IP addressing is one of the most important aspects of any network administrator’s job. Each connected device needs an IP address, they must all be unique and there should never be an IP address conflict. With typical large organizations having thousands of devices, one needs some IP addressing tools just to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Gone are the days when a spreadsheet was all that was needed. As you shall soon discover, there are many types of IP addressing tools but today, we’re particularly interested in showing you the best IP address tracker tools.
We’ll start off our journey by talking about the need for IP addresses, what they are, how they are used and why they must be unique. In fact, they don’t always need to be unique, as you’ll see. Then we’ll discuss IP address allocation and explain the differences between static and dynamic allocation as well as their respective pros and cons. DDI is the next subject we’ll cover as it has become important in recent years. After that, we’ll discuss the different types of tools that are available to help with IP address management and finally, we’ll give you a brief review of some of the best IP address tracker tools we could find.
The Need For IP Addresses
IP addresses are used to uniquely identify each device connected to a network. You probably already know that. They’re like the street addresses of the IP network world. Nowadays, IP networks are largely prevalent but it hasn’t always been the case. Microsoft used to have NetBEUI networking, Novell NetWare had IPX/SPX, and Apple had AppleTalk. In fact, there was a time when each manufacturer used a different networking scheme. Back then, IP networks—which stands for Internet Protocol—were only used for—you guessed it—the Internet. Eventually, the Internet grew in popularity and it started to make sense for everyone to use IP networking. IP addresses soon became an essential part of every computer’s configuration.
When we said that IP addresses were uniquely identifying each device, this was a bit of a stretch. In reality, IP addresses uniquely identify a device within a given context. Consequently, IP addresses need only to be unique within this context. The Internet is such a context but not all computers accessing the Internet need to be directly connected to it. Most users access the Internet through some sort of gateway and use local IP addressing, internally. In these situations, only the local addressing has to be unique and it’s not uncommon to have identical IP addresses used in different organizations. Take, for example, your typical home Internet WiFi router. Most of them have 192.168.0.1 as their internal IP address. That specific address is therefore present on most home networks.
IP Address Allocation And Management
The very first step in planning a network in all but the smallest networks is preparing an IP addressing plan. The idea behind the plan is to define how IP addresses are going to be used. For instance, a range of IP addresses will likely be reserved for servers. Some will obviously be assigned to computers connected to the network. And of course, IP addresses will be reserved for other devices such as networking equipment or network-connected printers. This task is often done using simple tools such as a spreadsheet software.
The next task is assigning IP addresses to devices. This is what we refer to as IP address allocation. There are several ways this can be done as we shall soon see but for now, the important thing to keep in mind is that you need to keep track of what IP address is assigned to what piece of equipment. This is IP address management.
Static Or Dynamic?
There are basically two ways IP addresses can be assigned: statically or dynamically. Static IP addressing involves manually setting the IP address and other IP networking parameters on each connected device. Although it is somewhat labor-intensive and error-prone, it’s widely used for smaller IP address segments with a small number of devices. It is also commonly used in situations where the complete control of IP addressing is important as it often is with servers. The main drawback of using static IP addressing is the management efforts that it requires.
Dynamic IP addressing automates part of the process. It is used in conjunction with the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP. This is a protocol that automatically assigns IP addresses and configures the networking parameters of connected devices. The assignment is done via a leasing process where a connected device requests an IP address from a DHCP server who leases an address for a fixed amount of time. Once the lease expires, the DHCP server returns the leased address to its pool of available addresses. Connected devices have the option to renew their lease before its expiration.
Using dynamic addressing doesn’t relieve the administrator from having to manage IP addresses. For starters, the DHCP server has to be configured correctly with the pool of IP addresses it can assign. Also, all the other IP networking parameters have to be configured on the DHCP server. Despite that, the efforts are minimal when compared with static IP addressing.
