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How to use the Linux mtr command

mtr is an essential, real-time network diagnostic tool for your sysadmin toolbox.
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How to use mtr

As a Linux sysadmin, you know that the general consensus is to blame every problem on infrastructure, which is your realm. Network engineers, our arch nemeses (kidding), always tell us that, "It's not a network problem." I really hate hearing those words because it means that now the focus is on me, my operating systems, and my hardware. Rather than rely on the word of my sworn enemy (kidding again) to tell me where the problem is, I can proactively investigate the network for myself. The mtr utility allows me to do it without bothering anyone else or getting stewed during an all-hands, troubleshooting conference call. The mtr command is a simple but effective network analysis and troubleshooting tool. This brief introduction will get you started.

The following description is from the mtr command's package information.

Mtr is a network diagnostic tool that combines ping and traceroute into one program. Mtr provides two interfaces: an ncurses interface, useful for using Mtr from a telnet* session; and a GTK+ interface for X (provided in the mtr-gtk package).

*Obviously, this description is somewhat outdated. Replace 'telnet' with SSH.

Why mtr?

You might wonder why I'm writing about a utility called My Traceroute (mtr) when there is traceroute, ping, netstat, ip, and other tools lying around that can help with troubleshooting network connectivity. Well, mtr is a little different. It is analogous to the top command in that it refreshes on its own and gives you a live look at network response and connectivity.

Installing mtr

If you don't have mtr, which lives in /usr/sbin, install it the usual way with YUM or DNF. The mtr command is included in the base repository.

$ sudo yum -y install mtr

or

$ sudo dnf -y install mtr

Using mtr

The mtr command is simple to use. There are multiple options for using mtr, but these are the most useful for my environment. Feel free to explore all of mtr's options. You can't do any damage to your system, or anyone else's, with this command. The mtr command does not create security issues for you, so use it freely.

[ You might also enjoy: 5 Linux network troubleshooting commands ]

IPv4 only

My favorite way to use mtr is with the 'IPv4 only' switch (-4). The output is limited to IPv4 addresses. This option (switch) doesn't prevent DNS lookups. In other words, if the host resolves to a name, you'll probably see the DNS name rather than just the IPv4 address.

Since mtr updates in real-time, the following video provides a better illustration of how it works.

mtr continues to refresh until you press q to quit. As you can see, there was some packet loss at one of the hops. It doesn't seem significant, but that's the type of information you need to see when troubleshooting a network problem or potential network problem.

You can also tell mtr to report IP addresses rather than DNS resolved names by using the (-b) option. For this example, I've combined IPv4 only and IP addresses. This is the way I use mtr. Here's how it looks at the command line and in real-time:

$ mtr -4b google.com

IPv6

On my system, it seems that IPv6 is the default option, which I don't like, so I always specify IPv4.

$ mtr google.com

And one final real-time display just for fun.

[ Free cheat sheet: Get a list of Linux utilities and commands for managing servers and networks. ]

Wrap up

I think you can see from these demonstrations that mtr is a valuable command to have in your sysadmin toolbox. It isn't a superfluous command or a "boutique" command that you only use once a year. This is one you'll use over and over again when one, or more, of your users, says "The Internet is slow." A quick mtr will show you where the problem is—if it's a network problem. Which, of course, we know it never is—until it is.

Check out these related articles on Enable Sysadmin

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Ken Hess

Ken Hess is an Enable SysAdmin Community Manager and an Enable SysAdmin contributor. Ken has used Red Hat Linux since 1996 and has written ebooks, whitepapers, actual books, thousands of exam review questions, and hundreds of articles on open source and other topics. More about me

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