEER in KENYA. I doubt the budget is in the triple digits.

      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        GNS3 is not an open source solution, because, yes, Cisco IOS images are required to make it work. Of course dynamips itself and GNS contain open code, however, you would have to write a clone of IOS for them to be useful given a requirement that you use only FOSS.

        There is no ready-made network simulation package that meets the I teach using FOSS only. rule.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Do we really wanna teach Kenyans about the internet? Look how well the Nigerians have done with such knowledge... And to counter your sig, I'm a 140k+ sysadmin without a diploma or a bookshelf, and I'm damn good at my job.
    • WE have a problem (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Bob Esponja ( 1416343 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @02:41AM (#32467292)
      Sorry, but if we need proprietary tech to have access to knowledge, he doesn't. WE HAVE THE PROBLEM, specially in educational environment like this.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mysidia ( 191772 )

        What do you mean by that?

        Our world is full of proprietary technology.

        Including things as basic as writing utensils. Ink cartridge designs are often proprietary, and the manufacturers don't release manufacturing specifications.

        Does that mean Ink pens should not be used in a classroom, I think not?

        It is obvious from the description that the design of the simulator itself would not be the subject of the class.

        Teaching introductory network classes does not involve teaching students anything about s

        • Use proprietary technology isn't the problem by self. Teach at schools proprietary technologies as the only way to learn is the real problem. In my country (Spain) Tech Enterprises uses schools like academies to perpetuate their products and the result is monopolies and the end, monopoly=abuse Teach at public schools, for example, only "cisco IOS" or "CDP" is good for Cisco, but is bad for kids and other rival companies. Kids grow-up, finds jobs in companies and buy tools and tech to work. What company ha
        • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @07:12AM (#32467904) Journal

          Seriously? What the fuck are you talking about? Pens are proprietary?

          Firstly, pretty much any pen you can buy will work with any paper you can buy. There is no vendor lockin. You can change pens HALF WAY THROUGH A WORD and it will have no effect. Secondly. Refillable pens (eg retractable pencils and fountain pens) will accept refills from any manufacturer. That's even less proprietary! You can even refill them yourself! I whiled away some happy hours refilling cheap fountain pen cartridges with bleach to make erasers when I was in school. You can also make your own ink if you really wish and use that. It is not too hard. You can also make your own pens, too. It is also not very hard. And you can make your own paper.

          The technology for all these things is well understood and widely, openly known, and far too old to be covered by patents[*]. You can be easily go into business to make them for yourself. Of course, that does not mean it is trivial, but that is irrelevant.

          Just because you're not personally able or inclined to does not make it proprietary.

          [*]Maybe some fancy new pens are patented, but the kind of biros I usually use seem indistinguishable from the ones I was using 25 years ago.

          • I find it ironic that in your talk about the "openness" of pens, you use the word "biro", which is a specific brand of pen. This implies that the Biro brand has become so ingrained in your thoughts that you use it to refer to all pens in general, like Kleenex, Band-Aid, Jello, etc.
          • by unteer ( 1095439 )
            Don't confused proprietary and industry-standardized. Yes, pens can inter-operate, but it is not because the inherent nature of a pen is, "open," in a business sense. In fact, some pen designs have patents on them, the essence of proprietary. What you are talking about are industry-standards, where manufacturers come together and agree upon the best way for them (or at least a specific subset of them) can compete and still make money while not focusing on brand lock-in. As a result you get specific stan
    • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @06:41AM (#32467862) Homepage

      I don't think he said "I refuse to use non-Foss tools", I think it's more "I currently only use FOSS tools". This, because he said it should run on Linux preferably, which means he's willing to use Windows if the tool needs it.

    • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @07:48AM (#32467976)

      He mentioned "preferable", perhaps because Free solutions can be expanded Freely. His students can have personal copies of ALL the software he uses and spread it legally as they teach others.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      You act like the kids are paying for a univerisity education and the OP is shorting them because he hates Windows. News flash: he is a *volunteer* in the Peace Corps. He's teaching in Kenya. That would be in Africa, bordering coutries like Ethopia and Somalia. Do you think it's possible that he's using FOSS to maximize his budget?
      • by mysidia ( 191772 )

        That's what it sounds like when someone says they have a policy of teaching using only FOSS tools. If the FOSS tools are just as good or better for instructional purposes as the Non-FOSS tools, that's great.

        However, you don't hand students an Abacus to use in a Calculus class, instead of a calculator, just because you the instructor prefer non-electronic devices.

        In teaching about computer network, and making graphical simulations, however, the FOSS tools would have a lot of catching up to do.

        As I m

    • by unteer ( 1095439 )
      You make a perfectly good point, and though I make decisions in my own computing life based on principles, I am not morally opposed to proprietary solutions either in my personal life or when making decisions for other computing situations. However, as another commenter pointed out when replying to your post, I am a volunteer working in Kenya. Individuals may take those words for however they like, and this post is not an argument on what we all think those words mean, but the long story short is that for
  • GINI (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 05, 2010 @03:04AM (#32467382)

    GINI (GINI is not Internet) [] is a toolkit for creating virtual micro Internets for teaching and learning computer networks. It will run on both Linux and Windows.

