Because most problems have a simple cause, developing a clear idea of the problem often provides the solution. Unfortunately, this is not always true, so in this section we begin to discuss the tools that can help you attack the most intractable problems. Many diagnostic tools are available, ranging from commercial systems with specialized hardware and software that may cost thousands of dollars, to free software that is available from the Internet. Many software tools are provided with your UNIX system. You should also keep some hardware tools handy.
To maintain the network's equipment and wiring you need some simple hand tools. A pair of needle-nose pliers and a few screwdrivers may be sufficient, but you may also need specialized tools. For example, attaching RJ45 connectors to Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) cable requires special crimping tools. It is usually easiest to buy a ready-made network maintenance toolkit from your cable vendor.
A full-featured cable tester is also useful. Modern cable testers are small hand-held units with a keypad and LCD display that test both thinnet or UTP cable. Tests are selected from the keyboard and results are displayed on the LCD screen. It is not necessary to interpret the results because the unit does that for you and displays the error condition in a simple text message. For example, a cable test might produce the message "Short at 74 feet." This tells you that the cable is shorted 74 feet away from the tester. What could be simpler? The proper test tools make it easier to locate, and therefore fix, cable problems.
A laptop computer can be a most useful piece of test equipment when properly configured. Install TCP/IP software on the laptop. Take it to the location where the user reports a network problem. Disconnect the Ethernet cable from the back of the user's system and attach it to the laptop. Configure the laptop with an appropriate address for the user's subnet and reboot it. Then ping various systems on the network and attach to one of the user's servers. If everything works, the fault is probably in the user's computer. The user trusts this test because it demonstrates something she does every day. She will have more confidence in the laptop than an unidentifiable piece of test equipment displaying the message "No faults found." If the test fails, the fault is probably in the network equipment or wiring. That's the time to bring out the cable tester.
Another advantage of using a laptop as a piece of test equipment is its inherent versatility. It runs a wide variety of test, diagnostic, and management software. Install UNIX on the laptop and run the software discussed in the rest of this chapter from your desktop or your laptop.
This book emphasizes free or "built-in" software diagnostic tools that run on UNIX systems. The software tools used in this chapter, and many more, are described in RFC 1470, FYI on a Network Management Tool Catalog: Tools for Monitoring and Debugging TCP/IP Internets and Interconnected Devices . A catchy title, and a very useful RFC! The tools listed in that catalog and discussed in this book are: