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How To Troubleshoot Internet Connection Problems

hand-plugging-in-ethernet-cable

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

Ping

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.

image

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.

image

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.

modem-lights

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:

http://74.125.224.72

image

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

Comments (31)

  1. Zaigham

    Thanks for valuable information.

  2. James Wilson

    And microfilters – don’t forget microfilters! These seemingly simple devices do also go wrong and can cause havoc with broadbank connections.

  3. George

    Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Network and Sharing Center > Troubleshoot problems

  4. Angel Marrero

    Have some what the same problem. Several machines are able to stay connected but I loose intermittent connection on my gaming PC.. ASRock Preformance Fataility / 2500K / 12MB ram /SSD drive.. NIC is imbeded in MOBO..
    I have this overclocked to 4.2Ghz.. After bringing down to it’s default, the problem was resolved..SO! What can I do to resolve this issue?
    Thank you in advance for your assist..

  5. Dano

    I’ve noticed that most of the time when people are having issues, it’s because even though they are successfully joining the wireless network, they are not acquiring an IP address from the DHCP server on the router. The 90% solution is to reboot the router. If that doesn’t work, I would start checking firewalls, DHCP service, manual exceptions, etc.

  6. Fahad

    Good suggestions but their is 1 more important point which is not given, when you ping any website eg. ping google.com or ping yahoo.com and if we get a reply 4 times from these web servers then it means that DNS is working fine, but if we donot get a reply by pinging their website address then it is a problem with DNS .

  7. Woody

    There could be another problem. Lost power one night from thunderstorm. Home server would not connect to network. Motherboard had two NIC ports. Neither one connected. Added NIC to machine and it found the network right away. Second mother board where NIC connection failed and one had to be added to a PCI slot.

  8. Jorg Heihoff

    One other point:
    It seems to be better to once reset your router once / week (Fritz-Router). It makes the router operate faster. Make sure you save the basic settings before you reset.
    I do this every week but usually only when I do not need the internet.

  9. Dave

    Good info. Oftimes I’ll just pack along my laptop that I know works and that at least eliminates the home box.
    -
    Angel, clock it back up to where it fails and then back off a little. As in woodworking, it’s called walking up to the cut.

  10. spike

    @Fahad: This isn’t totally correct; it’s incomplete – therefore incorrect. If you get an error – could not find server, then it is a DNS issue. However, if the requests simply time out, the problem is not with DNS (it found the IP to ping but didn’t get a response from the IP).

  11. spike

    @Jorg Heihoff: That seems ridiculously overkill. Some cheap routers may need power cycled sometimes (maybe as often as weekly – but in this range you should buy a new router), but they should never need reset, especially as a matter of routine. Also, it doesn’t add anything to it’s performance.

  12. spike

    @Angel Marrero: That’s way to little detail to actually help. However, I doubt the clock speed of your CPU has one little bit to do with your network connectivity; it’s like saying “I put a turbo on my car; why don’t the headlights work?”

  13. Rafael

    This is great info, but one must remember that many internet service providers blame everyone else but themselves for problems; many times the person on the other side of the phone has less knowledge then the caller. I’ve called automated cable help services that tell me that they DO have an outage in my area, that was just after talking to a Live internet service rep. that informed me that the problem I had was with my router.

  14. jon

    i use my laptop, an elderly 620 dell, for work a lot at airports & motels using the free wifi. i have a question about conections often times i have to open the connection icon and click repair to connect again. i have noticed the problem gets worse the longer i try to use the free wifi. For instance at a motel day 1 i have service no problems. Day 2 i may have to “repair” once or twice if connected for a couple of hours. Day 3, 4 or 5 times. By day five it is every time i try to access another site or page. Any comments? Thanks.

  15. ozlock

    Problem is that the result flashes on the screen and disappears.

  16. tony

    Troubleshooting I have to figure out….

    One modem, two routers. One is mine, one is the m-i-l’s. Don’t want to attach to her network or have her attached to ours (just simpler that way because it’s a temporary living situation) Her router does not pick up a signal from modem, but will pick up that signal if connected to my router. Effectively, it solves the problem of separating networks, but if not resolved sooner rather than later, it will leave her without wireless access for her laptop when we’re gone. It’ll be fun figuring that out.

    It doesn’t help that (apparently) the wonky setup down by her ISP means only two of her router ports are even capable of receiving form the modem.

  17. Scott

    One of the biggest issues is with VPN through ISP’s. It’s a challenge dealing with the the ISP’s tech support or the Router manufacturer to determine where the path is being blocked.

  18. gs

    The most frustrating packet loss incidents invariably occur while I’m playing video games online via
    ps3. Nothing is more irritating than being disconnected during an intense gaming session where your
    current teammates are excellent partners and you’ve almost completed your objective when POW!:

    “YOU HAVE BEEN REMOVED (Disconnected) FROM THIS SESSION.

