Networking Research Lab
Computer Science DepartmentThe University of Memphis

Photo: The University's FedEx Institute of Technology, which houses several Computer Science facilities



NetViews: Real-Time Visualization of Internet Topology Through Peered Vantage Points

The Internet is made up of tens of thousands interconnected self managing networks. The Boarder Gateway Protocol uses a distributed trust system so that information can be passed between networks. The Netviews program will help network operators diagnose possible threats and aid in traffic engineering techniques through real time visualization of multi-level topologies. Researchers can use knowledge of network topology in future protocol design and monitoring the growth of the Internet.  NetViews is an incredibly intuitive program that is easy to use and has a shallow learning curve.. In collaboration with Colorado State University's BGPMon system and using a new visual interpretation of BGP data operators can quickly understand and analyze real time connectivity across the globe.


Our architecture is a combination of client server and load distribution technology.  The Data Broker acts as a client to the BGPMon system receiving updates and forwarding the information to clients. In order to maintain scalability to thousands of clients, NetViews makes use of multicasting through overlay networking.  The DataBroker acts as a portal between BGPMon and client users.  A diagram of this interaction can be seen below.  Load is distributed across the overlay network in order to provide updates and metrics in real time. For the overlay network implementation we use the Hypercast API provided by the University of Toronto.  Only BGP updates are injected into the overlay network.  This is to provide as little delay as possible.  Other services that the DataBroker provides use direct TCP connection to clients.

Figure 1. Relationship between BGPMon and NetViews


Figure 2. Initial user interaction screen showing BGP updates, RIB table, and other status information.

Client Visualization Model

The NetViews client is the main interaction point for most users.  It features an intuitive interface and many features.  Written entirely in Java it enables BGP table and update capture in real time and visualizes this data on demand.  The new client visualization model increases the efficiency and level of understanding when analyzing BGP data. Currently our model features several ways to visualize data. By changing what type of data is being visualized we can assign weights to each links based on the level of prefixes being advertised through each link or the amount of update activity each link has experienced.   These weights can be expressed visually by thicker lines or different color values.  Nodes can also have visual weights associated with them based on the number of prefixes originated by that network or the link degree of that network. 

The visualization module visualizes BGP tables and updates and provides a dynamic and interactive topology map.  We noticed massive cluttering when subscribing to all prefixes so we decided to hide links and nodes for the most part.  The user can then expand and collapse nodes as he/she sees fit. Just as important as visualizing BGP updates was also organizing these updates. The side panel organizes the textual portion of data. It gives the user a wealth of information to complement the topology map.  In Figure 5 we can see the main screen of the topology map.  There are two peers 293 and 2914 as shown by triangles.  We have expanded out the peers to show their immediate neighbors.  On the left is information about nodes, links, and the peers.  We can obtain WHOIS information in this panel also.  On the right side we have the map controls.  We can go forward or backward in time and can set the map to run in Live mode which will set it to process updates in real time.  Also in this panel we display information regarding each update.  This includes the update’s source, its timestamp, type, and associated prefixes and path. 

The graphical user interface (GUI) makes using the NetViews program intuitive and easy to pick up by the most inexperienced of users.  A wizard style step by step dialog window takes the guess work out of the subscription process and ensures that all information is gathered from the user. The user firsts enters in the prefixes that he/she wishes to receive BGP update information for. We have also enabled the subscription of entire AS networks so that network operators do not have to explicitly subscribe to every prefix in the AS they are interested in.  This is also done in the first screen. Then the user can select a subset of peers to use as vantage points and choose whether to also download BGP tables from those peers.  Finally, a summary information screen details the user’s choices before finalizing.



Figure 3. World view with several highlighted links. Red link is a path specific highlight. Green Blue gradient is a prefix specific highlight. Gradient flows towards the prefix.

Figure 4. View of America with Side Panels.


IP Forwarding Visualization

Just recently we began the initial phase of implementing an IP forwarding path visualization module to complement our AS-level map.  This information can be used by network operators to verify that forwarding information corresponds to BGP routing information.  This can be helpful in traffic engineering.  Researchers can also use this information to study convergence time of the IP forwarding plane when a change occurs on the BGP control plane.  In order to accomplish this we leverage looking glass servers (LG) located at our peers and produce IP forwarding paths that should correspond to BGP paths.  Traceroute probes are sent periodically to the LG servers.  However, if a change occurs in BGP along the same path it might be an indication that a change has occurred on the router level IP forwarding plane.  We utilize this knowledge and use BGP as a trigger to probe an address again to find new router level information. A screenshot of the visualization prototype can be seen in Figure 5.   Here 213. 200.64.93 is a LG server located at peer 3303.  We probed several times and produced several paths.  Some paths are incomplete due to unresponsive routers or parsing errors.  This presents a first step towards real time dual AS Router level topology maps.


Figure 5. IP Forwarding Traceroutes to

NetViews client is currently in Beta development and will be available for download soon!


NetViews PowerPoint of additional features(Since Oct 08)


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0551541.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.