A network mapper is a network tool that lets you visualize the networks, connected devices, and their connections in a graphic matter. You will be able to see each connection, understand the system as a whole, and find bottlenecking issues.
Network mapper is a utility tool for network administrators that helps them understand and manage the complete network, all the relationships between the devices.
Why do we need to create a map of a network?
Maybe you are thinking, do I really need to create a whole map of my network? The answer is almost every time yes. If you have a really small network, and you personally manage it, you might be ok at the moment. But with a bit of an increase in the number of connected devices, this can get out of hand very quickly. You need the blueprints, the scheme of all the computers and cables. How do they connect to the server? How many servers are there? Permissions and restrictions?
A network mapper software can help you with all of the above questions. It is a network tool for graphical illustration of your network.
Network mapper purpose
Depending on which software exactly you are using, you can get visual diagrams, detect the topology of the networks, used protocols, open connections, and much more.
The information that you gather serves you for:
• Maintenance: It can show you the whole network and you can manage it better.
• Troubleshooting: It can show weak spots and you can use other network tools to further diagnose the problem.
• Diagnostics: Depending on the software, you can spot a bottlenecking and resolve it.
• Plan: Visualizing the whole network can help you plan future expansions. You can see which router needs to be changed or if you need to put extra routers or additional servers on the network.
Network mapping techniques
The most popular network mapping techniques are 3 – routing analysis, active probing, and SNMP approach.
1. Routing analysis uses the data from the routers to build a network map. It completely trusts them with information about the devices.
2. Active probing uses tools like traceroute, ping, dig, etc. to actively check all the connected devices, and based on the responses, it creates the network map.
3. SNMP approach uses the SNMP protocols of many routers, modems, switches, servers, and more. It is similar to the first technique, but it is unified between the devices and has more statistics.
3 Free and Open Source Network Mapping Software
Of course, you can create a map of a small network even in basic software. If you have just a few devices on the network, you can create a scheme on Microsoft Visio. However, in case of a bigger network, you’ll need dynamic maps that can be modified easily.
Nmap is a great network mapper. You can use it on many different OSes including various Linux distros, Windows 10, macOS, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, IRIX, and more. There is also a portable version that you can that you can use from a flash drive. Nmap uses different mapping techniques and can scan many ports and different protocols (TCP & UDP).
Cacti is a PHP-based software that uses the SNMP technique for network mapping. It works well for small and large networks. Some of the advantages include automatic network discovery, graphs preview for different processes, grouping for maps, and graphs.
LibreNMS is another great network tool that servers as a network mapper with an auto-discovery function. It has an API integration, you can set alerts for different criteria and get notifications, a billing system that can define prices for used traffic and auto-updates.
3 Paid Network Mapping Software
If you want a professional-grade software, you can check out the enterprise mapping software too. You can expect more functionalities and more reliable performance. Before going for paid software, please pay attention to the price. It is usually quite expensive.
SolarWinds Network Topology Mapper
Starts at 1495 USD
As you could expect, it has an auto-discovery function and it can display the topology of the network. It can use different discovery methods like SNMP v1-v3, VMware, ICMP, WMI, and more. For the convenience of the users, it can export the results in PDF, PNG, or MS Visio format.
It also has a report function that can show information for many different items of the networks such as ports used, VLANs, inventory, and subnets.
Starts at 1300 EUR (30-day free trial)
Paessler PRTG combines 2 functions. The first is a network mapper, the second is a network monitor. It is a very robust tool that has good options for creating graphs and charts. The maps can easily be edited and customized. The monitor part is good too. It can be used for surveillance of a single device or a part of the network in real-time.
Starts at 245 USD (10 devices) and can go up to 11 545 USD (250 devices) (Free 30-day trial)
It is a diagnostics software that can also display network maps. It has different real-time statistics, with more than 2000 different monitors. ManageEngine OpManager can show latency, the health of the network, errors and different bottlenecking problems.
A network mapper is a software, that can visualize the whole network. It can show the connections between the devices, and create a map. If it is a more sophisticated software, you will also get different monitoring capabilities. The information that you can gather can help you better manage your network.