A Word About DDI
DNS, the system that allows one to refer to a remote device by its name rather than its IP address is closely tied to DHCP. In fact, Many DHCP servers are also DNS servers. It makes sense as the DNS has to know which IP address is assigned to each host in order to correctly resolve its name. And even if the DHCP and DNS servers are two different entities, they need to talk to each other. Whenever the DHCP server assigns a lease on an IP address to a host, the DNS record for that host must be updated with the correct IP address.
This intimate relationship between DHCP and DNS has given birth to DDI, an acronym where the two D’s stand for DNS and DHCP. As for the final I, it stands for IP Address Management, another important thing that can’t really be dissociated from DNS and DHCP. Many vendors today are offering DDI solution. They are typically all-in-one systems that combine IP address management capabilities with a DHCP and a DNS server. Some of these solutions integrate a DNS and DHCP server while others offer a “wrapper” system that installs on top of existing DNS and DHCP servers and controls them.
Different Types Of Tools
When it comes to managing IP addresses and keeping track of their allocation, many types of tools are available. And while it is certainly not necessary to use them all, many choose to use a combination of tools to achieve the results they seek. Let’s have a look at what the different types of tools are.
IP Address Managers
IP address manager is a relatively generic name that can be fitted to different software tools. They all share one common goal, facilitate the management of IP addresses. Some are very elaborate tools. So elaborate that DDI software suites fall into this category of tools. Others are simpler tools that are typically used where static IP addressing is used. They will just serve as a database of what IP address is assigned to what resource. Some tools include DNS lookup capabilities and can check that what is in the database really corresponds to what is configured.
IP Address Trackers
IP address trackers are tools that will help you find what IP addresses are actually configured on your networked devices. They can be used for several purposes such as consolidating what’s actually configured with what is documented. This is an important feature as an IP address management system that doesn’t reflect the reality is kind of useless. Some tools will automatically attempt to match database information with actual configuration and either list discrepancies or directly fix the errors in the IP address management system. Many tools can also be configured to run automatically at regular intervals and will let you catch unauthorized changes.
IP Address Scanners
The last type of tools we’d like to talk about is IP address scanners. These are tools that will scan a range of IP addresses. You can specify the range with starting and ending IP addresses or specify a complete subnet with an IP address and subnet mask or a CIDR notation such as 192.168.0.0/24. The IP address scanner will try to connect to each IP address—usually using Ping or a similar utility—and report on what IP addresses are responding. Most IP address scanners will also do a reverse DNS resolution to display the hostname of each responding host in addition to its IP address. Some tools will even list which IP ports are open on those devices although we usually refer to these tools as port scanners.
The Best IP Address Scanners
In real life, the distinction between IP address tracker tools and IP address scanner tools it not exactly clear. In fact, there is no universally accepted definition of either. Our list actually contains a mix of tools that call themselves IP address tracker, IP address scanner—or just IP scanners—or IP address managers. Our main criteria for inclusion in this list was that the tool deals with IP addresses and can track their usage.
First on our list is a great tool from SolarWinds. This company is well-known in the network administration field for making some of the best tools and also for publishing many free tools that address a specific need of network administrators. We reviewed some of those free tools in these pages when we recently discussed the best subnet calculators or the best syslog servers.
The SolarWinds IP Tracker can be used to manage and track up to 254 IP addresses. This limitation makes it a fine tools for smaller installations. It will track IP address availability and alert you of an upcoming shortage of available IP addresses. It will also automatically detect IP address confilcts and alert you when it finds one. This feature-limited tool won’t interact with your DNS and DHCP servers, though. You’ll have to manually fix any issues it finds. It’s got an attractive dashboard-based user interface with color-coded status and it also features historical trends and events reports.
For a more complete, enterprise-grade tool, the SolarWinds IP Address Manager might be just what you need. It starts where the IP Address Tracker stops. This is a full-featured IP address management tool that has none of the limitations of the free tool. This one can manage up to 2 million IP addresses, enough for the biggest environments.
