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What is a Ping?

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For those who play golf on the weekend, "Ping" is a brand of golf clubs designed to help you hit the ball straight and with precision.

For those of us (golfers and non-golfers) who spend a lot of time on the Internet, "ping" is a term that relates to a test to find out how fast a data signal can travel from one place (your computer) to another place (a website, usually).

Ping started out as a program that allows you to send out a test signal to another computer to see if it exists and how fast it responds. A ping sends a "packet" of electronic data to a specific IP address and "waits" for an electronic signal/tone that's known as a "pong." ("Waiting" for the pong is an inaccurate term: It takes a brief moment to get the response back.)

Also, the terms "ping" and "pong" have nothing to do with a game of Ping-Pong (table tennis). The word ping came from the sound that a submarine's sonar makes when it bounces off physical objects underwater. (Watch an old WWII movie about the Pacific and you'll hear it.)

Pinging and latency.

These days, ping is important for testing how long it takes data to travel from your computer, go across the various Internet connections and nodes, reach the computer on the other side, and get back to you. This data is then calculated to determine how fast the connection is to the other computer and how quickly a particular data transfer can be completed.

The ping rate, which is also know as latency, is a number that corresponds to delay time on the Internet measured in milliseconds (30ms, for example). The higher the number, the more data transfer delays you might experience, and sense, while you're online. If you play online games, especially first-person shooting or driving games, then you want the latency to be less than 30ms. For the rest of us, anything under 100ms would be good enough.

Early ping test.

The ping test was important back in the day as a time saver for people when they used to send files using FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which is a special way to use the Internet to send a file directly from one computer to another. This still-used process was used more often before it became easy to attach and send large files to someone else through emails.

The sending computer would "ping" the receiving computer, and if it didn't get a quick enough response (or any response), it wouldn't waste any more time trying to connect. It's similar to finding out that a number is disconnected, at the push of a button, without having to actually call.

Ping goes "bonk."

Of course, there are always some tech-types who take something helpful or even harmless and turn it into an online prank or attachment. Using a "ping storm," a computer hack can take down a website server temporarily. The hacker sends thousands of ping "packets" at once (padded with extra and irrelevant electronic baggage), and the unsuspecting server is overwhelmed by the ping attack and can't serve its normal customers efficiently.

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