  • ns2 / nam (Score:5, Informative)

    by happylight ( 600739 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @03:15AM (#32467406)
    Not sure if it's exactly what you want but check out ns2 [] / nam []. It's a pretty good network simulator. It's open source and runs on linux.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      NS2 is what we use at the University of Leuven (Belgium). It can be scripted, so it is very good for simulations of "Suppose a storm blows out cables 1, 4, and 6. What happens?". It can simulate UDP and TCP traffic, it can simulate RIP and BGP routing protocols as well.

  • why simulate? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by andy753421 ( 850820 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @03:29AM (#32467444) Homepage
    I assume you have some lab computers that are already part of a network, can't you just install wireshark on them and use the existing network? You won't be able to teach everything, but you can probably cover a lot of it that way. Learning tends to be easier for me when I'm looking at the actual thing anyway. If you trust them with root access (or have automatic restores) they can experiment with different configurations too.
    • by unteer ( 1095439 )
      That is the tricky part about assumptions in the developing world, they don't always hold accurate. I have 24 gorgeous, brand new, Lenovo computers, courtesy of the Chinese government (trying to make trade inroads into Africa), but I have no network. I had a small network set up running a home router and a 24-port switch, purchased using the normal requisition process at my institution (Peace Corps volunteers are strongly encouraged not to use their own money, a point to which I strong adhere), but we los
  • CORE (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 05, 2010 @03:31AM (#32467460)

    Take a look at CORE ( its open source and works on Linux/BSD

  • Custom machines? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tagno25 ( 1518033 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @03:44AM (#32467516)
    Is there one that I can load Windows, Linux, BSD, and any other system on? That can also emulate other CPUs?
    I would like to be able to do something similar to this [] XKCD, but with random software and routers.
    • GNS3 lets you tie in external systems via ethernet interfaces as well as run virtual machines.

      I am using a couple of network lab systems to simulate a WAN. GNS3 is running on one of them, VMWare is running on the other. I am tying the two together via a switch using VLANs to isolate the traffic. This way I can simulate a routed wan with a server on one end a client on the other. The only piece that I am missing, and am planning on acquiring, is a system that lets me introduce additional latency, jitter,

  • Visuals are fine, and certainly useful for teaching generally, and illustrating broad concepts specifically.

    I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that you don't underestimate the value of physical objects. There's something to be said for physical wires and connections. It's a truism to say that "hands on experience" is often the best method for learning: a user plugging in a network cable and configuring things by typing in a terminal before using it to view or analyse network traffic is about as hands

    • Don't forget to ask US corps for donations of used equipment. The experience of getting up systems from parts and networking them is valuable.

      Corporate types seeing this thread feel free to offer some up for that tax-deductable love. :)

  • I agree with happylight . network simulator is i think what you want . It includes utility where you can visualise the data packets sent from computer nodes . You can also write simple scripts to adjust network settings such as capacity of link etc . It also demonstrates the protocols . we have used it in our computer network course at college . Find more at this link : [] .
  • youtube vids (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Youtube has some useful videos to simulate networking

  • some programs (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 05, 2010 @04:54AM (#32467680)

    * ns2: [] (GPL)
    * Wide Area Network Emulator []|WANem (GPL)

  • Imunes (Score:2, Informative)

    I've used something called Imunes in the past with great success. It runs on FreeBSD as I recall, and is the output from an academic project somewhere. It will run happily in vmware, interacting perfectly with vmware virtual switches and physical NICs in your machine. You can create hubs, switches, routers and hosts inside the environment, hook them up with point to point links, set bandwitdth and loss parameters on those links, etc. Routers can do bgp and ospf via OSS implementations (zebra/quagga). Th
    • Indeed -- what he said.

      At university (a sub-university entity called "faculty"), in our "Communication Networks" class as well as "Network Programming" class, we used in-house developed IMUNES []. Link appears to be dead at the moment, probably because of maintenance being done in the building. I'll try to summarize, though, and you can try using Google's cache.

      I'm not sure if it's open source, but I believe it is free. It's a FreeBSD mini-distro that uses an X11 piece of software to allow you to graphical
    • Replying to my own post - found current working links:- [] is the project homepage. This link - [] - talks about the network stack magic they use.
  • GNS3 [] is OSS. It runs best on a system with lots of RAM and a multi-core processor.

    All you need beyond the initial download is a router image file (Cisco 7200, etc).

  • cloonix FTW (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What about cloonix?
    Take a quick look at the screenshots:

  • by Xolotl ( 675282 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @06:34AM (#32467850) Journal

    I had a similar problem finding ways to teach basic networking such as addresses and masks and routing to non-computing students. Having looked into NS2 and similar things and finding them powerful but way too complicated (for the student's level), I settled on Clack:

    Clack Graphical Router Project []

    It's written in Java, graphical and easy to use and does quite well at showing many of the important things. You can also extend it yourself if necessary (open source).

