Why Isn't My Page Loading? (Using trace-route to find where traffic has stopped)
from the January 2001 Actrix Newsletter

by Rob Zorn

You probably have some idea of what happens when you click on a link requesting a web page. Your request goes to the Actrix name server which tells it whereabouts on the web the page you want is, and what route to take to get that page for you. Your request then goes through a series of servers until it gets to either Netgate or the Southern Cross cable which are the main gates in and out of New Zealand for Internet traffic if you're not using a satellite.

From there your request goes through more servers on the other side of the world until it reaches where the page is stored. The information you request is sent back to you through the same route. Each of these server links is called a hop.

msdos icon)If you're  online you can use your MSDOS prompt (Windows 95/98) or Command Prompt (Windows 2000) to do what is called a trace-route. A trace-route shows you every hop between your machine and the page you have requested. This will help you see where a request is slowing down or timing out. (This doesn't apply to Macintoshes, unfortunately because they don't have DOS prompts. but there are several programs around such as Mac TCP Watcher, IPNet Monitor and Whatroute which can be installed.)

The easiest way to get to your command prompt is to Click Start, and then Run. Type Command into the Run window and hit enter. This should bring up a black window and your cursor should be blinking next to what is called a DOS prompt, looking something like C:\WINDOWS\. If you were having trouble reaching the page www.yahoo.com, for example, you would type the following command at the DOS Prompt:

tracert www.yahoo.com <Enter>

A minute or so might pass until the job was complete, but eventually, something like the following would be returned to you:

trace route results

Here you can see that there are 18 hops between my machine and the Yahoo page. You can also see how many milliseconds each hop took. Firstly, about half a second (524 milliseconds) elapses as my machine connects with wgtn-tnt-1.itnet.co.nz (which is Actrix). I then get routed through a couple of servers. Hops numbers 4 and 5 show me getting out through Netgate. Half a second later I am arriving at bbnplanet.net over in the States.  It seems I have to muck around at bbnplanet.net for a few seconds (I have no idea why) before I reach the global centre in Dallas (Hop 14). Four more hops and I finally reach Yahoo.

Now this is a trace-route that worked. If I was having trouble getting the Yahoo page, the chances are that somewhere along the line I would receive the server name and then the words "Request timed out." This indicates that some server somewhere is not able to find the next server in the chain. This will be where the problem is occurring and why I can't get the page.

So who's at fault? Well, when you consider the amount of servers and hops involved, it is easy to see that things can go wrong in all sorts of different places. If you are getting as far as Netgate or the Southern Cross Cable, then it is not your ISP, but routing overseas, over which an ISP has no control (which is why no ISP will guarantee you traffic outside of New Zealand). If you can reach your ISP (usually Hop 1) and the problem occurs before Netgate or the Southern Cross Cable) then your ISP has a routing problem which may or may not be their fault (but at least they are able to do something about it). If you're not even reaching your ISP, then some disaster has occurred or, more likely, local conditions (your modem or your local phone exchange) are preventing your requests getting even that far.

msdos icon)If you want to contact our support crew about a problem getting a page, it is always helpful if you can do your own trace route first, and then tell them about it over the phone. A trace from your own machine gives the best and most accurate results. If you'd like to copy and paste the results of your trace route into an e-mail, you can do this by clicking the little Dos prompt icon (top right corner of the Dos Prompt box pictured above) and then clicking Edit/Mark in the box that drops down. This will allow you to drag your mouse over the trace route text that you want to copy. Once selected, press Enter to load the text into your computer's memory. Right-click and paste this into an email (or press Ctrl-V) with a description of your problem.

If you'd like to know more about what happens behind the scenes when you request a page or e-mail, try this article: What happens When I Click Connect.