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I've had a network troubleshooting question asked to me a few times in interviews, that went along the line of:

Q: You are sitting in front of your computer (in a corporate setting) and trying to access some website (eg, yahoo.com) and find that you can't. What are the steps you would take to diagnose the problem?

My response has been something along the line of:

  1. ping to see if you can reach the host or other hosts to see you actually have network
  2. check dns via nslookup and looking at /etc/resolv.conf
  3. traceroute to see where it fails
  4. check firewall

This, however, doesn't seem to be good enough. How would you answer this question? If you've ever asked this question, what would you be looking for in the answer? Thank you very much.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Well, I have never asked or been asked it, but these are the steps I would have taken. Also, I use windows, so there might be other stuff that would work better than these..
Any of the 1-7 questions should locate what the major issue could be, and could be asked in whatever order is best suited

  1. Can I access any other webpage?
    • If yes: that particular site might be down
    • If no: something else is wrong
  2. Is anyone else affected by this issue? (ask collegues if they can access the internet)
    • If yes: might be a corporate thing [End questions: I would take a coffee and wait until it works for someone else]
    • If no: this issue could be local for my computer
  3. Check Is it down for me or everyone? (goes hand in hand with the first question.. and the second one)
    • If down for everyone: not much you can do unless you administer that site
    • If down for me: something else is wrong
  4. Ping the DNS
    • If the DNS responds: something else is wrong
    • If it doesn't respond you'll won't be able to ping (for instance) www.yahoo.com, but maybe the actual ipadress
      • Find the ipadress to the site that is affected and try to ping that one
        • If it responds: [End questions: the DNS is the issue]
        • If it does not respond: something else is wrong
  5. Ping something inside your network for instance a colleagues ipaddress
    • If it does not respond: your network is the issue.
    • If it does respond: you at least have local network
  6. Ping something outside your network Google is usually up. (goes hand in hand with question 4)
    • If it responds: probably the site that have issues
    • If it does not respond: Something else is wrong
  7. Has it worked before? Actually a valid question.
    • If it has not worked before: could be network settings for local computer
    • If it has worked before: what settings have changed since last time?


so now you should know if the site is not working, if internet is not working, if the DNS is functional and if you at least have intranet.
Note that Is it down for me or everyone? tests port 80, so it might just be the web site that is down. This will not work if you for instance use any other port for the web interface or if it is a terminal server or whatever.

Is it just the site?

As mentioned before, grab a coffee

Is internet down but not local network?

Some networks won't let computers out on the internet if they do not match with ipadresses-macaddresses.
You could have a static ipadress instead of a dynamic one (if the DNS is wrong, this would also be a valid reason for that, since when you set a static ipaddress, you also need to set the dns)
Restart the computer.
Compare settings with the colleague who's computer responds.
AS you say, firewall. And a bonus: Check your network for a local router (with DHCP enabled). Seriously, I've worked in support for 2 years and it has actually happened more than once... This messes up some networks really bad..

Is internet and local network down?

I guess it depends if anyone else has the problem as well, but if it's only you:
Check cabling.
The network ipsettings would also come in handy here.
Check the event log for any suspicious network logs.
Don't know about unix, but I usually restart the computer.. grab a coffee..

And if nothing else works, sweet talk it, tell it that it is your favorite computer and that you love it very much, that you'll stop surfing on the CPU demanding sites and it should let you out again ;)

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+1 for making an effort ;-) Good work –  Diskilla Aug 24 '10 at 2:14
@Diskilla: Not because it's a good response? Just for the effort? thanks anyways :) –  Default Aug 24 '10 at 7:36
off course not ONLY for the effort ^^ it really is a great response –  Diskilla Aug 24 '10 at 10:08
Hi, thanks for the detailed answer (and to everyone else who replied too). Yeah, I think those things are pretty much what I said, though perhaps not in enough detail. I was wondering maybe they were looking for experience with some complicated network analyzer tools. –  John Feng Aug 26 '10 at 11:57
@John Feng: If you are happy with the answers you should mark one of them as accepted. If you are not happy with them you could modify your question (I can't think of anything else that would narrow the issue down more or do it faster). Also, the others won't get any message in their inboxes when you post to my answer. So if you'd like to thank them, add a comment to those answers as well (and/or mark the best answer as accepted) :) –  Default Aug 26 '10 at 15:43

"corporate setting" suggests you need to look for a proxy server. either the browser is not pointing to he proxy, or the user is not authnticated. pings and traceroutes to internet sites will fail but you should be able to ping the proxy address to make sure its up. if the client is properly configured for the proxy, then the proxy server itself might be having issues.

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Some modifications of above answers.

1) ping is often disabled on some sites. Something not pingable may not be a connection error. I'd try telnet as well, to known ports (80 usually).

2) I'll check the net config with ifconfig (or ipconfig on windows). I'd make sure i can ping my default gateway. I'd check my dns host and make sure it's accessible.

3) I'd ping well known sites that i know respond to pings. One i always remember to get dns out of the equation is If i can ping, i know i have connectivity. Then to check DNS, i ping www.apple.com.

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And don't forget to mention Network Security Policies ... depending on the network topology being used, policies can be set that prevent everyone -- or a few users -- or a single user -- from accessing the WEB, a WEB site, etc. Policies can be extremely complicated, and are used extensively in the "corporate setting". They can be adminstered and the server level, the client-level, the individual PC-level, at the firewall, the MUX, etc etc ... it is such a vague and open-ended question I belive the interviewer is testing your overall knowledge of network security architecture, in addition to practical connectivity trouble shooting. A way to remember how to answer is to picture a PC and all it's connections on a corporate network out to the WEB itself ... think of all the spots along the network way that could be stopping the request ... and talk, talk, talk, talk until they say "OK, you answered the question!" (being an ex corporate VP in the technology sector, that's what I would expect if I asked that question!). Good luck!

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