Best Network Analyzers

A network analyzer, also known as a packet sniffer, is a tool used to capture, analyze, and interpret network traffic. It allows network administrators, security professionals, and researchers to monitor and troubleshoot networks, identify issues, and gain insights into network behavior.

A network analyzer can capture network packets (see our guide to PCAP) by passively monitoring network traffic or by actively injecting test packets into the network.

Here is our list of the best network analyzers:

  1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor EDITOR’S CHOICE While the main technique used by this network monitor is based on SNMP, the system also includes a deep packet inspection function. It runs on Windows Server. Start a 30-day free trial.
  2. ManageEngine Network Topology Tool with OpManager (FREE TRIAL) A network monitoring system that uses Ping sweeps and SNMP processes to watch performance. Available for Windows Server and Linux.
  3. Wireshark The number one packet analyzer for technicians, hackers, penetration testers, and developers. This free tool runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  4. Paessler PRTG This monitoring package is a bundle of monitors, which are called sensors. One sensor, called a packet sniffer, notes packet header contents but does not capture them. It installs on Windows Server.
  5. Splunk App for Stream An add-on for a well-known network data processor. Splunk Stream can perform a full packet capture or generate metadata by reading passing packet headers. It runs on Windows, Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, Solaris 11, and AIX.
  6. Omnipeek A neat network monitor with some great data visualizations that sources data with a network analyzer. It runs on Windows.
  7. NetSpot An impressive wireless network analyzer with a signal footprint mapper.

The best network analyzers

In this guide, we look at network monitoring tools that only use network analysis techniques such as deep packet inspection. We also look at those that offer packet analysis as an extra function.

Our methodology for selecting a network analyzer

We reviewed the network analyzer market and analyzed tools based on the following criteria:

  • The capability to communicate with switches through NetFlow, sFlow, J-Flow, IPFIX, NetStream, and AppFlow
  • The option to capture packet streams, just headers, or sample periodic packets
  • Alerts on traffic surges
  • Network path analysis to spot bottlenecks
  • Protocol analysis
  • Support to implement traffic shaping measures
  • The offer of a free usage period for assessment
  • A reasonable price that reflects the quality of the product

There is more detail about each of these network analyzers in the following sections of this guide.

1. SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor (FREE TRIAL)

SolarWinds Network Performance monitor

SolarWinds includes a network analyzer tool in its Network Performance Monitor even though the main monitoring mechanism of this service is through SNMP. While SNMP provides constant live network checks, a network analyzer, called Deep Packet Inspection is provided as Quality of Experience statistics.

Key Features:

  • Focuses on quality of experience
  • Demonstrates response times
  • Drills down to application statistics
  • Attractive graphs
  • 30-day free trial

Why do we recommend it?

SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor keeps track of the statuses of network devices by implementing the Simple Network Management Protocol. The tool also uses Ping and packet header protocol analysis to draw up a network topology map and create a network inventory. This system identifies equipment issues that can damage network performance.

The DPI service is what is often called “protocol analysis”. It examines traffic per application, which is information that can be derived by looking at the destination port number written into each packet header. The network analyzer demonstrates response times per application and the user can set delivery time targets and create custom alerts for these goals.

SolarWinds NPM QoE Threasholds

As well as showing the traffic for each individual application, the screens aggregate data by application category. It creates grouped statistics that indicate business or social use. However, it is difficult to work out how accurate that information can be – “social” doesn’t necessarily mean personal use. For example, menu businesses use social media for platforms and many business applications can also be used for personal use.

Who is it recommended for?

This package is very comprehensive and it is suitable for large organizations that have networks that are too big to monitor manually. Automated alerts draw the administrator’s attention to devices that are experiencing problems. A small business with few devices would not need this system. The software runs on Windows Server.


  • Deep packet inspection
  • Quality of Experience measurements
  • Response time monitor
  • Usage categorization
  • SNMP-based device monitoring


  • No SaaS version

The software for the Network Performance Monitor installs on Windows Server. The tool is available on a 30-day free trial.


The SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is our top choice as a network analyzer because it offers many forms of network examination techniques as well as packet inspection. The availability of SNMP monitoring and network performance testing tools as well as deep packet inspection functions makes the NPM a very powerful tool, enabling network administrators to get a deep understanding of network activity.

