Wireshark and Giving Back to the Open Source Community

I am a contributor to Wireshark. OK, it’s been a while since I contributed, but I did make two useful contributions and I plan on doing more in the future. I am surely not one of the “top ten” or even “top thirty” contributors. Others have done far more than I have, However, I’d like to share about my contributions to help you get a deeper understanding of where I’m coming from.

Before I tell you what those contributions were, though (and they have been re-done more efficiently since), I want to tell you a bit about some packet sniffing history and why I made those contributions.

Way back in the early to mid 1980s I worked at the University of New Mexico in a research group. We used a packet analyzer from MIT (and later from CMU, if I recall correctly) called NetWatch. It ran under DOS and displayed packets as they arrived at the network card. The packets were displayed in color (e.g TCP packets were red). I used it primarily to diagnose network faults.

That tool was later updated and sold by a company called FTP Software and we used that commercial version called LANWatch in classes I taught at Learning Tree. Later I heard about Ethereal (which became Wireshark). It had the advantage of being open source, but it had two major disadvantages over LANWatch: the packets were not colorized and they were not displayed in real time as they were captured. These were both major obstacles to using it in Learning Tree classes.

As Ethereal was open source I set out to change the code to do what I needed it to do. I had a lot of learning to do. While I was an expert C programmer, I had to learn the graphics system they were using, how the code worked, and so forth. The changes weren’t simple. Fortunately, I figured things out and my changes were accepted.

So why am I sharing this? It’s not to brag or toot my own horn. It’s because I believe it is important to give back to the community when we can. Contributing to open source projects is one way, but not everyone is a programmer and there are other avenues including cash contributions (e.g. to Mozilla or the Free Software Foundation). You can write documentation, translate documentation into other languages, test software, and so forth. You can even teach children about online safety, security or good programming practice. Many folks, including myself, believe that the more we give, the more we get back.

Let me know in the comments below about other opportunities to “give back” and ways we can help the community.

To your safe computing,
John McDermott

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