A Guide to Network Troubleshooting: Basic Steps, Tips and Tools
In this guide, we will discuss some of the things you should do when a network goes wrong, whether it’s a personal network or a network that you manage professionally as a network administrator.
This guide should also prepare you to go through a repeatable process in diagnosing and addressing a network issue. The hope is that, by introducing you to tried and true methods, you can develop experience with network issues and troubleshoot each
issue more quickly than the last.
What Is Troubleshooting a Network?
The term troubleshooting refers to the process of identifying problems with a network through a rigorous and repeatable process and then solving those problems using testable methods. Troubleshooting is more effective than trying things at random until
the network functions because it allows you to target individual network components, testing each for function, and encourages you to document your process. Network troubleshooting is useful for almost anyone, from a computer enthusiast to an aspiring network engineer.
Why Troubleshooting Skills Are Essential for Network Management
Network troubleshooting skills are nice to have in the home so you can avoid inconvenience when your network goes down, but for many businesses, having a professional with network troubleshooting skills on site is essential. While home network outages
may just be an annoyance — preventing you from finishing your movie on Netflix or delaying your online chat conversation with a friend — network outages in the workplace can grind many modern businesses, which rely heavily on connectivity,
to a halt.
Businesses certainly recognize the importance of maintaining a fully operational network. In CompTIA’s Building Digital Organizations research study, networking skills ranked fifth among skills that companies wanted to improve, beating out skills such as cloud architecture or big data analytics.
While emerging technology tends to make the most headlines and have the most potential for growth, these technologies cannot provide value without being connected to the overall IT architecture. As an organization’s technology footprint grows, its
network needs will also change, and troubleshooting will become more challenging and critical.
This time when a network is unavailable is known as network downtime. For a business that operates online, every minute of downtime is a minute that client communications are hindered, employees can’t access their data in the cloud and many of the
business’s online tools and applications are unavailable.
In other words, network downtime means lost profits, which can cost anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars an hour. In professional settings, network troubleshooting
skills are an absolute necessity in order to get a business back up on its feet as quickly as possible.
Basic Network Troubleshooting Steps
Network troubleshooting is a repeatable process, which means that you can break it down into clear steps that anyone can follow.
1. Identify the Problem
The first step in troubleshooting a network is to identify the problem. As a part of this step, you should do the following:
2. Develop a Theory
Once you have finished gathering all the information that you can about the network issue or issues, it’s time to develop a working theory. While you’re producing your theory about the causes of the network issue, don’t be afraid to
question the obvious, but remain on the lookout for more serious issues. Sometimes a network outage occurs because someone tripped on a wire or some other simple problem. However, at other times the problems might be related more complicated causes,
like a breach in network security.
3. Test the Theory
Using the tools at your disposal, it’s time to test your theory. If your theory is that the network router is defective, try replacing it with another router to see if that fixes the issue. At this stage, it’s important to remember that proving
your own theories wrong doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Instead, it means that it’s time to return to step two, develop a new theory, and then find a way to test that one. Sometimes your first theory may be right, but it’s
also common to go through several theories before arriving at the true cause of your network’s issues.
4. Plan of Action
Once you’ve confirmed your theory about the causes of the network issues, you’re in a position to solve them. Come up with a plan of action to address the problem. Sometimes your plan will include just one step. For example, restart the router.
In other cases, your plan will be more complex and take longer, such as when you need to order a new part or roll a piece of software back to a previous version on multiple users’ computers.
5. Implement the Solution
Now that you have a plan for fixing the network, it’s time to implement it. There are some solutions that you may be able to do by yourself, while others may require cooperation from other network administrators or users.
6. Verify System Functionality
Once you’ve implemented your solution, be sure to test the network. Make sure that the issue in question has been resolved, but also be on the lookout for other issues that may have arisen from the changes that you made to the network. As part of
your verification process, make sure to consult both the network tools at your disposal as well as individual user accounts of their experiences on the network.
7. Document the Issue
If you are a network professional or an enthusiast who is around networks often, then it’s safe to say that this won’t be the last time you encounter this particular issue. Make sure to document each stage of troubleshooting the problem, including
the symptoms that appeared on the network, the theory you developed, your strategy for testing the theory and the solution that you came up with to solve the issue. Even if you don’t reference this documentation, it may be helpful to another
network engineer at your company in the future and could help to shorten network downtime.
Network Troubleshooting Tools
In addition to user reports and firsthand experience on the network, there are a number of tools available for you to use when it comes to diagnosing and treating network issues. These tools may exist in the computer’s operating system itself, as
standalone software applications or as hardware tools that you can use to troubleshoot a network.
Learn more about these topics in the Official CompTIA Network+ Study Guide.
On Windows PCs, the command prompt can be accessed by searching for it in the start menu or by typing “cmd” into the Run window. On a Linux system, you can press Ctrl + Alt + T to open the command line.
The following commands can be entered into the command prompt one at a time to reveal specific information about the network status:
Network Troubleshooting Applications
In addition to command-line tools, there are also a number of standalone applications that can be used to determine the status of a network and to troubleshoot issues. Some of these applications may be included in the system that you are working with,
while others may need to be installed separately.
Command-line tools and applications are software tools for troubleshooting, but some network problems have hardware causes and solutions.
Here are some hardware tools that can help you diagnose and solve network issues:
How to Develop Your Network Troubleshooting Skills
These are just a few of the steps you can follow and tools that you can use to troubleshoot an issue in your network. For home networks, many issues can be solved relatively simply, by checking connections, making sure that everything is plugged in and
using built-in diagnostic tools.
However, if you want a job working on computer networks, you’ll need to develop your troubleshooting skills to match. Network troubleshooting is an essential skill to have when looking for a job as a network engineer or network administrator, since
companies are primarily concerned with minimizing their network downtime.
If you’re looking for a job, an IT certification related to computer networking is essential as proof of your abilities. Keep in mind that certification exams
test your skills very closely, so make sure to seek out appropriate network training to properly prepare for your exam and test with confidence.
In order to really develop your skills that will land you the job, it’s important to combine training and certifications with real-world network troubleshooting experience. This experience doesn’t have to come from a job – you can
practice your IT skills by tinkering with your own equipment or volunteering with local nonprofits to improve their networks and resolve any issues they’re having.
To get started in a computer networking career, check out CompTIA Network+ and the related
Read more about Computer Networks.