When Internet traffic travels from point A to point B — say from your computer to Yahoo! — it travels first to your local Internet company, then over their network to an Internet backbone (something like the 401 in motor vehicle terms), then to the Internet company of your destination. Along the way your traffic passes through a variety of technical gizmos calls bridges and hubs and routers, all roughly analagous to switching stations on the railway.
When you ping a computer, you’re essentially sending out a signal over the Internet, and waiting for it to bounce back. You time how long this takes, and in doing so get some idea of how smooth or congested the route between you and your destination is. This is roughly the same as going into a canyon and yelling “Ping!” at the top of your lungs, and timing how long it takes you to hear the echo.
A traceroute is essentially a roadmap showing the hops, skips and jumps your Internet traffic takes between you and your destination. For example, when I post this message to the website, it will travel over my Island Tel DSL connection to the Aliant network, then to BellNexxia in Montréal, New York and Toronto, over to AT&T Canada’s network in Toronto, to ISN here in Charlottetown, then to the Reinvented server 4 blocks across town. In general the fewer number of hops Internet traffic has to take between you and your destination, the smoother things will go for you.
The Government of PEI webserver is 18 hops from c5.eastlink.ca with an average ping return time of 82ms measured over the last five minutes. By contrast, my Island Tel DSL puts me 2 hops away with an average ping return time of 10ms.
The Yankee webserver in Dublin, NH is 15 hops from c5.eastlink.ca with an average ping return time of 62ms. By contrast, my existing DSL puts me 16 hops away, with an average ping return of 50ms.
The Yankee webserver in Boston, MA is 11 hops from c5.eastlink.ca with an average ping return time of 40ms. By contrast, my existing DSL puts me 15 hops away, with an average ping return of 52ms.
Sad note: Mike Muuss, the author of ping was killed last year in an auto accident.