    Solution: CHECK YOUR NETWORK SETTINGS…??????

    grrrrhhh!

    The psn network support center offers standard instructions, and that usually works, but sometimes it’s the cable co, for some reason. I believe shared bandwidth on the same pipe as other apartments in
    the complex causes internet speed issues as well. The cable co. suggested solutions mirror the same fixes this article mentions, but sometimes a router reset may be indicated.

    There’s way too many doglegs betweeen servers to actually identify the culpret, I’m told, and even
    network monitors can’t pinpoint the trounble spot all the time. I too have been told by well-meaning but seeemingly untrained tech reps that I have a faulty router, and I should buy a new one. They say the grid is fine, the signal is strong, so it’s you, not them. Sometimes the word ‘incompatible equipment’ surfaces, which is malarky, my LINKSYS works just fine, thank you!

    I did read last year that some network issues (slow speeds, not loss of connection) may be directly
    due to a little-known practice implemented by many service providers, (which should be called
    bandwidth rationing, but isn’t). It centers around providers actually controlling and assigning either
    more or less bandwidth to end users, based on preset variables (or predictable patterns) in multiple
    user high traffic network environments. Obviously I don’t know that much about it, but if you’ve heard of this, please expand where I left off.

    Thanks- always enjoy these articles!
    I know, sometimes, like a retarted train, I go off track a lot…heeehee!!sorry!
    Thanks all

  19. Mike

    I just bought my own modem a motorola sb6121 to get away from renting 1 from comcast and it keeps restarting itself off and on throughout the day.
    Comcast has reset it 3 times and it seemed to work for a day or so then back to restarting itself again.
    any one have an issue like this before?

  20. Brett

    Just to add a little bit to the article, most internet problems can be solved in just a few simple steps via command prompt.

    Steps (Windows only):

    Hold the Windows key and press “R”
    -This will bring up the run.exe menu with administrative privileges

    Type “cmd” and press “enter”
    -Observe the command prompt (a big black window with plain MSDOS-looking text)

    Type “ipconfig /release” and press “enter”

    Type “ipconfig /flushdns” and press “enter”

    Type “ipconfig /renew” and press “enter”

    Then disconnect and reconnect to your router, if this doesn’t help try typing “192.168.2.1″ into a web browser to telnet into your router, and there should be a remote way to reset your router and/or update its firmware.

    Goodluck to y’all.

  21. NubCake

    well, i have some other problem, my internet sometimes just stops working for no reason, simply stops, so i run “troubleshoot problems” and it allways finds the solution, which is -> Default gateway was not set, but this doesnt happen only 1 time, but sometimes few times per day and i have no idea why, i’m kinda sure it’s not me that is causing this, cuz i did clean install of Windows 8, but maybe it’s Windows 8 problem, cuz i don’t remember having this problem on Windows 7 =/

  22. ann

    I have just bought a note book and am having trouble setting up the wireless , it works on ethernet though and I thought someone may be able to give me info on how to use it, it has no name, as there is no windows on it of course, I cant find the sticks I want to use, i plug them in but cant find the symbol of control panel etc, where do you go to get instructions on this, any help from someone would be great, I am a novice so kept it simple please

  23. Joe

    Why does pinging http://www.google.com (~54ms) give a shorted time than pinging 74.125.224.72 (~213ms) directly?
    I have pinged both multiple times and its always roughly the same?
    Basically.. why is using the DNS server quicker than bypassing it?

  24. bill marden

    my internet conection keeps dropping , BT have been trying to sort it out now for 6months ,i havent allways had this problem . if bt cant fix this problem who can , eny ideas plz bill

  25. John

    I have an issue where my securely-set up wireless network is no longer recognized from my oersonal laptop. Nor can I print to my wireless printer. I’m able to connect to my network using the general Lynksys, unsecured network however.

    Plus to complicate things further, my work laptop still recognizes the secured wireless network. It’s my personal laptop that now does not.

    Both use Windows. Anyone have similar issues?

  26. Angel

    [quote]For example, ping microsoft.com will never results in any responses.[/quote]

    why does that not seem surprising?

  27. scrignac

    merci

  28. Dr. Nicolas Rao

    Thank you. The software Down for everyone or only me,the Google quartet and the DNS links are very useful tools to keep in any arsenal. It takes a while sometimes calling the help line and can be very annoying if you get the wong number!
    Thanks again,
    Nick

  29. Dr. Nicolas Rao

    I actually meant the wong idiot on the wight number.

  30. Frank

    Thumbs up “How to – Geek.”

  31. Davidwcia

    My internet shortcuts stopped working. The error message is “Unable to open the internet shortcut, the protocal “https” does not have a registered program”. I am open to try almost anything to regain the shortcuts.

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