Start 30-day Free Trial:

OS: Windows Server 2016 or later

2. ManageEngine Network Topology Tool with OpManager (FREE TRIAL)

ManageEngine OpManager Network Diagram

ManageEngine OpManager uses an autodiscovery feature and network topology mapping to analyze a network in real-time and make all of its elements available for status checks. The system constantly revises its network exploration so any changes to the network get immediately registered in the network inventory and appear as automated alterations to the network topology map.

Key Features:

  • Constant status checks
  • Live network map
  • Virtualization monitoring
  • Performance impairment alerts
  • Additional server monitoring

Why do we recommend it?

The ManageEngine Network Topology Tool is part of the OpManager package. This system scans the network and identifies all the devices that are connected to it. This creates a network inventory – the topology maps of OpManager are drawn up automatically from that inventory data. The package provides a choice of layout views.

The OpManager system uses Ping and the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to poll all network devices for availability, response times, and status reports. The service is able to detect when traffic surges are overloading network devices and includes reports on CPU, memory, and storage space availability that show the device’s ability to cope with extra load.

ManageEngine OpManager Network Diagram Business View

All monitored metrics have performance thresholds placed on them and these will trigger alerts if systems face problems. Each device can also report to the OpManager module if they face status errors. These alerts appear in the dashboard for the service and they can also be sent out as notifications by email or SMS to It technicians.

Who is it recommended for?

The packages for OpManager are priced for monitoring 10 devices, which is suitable for SMBs. Larger businesses pay for more capacity. The system is able to monitor servers and well as networks, which provides any business with all of the hardware monitoring that they need. There is also an edition for MSPs.


  • Performance detection with Ping and SNMP
  • Self-hosted cloud option
  • Autodiscovery and network mapping
  • Capacity alerts


  • Cloud installation is not a SaaS package

OpManager is implemented as on-premises software that runs on Windows Server or Linux. The package also includes monitoring for virtualizations, servers, and applications, such as VoIP, email, and Web services. You can try out this monitoring system on a 30-day free trial.

ManageEngine Network Topology Tool with OpManager Download 30-day FREE Trial

3. Wireshark


Wireshark is the leading packet analyzer. The tool is free to use and it relies on libpcap or WinPcap for packet capture but the installation package for Wireshark also installs the relevant capture program for the operating system. Using Wireshark requires training because the strength of the package is its proprietary search and filtering language, which takes time to master.

Key Features:

  • Packet filtering and sorting
  • Color-coded for protocols
  • Follows conversations

Why do we recommend it?

Wireshark is the tool of choice for security analysts that want to perform manually the type of searches that SIEM tools and firewalls regularly implement. Sometimes, leaving the analysis to automated processes misses something – new tricks and even some well-known techniques, such as splitting attacks over several packets, can confound sophisticated security analysis tools.

Although Wireshark has become the application of choice for network security analysis, it also has uses for network capacity planning. In that use case, implementing a level of automation is necessary because traffic analysis works best through the accumulation of data over time.

Wireshark network analyzer

It is possible to calculate summaries of traffic data, such as packet volume per protocol, top talkers, and external correspondents. This type of data then needs to be stored and then analyzed manually in another package, which could be a spreadsheet.

Who is it recommended for?

If you want to use Wireshark, you need to get some training, which is available online. Once you have the skills to use the tool, you will probably use it a lot. The system is often used by hackers for reconnaissance once they break into a network and penetration testers use it, too.


  • Free to use
  • Good for packet-level investigations
  • Can filter and summarize packet data


  • Takes a long time to learn

You can download Wireshark for free.

4. Paessler PRTG (FREE TRIAL)

Paessler Packet Sniffer Sensor

Paessler PRTG is a three-in-one system monitor that monitors networks, servers, and applications. The package is a bundle of monitors, each called a sensor. The price of the service depends on how many sensors the user wants to turn on.

Key Features:

  • Segments traffic statistics
  • Data represented as dials
  • Drill-down detail access
  • Doesn’t store packets
  • 30-day free trial

Why do we recommend it?

Paessler PRTG is a package of monitoring tools, which are called sensors. You customize the package by deciding which sensors to activate. The package includes sensors for device management and others for traffic analysis with protocols such as NetFlow and IPFIX. The tool provides network discovery and automatic topology mapping.

One of the sensors in PRTG is the Packet Sniffer. A packet sniffer saves packets while a network analyzer just records packet header data. Paessler states that its packet sniffer does not record packets. Therefore, it is actually a network analyzer.

