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Tcpdump is a popular tool to log network traffic, but all the output can be overwhelming and confusing to read and sort through.

These commands and scripts can help to reduce the pain of reading the shitload of output that tcpdump gives.

First, we need to send the output of tcpdump to a file. This can be done in many ways such as using the -w option or just sending the standard output to a file using the arrow > and we have to let tcpdump run in the background.

For these examples, we’ll be using the arrow > to do most of the work.

Unique Tcpdump Logs

The most common way to log network traffic of a specific network interface (i.e. wlan0, eth0, docker0) would be to specify the interface with the -i option.

SSH Terminal
sudo tcpdump -i eth0 -q > network_logs.txt

This will log all network traffic from the network interface eth0 to the file network_logs.txt

Your terminal will not show any output since its all the output is being sent to the network_logs.txt file. To resume what you were doing before running this command, you’ll have to send it to the background or disown it.

The way I do this is I use nohup with an & at the end so that the terminal is usable while tcpdump is running.

SSH Terminal
sudo nohup tcpdump -n -i eth0 -q -l > networ_logs.txt &

This will let tcpdump do its thing in the background. To check if its actually running, you can use the ps command.

SSH Terminal
ps -a

This will show the running processes, and you should see tcpdump with its process ID next to it. Now you can check the network logs by reading the contents of the text file. This can be done with cat network_logs.txt or tail -f network_logs.txt if you want to see the logs in real time.

To stop tcpdump, I recommend using pgrep and pkill since you don’t need to type in the long process IDs.

Terminal window
# To get the process ID of tcpdump
pgrep tcpdump
# To kill all tcpdumps that are currently running
sudo pkill tcpdump
# example output below
sudo pkill tcpdump
[1] + 1391656 done sudo nohup tcpdump -n -i eth0 -q -l > network_logs.txt

Even after all of this, your network logs will look really messy. What I do to make things easier to read is that I only log the IP’s. By that, I mean, only unique IP addresses will be shown so that there are no duplicates and so that its less messy.

To do this I use awk, sort and uniq and a .pcap file so that tcpdump can read it better (? I think). The commands below log the network traffic and then read all the unique IP’s from the .pcap file.

Terminal window
# write (-w) network logs to a pcap file
sudo nohup tcpdump -n -i eth0 -q -l -w network_logs.pcap &
# read the network logs but only show the unique IP addresses
tcpdump -r network_logs.pcap -nn | awk '{print $3}' | awk -F "." '{print $1"."$2"."$3"."$4}' | sort | uniq

Now all the unique IP addresses will be shown in the terminal.

Piping the output through | less may be a good idea if there’s a lot of network traffic, so you can search through them.