Although it doesn’t include DHCP or DNS capabilities, the IP Address Manager will interact with your existing DNS and DHCP servers, making it a true DDI solution. Of course, the tool features automatic IP address tracking. It wouldn’t be in this list if it didn’t. It will automatically monitor your subnets so that you always know how IP addresses are used. The system will alert you of IP address conflicts, depleted scopes, and mismatched DNS records.
The tool integrates with DHCP servers from Microsoft, Cisco, and ISC and will work with BIND and Microsoft DNS servers. Pricing starts at $1 995 and varies according to the number of managed addresses. A free 30-day trial is available if you want to test the product before purchasing it.
3 — Advanced IP Scanner
The Advanced IP Scanner has an interesting twist. The tool runs on Windows and is made for Windows. More about that in a moment. This software simply takes an IP address range as its input. You could also supply the tool with a text file containing a list of IP addresses. The tool will scan the addresses and provide you with a list of those addresses that respond. But you don’t only have IP addresses, the tool will also display each host’s name, MAC address and network interface vendor.
For Windows hosts that the tool discovers, you get much more functionality. For instance, the tool will list network shares. And clicking any share opens it on your computer. You can also start a remote control session using either RDP or Radmin or remotely turn a Windows computer on–provided it has wake on LAN–or off.
4 — Angry IP Scanner
The Angry IP Scanner is a multi-platform tool that will run on Windows, OS X, and Linux. This tool can scan complete networks or subnets but also an IP addresses range or a list of IP addresses in a text file. It uses Ping to find IP addresses that are responding but it will also resolve hostnames and MAC address vendors as well as provide NetBIOS information for hosts that support it. This tool is also a port scanner and can list the open ports on each responding host.
The Angry IP scanner is a GUI-based tool but there’s also a command-line version that you can use. This is useful for including the tool’s functionality in your scripts. Results are displayed on the screen in a table form and can be exported to several file formats such as CSV or XML.
5 — SoftPerfect Network Scanner
The SoftPerfect Network Scanner will scan a range of IP addresses and list those that respond along with their MAC address, hostname and response time. It can also be used as a port scanner and will optionally list what IP ports are open on each host.
Just like our previous entry, additional functionality is available for Windows hosts. This tool will, for instance, display all shares on each host. Even hidden shares will be displayed. It can also list what user account(s) are currently connected to each Windows computer. Furthermore, the tool will let you remotely access computers and run commands remotely. And finally, you can broadcast messages to the discovered computers.
6 — LizardSystems Network Scanner
The main difference with the LizardSystems Network Scanner is that it is browser-based. It runs only on Windows and requires Internet Explorer. As for its features, they leave nothing to be desired. The tool is easy to use, it offers great performance thanks to its use of multi-threading, and it’s scalable. There’s actually no limit to the number of addresses you can scan.
There are also quite a few advanced features such as results filtering or customizable status checks that will check for any port you specify. It will also retrieve NetBIOS information as well as verify access rights to remote resources. And if you want to manipulate the results, you can export them to HTML, XML, or text.
7 — Bopup Scanner
It is unexpected to see a product from B-Labs on this list as the company usually specializes in messaging systems. In fact, its Bopup scanner is its only network administration tool. It is a free tool for the Windows operating system.
This tools will scan your network and output a list of all connected devices. It displays IP addresses, hostnames, and MAC addresses. It will also tell you if a web server is responding on each host it tests. You can drill down on each host to view more information such as a list of available shares. Option-wise, the tool will let you specify exactly what IP addresses to scan and you can also set the response timeout to prevent unresponsive IP addresses from slowing down the process.
8 — MyLanViewer Network/IP Scanner
The MyLanViewer Network/IP Scanner is a free IP address scanner for Windows whose main differentiating factor is how results are displayed. Instead of a table with a list of IP addresses and corresponding parameters, this tool presents the results in a hierarchical way. It looks like the left pane of a Windows Explorer window.
This tool will scan the whole network where the computer used to run it is connected. It will show each responding host as a node on a tree structure. Clicking the plus sign next to any entry will reveal more information about it. It displays the same complement of data as most other tools.