So That’s Where Ping Comes From

I have been using the internet since the 80’s and I cannot remember when I first pinged a computer, but I never knew where the name of the command ping came from. I knew the etymology of cat, grep, sed, ftp, irc, man, cpp, and many more, but I never knew where the name ping came from. Well, I learned it from the last person I would have expected, William Safire.

A ping is not just the word for a sound anymore. It is also an acronym for “packet Internet gopher,” a program that tests whether a destination is online and can also be the gently noisy notification sent when a blog needs updating or has been updated.

Seems to me that it should have been pig.

Update: Apparently Safire was wrong. From the author of ping .

Yes, it’s true! I’m the author of ping for UNIX. Ping is a little thousand-line hack that I wrote in an evening which practically everyone seems to know about. 🙂

I named it after the sound that a sonar makes, inspired by the whole principle of echo-location. In college I’d done a lot of modeling of sonar and radar systems, so the “Cyberspace” analogy seemed very apt. It’s exactly the same paradigm applied to a new problem domain: ping uses timed IP/ICMP ECHO_REQUEST and ECHO_REPLY packets to probe the “distance” to the target machine.

Before posting the original entry, I googled “packet internet gopher”, since it sounded odd to me. Gopher is a pre-http protocol for serving files. I did find it as a definition for PING, so I went ahead and posted.

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