  • As someone working as a Network Engineer I would recommend you look at GNS3 since you can install it via sources or via a deb package, you already have the address in other post in this thread. The nice thing about GNS is that if you build the network and installe the images (that is the trouble part) you need actual cisco images, you might be able to obtain them for educational purposes, and why not approach Cisco to ask. The worst thing you could get is a no on the other hand you might end up with a syst
  • Go with Cicso Packet Tracer. As someone pointed out It isn't open source, but there is a linux version. Its most recent version is high quality and extremely functional. When I studied for my CCNA, I used this software alot because in certain cases it provided the same learning without the hassle of physical equipment. oh yea, the most important thing is that it is free.
  • version is free. Unfortunately OPNET is Windows only []
  • by holiggan ( 522846 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @07:00AM (#32467886)

    ... but I just love "Warriors of the Net". []

    It gives a pretty good idea on how networking works, and some of the visual metaphors are quite awesome.

  • Clownix ? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why not ? you can build a full network graphicaly and log on each machine to configure them

  • Some ten ( 10 ) years ago, I collaborated in the development of Visualis, a network topology manager written in Java. It has since been acquired by BMC, and now does a lot more. It should be possible to feed it with a simulated network, rather than having it discover an actual one. Have a look here: [] There is a free community download that may suit your needs. Contact me if you need more info. Note: this is not an ad.
  • by Eharley ( 214725 ) on Saturday June 05, 2010 @08:36AM (#32468124)

    We used a Stanford project called Clack in my Networking and Internet Protocols class. We could setup virtual networks and visualize traffic. The meat was implementing a virtual router in software and using that to route traffic in the virtual network.

    Clack Homepage: []

    Part of the Virtual Network System []

  • You can get digital artwork of many network hardware components in Visio or Omnigraffle format then extract the artwork files Then print them out and attach then to magnetic vinyl at a large size. Now you can illustrate whatever you need on a magnetized whiteboard. Or you could use corkboard and string.

    Not sure about the licenses but they are free to download. Search online for .gstencil files (or go to []

  • Between VirtualBox ( and Vyatta ( you can pretty much (si/e)mulate anything networking. VirtualBox is of course virtualization software and Vyatta is an x86 open routing platform. Vyatta's command syntax is very similar to CISCO and anything you can do with a CISCO router (and to some extent, CISCO's security devices...) you can do with Vyatta. Vyatta is a custom linux distro with full blown routing capabilities. It can also serve as a client if needed. I often have to simu
  • Chalk. Chalkboard. 'nuf Said.
  • If you have a machine which acts as a router to the desktops in the lab (or just a machine or 2) and you have Etherape running it will shop them what is happing. I did notice it doesn't show IPv6 yet, but it could just be a setting.

    As the "warriors of the net" these aren't to bad either: [] []

  • If you need pretty pictures for the students to learn networking, I think you have some more basic problems (English, math, logic) to worry about.

    • If you think most people can learn networking without pictures or diagrams, I think you should stop assuming things about the way people learn.
  • [] "Hownetworks" is pretty cool, but you will still be left with the problem of creating a very sterile environment. If you try teaching somebody by watching live traffic in an office or school network there will be so much noise that it will probably confuse the students. I tried looking for an updated version of the app, but could not find one...
  • The FILIUS network simulator [] sounds like it could be helpful. The homepage [] (and last time I checked, the program itself!) is unfortunately in German.
  • Sounds like this might qualify: []
  • Your requirements are simple enough that I wonder why you don't just use a whiteboard (or chalkboard or whatever). Unless you want all kind of fancy graphics/point 'n' click manipulation, you could probably sketch a network in seconds, and add traffic, etc. in just a few more. Use colors.
    If you really need the pretty graphics, you could get by with just something like the GIMP or Inkscape, manipulating representations of your hardware.
    • by unteer ( 1095439 )
      I do use a whiteboard, and will continue to do so even if I begin using a simulator. Part of the problem is that my students have NO experience with a computer as is, and so I really want to try and maximize the time they are simply interacting with one. There is too much, "sit and listen and look at the whiteboard," and it's getting to the point where they need to be clicking with the mouse (to practice their mouse skills), and learning at their own pace (to help combat issues we have with language diff
  • I just wanted to thank all of you for your help. This was my first Ask Slashdot, and though I have been a reader for many years, I have never contributed. The trolling in the responses was very minimal (and only offensive in one post, which others didn't even reply to!), and for that I am appreciative, but better yet, there have been some excellent responses and points of discussion made. I tried to respond and help clarify my own position where appropriate, and I wish I could attach a screenshot of all
  • If you think you can go with virtualization in place of simulation, take a look at Virtual NetManager []. It is a visual tool to build virtual networks on a single box using VDE and Qemu/KVM. Every single device (switches, cables, routers and boxes) can be virtualized and controlled from the interface. Get documentation and screenshots here [].
  • My Networking teachers' jobs! haha just kidding thanks Mr Straccione.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer