Nmap: Swiss Army Knife of network utilities

I just wanted to put in a plug for nmap. It’s a very useful tool for any network specialist. I show a use case that came up today.

The details
While cleaning up DNS entries I came across a network segment that didn’t seem to have any active network devices, at least not after I cleaned up the old DNS entries for inactive devices.

So I wanted to see if I could tell the networking tech that this subnet is unused and could be allocated for some other purpose.

I remembered using nmap years ago, and that it was a powerful tool for this kind of thing. What I had in mind was to ping every IP on this segment to see if there were any undocumented hosts.

As it turns out I didn’t even have it installed, but it was very easy to get:

$ zypper install nmap

On CentOS:
$ yum install nmap

It doesn’t get easier than that!

A quick review of the man page showed that what I wanted was indeed possible. Here’s the syntax for a systematic PING sweep through a subnet:

$ nmap −sP

Starting Nmap 4.75 ( ) at 2012-11-08 10:21 EST
Host appears to be up.
Host appears to be up.
Host appears to be up.
Host appears to be up.
Host appears to be up.
Nmap done: 256 IP addresses (5 hosts up) scanned in 1.28 seconds

Now I know that subnet has rogue or at least undocumented hosts and is not unused!

The original usage for nmap, at least for me, was to fingerprint an unknown host:

$ nmap −A −T4

Interesting ports on (
Not shown: 996 filtered ports
22/tcp  open   ssh       (protocol 2.0)
80/tcp  open   http     Apache httpd
|_ HTML title: 302 Found
443/tcp open   ssl/http Apache httpd
|_ HTML title: Site doesn't have a title.
514/tcp closed shell
1 service unrecognized despite returning data. If you know the service/version, please submit the following fingerprint at :
Device type: WAP|general purpose|PBX
Running (JUST GUESSING) : Linux 2.6.X|2.4.X (93%), Vodavi embedded (85%)
Aggressive OS guesses: OpenWrt 7.09 (Linux 2.6.22) (93%), OpenWrt 0.9 - 7.09 (Linux 2.4.30 - 2.4.34) (92%), Linux (89%), Linux 2.6.21 (Slackware 12.0) (88%), OpenWrt 7.09 (Linux 2.6.17 - 2.6.21) (88%), Linux 2.6.19 - 2.6.21 (88%), Linux 2.6.22 (Fedora 7) (88%), Vodavi XTS-IP PBX (85%), Linux 2.6.22 (85%)
No exact OS matches for host (test conditions non-ideal).
TRACEROUTE (using port 21/tcp)
1   0.87   10.202...
2   0.38   ...
3   0.57   ...
4   6.10   ...
5   114.64 ...
6   119.79 ...
7   103.43 (
OS and Service detection performed. Please report any incorrect results at .
Nmap done: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 35.02 seconds

Now that was kind of an unusual example in which nmap wasn’t too sure about the OS. Usually you get a positive ID of some sort. That’s a chatty server and I’m still not sure what it is.

Nmap can be used for nasty things and in an impolite way, network-wise. So be careful to tone it down. Target your hosts and protocols with care. It can guess what OS a host is running, what ports are open, all kinds of amazing stuff.

I checked PING and did not see a built-in capability to do a PING sweep, though it would have been easy enough to script it. That was my backup option.

Once I had to check on a single UDP port being open on port 80 for a webcast client called Kontiki (they call this protocol KDP). No other ports were open, necessitating the -PN switch.

Single UDP port check
$ nmap −PN −sU -p 80

Starting Nmap 4.75 ( ) at 2013-07-23 13:59 EDT
Interesting ports on
80/udp open|filtered http
Nmap done: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 2.15 seconds

Three TCP ports checked
$ nmap ‐PN ‐sS ‐p 445,28080,28443

Results of that scan

Starting Nmap 5.51 ( ) at 2017-04-13 09:18 EDT
Nmap scan report for
Host is up.
445/tcp   filtered microsoft-ds
28080/tcp filtered unknown
28443/tcp filtered unknown
Nmap done: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 3.06 seconds

filtered” means there were no reply packets to my SYN packets, usually a sign of an intervening firewall dropping packets. I’m not sure why it describes the host as “up” when actually it is down or behind a firewall. A state of closed indicates that a RST packet was received in reply, indicating that the port is closed on the host itself and it wasn’t a firewall that prevented the test from succeeding. the third possible state is open, which of couse means that it replied with a SYN-ACK to that probe on that port.

To fix the source port add a -g to the above command. E.g., some firewalls have trouble with permitting inbound UDP packets from port 53 so to test for that you throw in a -g 53 and try some random high destination port.

I needed to spoof another host’s IP address and send a simple PING (ICMP request) to diagnose what was going wrong with the reply. Here’s how I did that:

$ nmap −PE −e eth0 −S

But then I realized what I really needed to do to emulate the problem is to send a single TCP SYN packet to port 8081, without the accompanying ICMP probes that nmap is wont to throw in there first. Here’s how I built up that probe:

$ nmap −PN −sS −p 8081 −−max-retries 0 −e eth0 −S

Check if a web server is running
$ nmap −PN −p T:80,443
This will check both ports 80 and 443. It doesn’t execute any HTTP protocol. It’s just a quick and dirty test.

don’t have nmap but have something like netcat instead? A good tcp port check with netcat is
netcat -vzw5 <host> <port>. Here’s an actual example.

$ netcat ‐vzw5 443

DNS mismatch [] 443 (https) open

Nmap is a great network tool that every IT network tech should be familiar with.

References and related
A more capable and complicated packet generation tool is scapy. I describe it in this blog post.

A simpler network for Windows (simpler than nmap for Windows) is PortQry. It was created by Microsoft.

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