Internet connection problems can be frustrating. Rather than mashing F5 and desperately trying to reload your favorite website when you experience a problem, here are some ways you can troubleshoot the problem and identify the cause.
Ensure you check the physical connections before getting too involved with troubleshooting. Someone could have accidentally kicked the router or modem’s power cable or pulled an Ethernet cable out of a socket, causing the problem.
Image Credit: photosteve101 on Flickr
One of the first things to try when your connection doesn’t seem to be working properly is the ping command. Open a Command Prompt window from your Start menu and run a command like ping google.com or ping howtogeek.com.
This command sends several packets to the address you specify. The web server responds to each packet it receives. In the command below, we can see that everything is working fine – there’s 0% packet loss and the time each packet takes is fairly low.
If you see packet loss (in other words, if the web server didn’t respond to one or more of the packets you sent), this can indicate a network problem. If the web server sometimes takes a much longer amount of time to respond to some of your other packets, this can also indicate a network problem. This problem can be with the website itself (unlikely if the same problem occurs on multiple websites), with your Internet service provider, or on your network (for example, a problem with your router).
Note that some websites never respond to pings. For example, ping microsoft.com will never results in any responses.
Problems With a Specific Website
If you’re experiencing issues accessing websites and ping seems to be working properly, it’s possible that one (or more) websites are experiencing problems on their end.
To check whether a website is working properly, you can use Down For Everyone Or Just For Me, a tool that tries to connect to websites and determine if they’re actually down or not. If this tool says the website is down for everyone, the problem is on the website’s end.
If this tool says the website is down for just you, that could indicate a number of things. It’s possible that there’s a problem between your computer and the path it takes to get to that website’s servers on the network. You can use the traceroute command (for example, tracert google.com) to trace the route packets take to get to the website’s address and see if there are any problems along the way. However, if there are problems, you can’t do much more than wait for them to be fixed.
Modem & Router Issues
If you are experiencing problems with a variety of websites, they may be caused by your modem or router. The modem is the device that communicates with your Internet service provider, while the router shares the connection among all the computers and other networked devices in your household. In some cases, the modem and router may be the same device.
Take a look at the router. If green lights are flashing on it, that’s normal and indicates network traffic. If you see a steady, blinking orange light, that generally indicates the problem. The same applies for the modem – a blinking orange light usually indicates a problem.
If the lights indicate that either devices are experiencing a problem, try unplugging them and plugging them back in. This is just like restarting your computer. You may also want to try this even if the lights are blinking normally – we’ve experienced flaky routers that occasionally needed to be reset, just like Windows computers. Bear in mind that it may take your modem a few minutes to reconnect to your Internet service provider.
If you still experience problems, you may need to perform a factory reset on your router or upgrade its firmware. To test whether the problem is really with your router or not, you can plug your computer’s Ethernet cable directly into your modem. If the connection now works properly, it’s clear that the router is causing you problems.
Image Credit: Bryan Brenneman on Flickr
Issues With One Computer
If you’re only experiencing network problems on one computer on your network, it’s likely that there’s a software problem with the computer. The problem could be caused by a virus or some sort of malware or an issue with a specific browser.
Do an antivirus scan on the computer and try installing a different browser and accessing that website in the other browser. There are lots of other software problems that could be the cause, including a misconfigured firewall.
DNS Server Problems
When you try to access Google.com, your computer contacts its DNS server and asks for Google.com’s IP address. The default DNS servers your network uses are provided by your Internet service provider, and they may sometimes experience problems.
You can try accessing a website at its IP address directly, which bypasses the DNS server. For example, plug this address into your web browser’s address bar to visit Google directly:
If the IP address method works but you still can’t access google.com, it’s a problem with your DNS servers. Rather than wait for your Internet service provider to fix the problem, you can try using a third-party DNS server like OpenDNS or Google Public DNS.
Ultimately, most connection problems you’ll run into are probably someone else’s problem – you can’t necessarily solve them yourself. Often, the only thing you can do is wait for your Internet service provider or a specific website to fix the problem you’re experiencing. (However, restarting a flaky router can solve lots of problems.)
If you are experiencing problems, you can always try calling your Internet service provider on the phone – you’re paying them for this service, after all. They will also be able to tell you whether it’s a problem that other users are also having — or whether it’s a problem on your end.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 10/9/12