The packet sniffer sensor has its own screens in the PRTG dashboard. This shows statistics about live traffic as dials, with the speed of each category of traffic indicated. Traffic categories include mail, infrastructure, and file transfer activities.

The screens of PRTG are very attractive with colorful graphs and charts and drill-down details accessible by clicking on a feature in an overview screen. The screens for the packet sniffer can be customized and it is even possible to create entirely new screens that contain data panels from different standard screens.

Who is it recommended for?

This system is suitable for businesses of all sizes because you only have to pay for the sensors that you turn on. The package is also available for free as long as you only activate 100 sensors. The package runs on Windows Server and it is also offered as a SaaS platform.


  • Traffic analysis protocols
  • Packet capture and protocol analysis
  • SNMP-based network device monitoring


  • No packet viewer

The PRTG system installs on Windows Server and can be experienced on a 30-day free trial which includes unlimited sensors.

5. Splunk App for Stream

Splunk App for Stream

Splunk is a very widely-used network monitor. The Splunk methodology involves deriving network performance statistics and then saving them to a file. Those records are then interpreted for view by the user in the system dashboard.

Key Features:

  • Records packet header statistics
  • Doesn’t store packets
  • 60-day free trial

Why do we recommend it?

This add-on provides a method to move live network traffic data into a Splunk analysis project. Splunk can perform data analysis on any source but you have to get that data into a file before Splunk can act on it. This is the purpose of the Splunk App for Stream.

The Splunk system is very flexible and can be expanded by add-ons, which are called apps. One of the apps available for Splunk is called Splunk App for Stream, which is free. Splunk App for Stream is a network analyzer that gathers detailed stats about network traffic.

Who is it recommended for?

Splunk App for Stream provides a way to feed live network data into Splunk, which is a data analysis tool that normally operates on files. This system is only available as an add-on to Splunk Enterprise Security, which is a SIEM package. While Splunk App for Stream is free, Splunk Enterprise Security isn’t.


  • Interfaces with libpcap and WinPcap for packet capture
  • Free add-on to Splunk
  • NetFlow, jFlow, sFlow, and IPFIX


  • Free Splunk is now only for a trial period

Splunk is available in both free and paid versions. The paid version of the service is called Splunk Enterprise. The software for Splunk can be installed on Windows, Linux, macOS, FreeBSD, Solaris 11, and AIX and there is also a cloud-based SaaS version, called Splunk Cloud. Splunk offers free trials of Splunk Enterprise for 60 days or Splunk Cloud for 15 days.

6. Omnipeek


While the previous three tools on this list offer a network analyzer as an extra feature to their network monitoring system, Omnipeek is a pure network analyzer. The full description of this system is a network protocol analyzer. This is because the main advantage that network analyzers have over SNMP network performance monitors is that they can see the port information in the packet header and port numbers can easily be interpreted into protocols and, therefore, applications.

Key Features:

  • Live traffic data
  • Analytical tools
  • 30-day free trial

Why do we recommend it?

Omnipeek is a product of LiveAction, which calls the tool “the world’s most powerful network protocol analyzer.” It captures packets and categorizes them according to the contents of their headers. This is a Transport Layer analysis that goes beyond just noting the port numbers of each packet.

Omnipeek is a very impressive network traffic monitor with excellent visualizations of live data and additional analytics screens. Traffic data is presented as an overview with statistics available per application. A live data flow graph also shows traffic response times as they adjust with each packet sample. Each application element in the overview is an active link through to a details screen that shows more statistics for the chosen protocol. The main concern of Omnipeek is response times per protocol and traffic volumes.

The system can be extended by plugins that include topology maps and actual world map views of WANs. The service is available as software or as an appliance. There is also a USB device available for Omnipeek that will scan wireless networks for protocol data.

Remote networks can be monitored centrally with the installation of an agent program. This facility also makes Omnipeek a suitable tool for Managed Service Providers (MSPs). The system also includes a remote control mechanism that gives support center technicians direct access to remote endpoints for troubleshooting – another facility that makes Omnipeek attractive to MSPs.

Who is it recommended for?

This tool provides live feedback on traffic over a network. It shows line graphs of traffic volumes per protocol. This can be useful information if your network frequently gets overloaded because you need to know exactly which traffic is hogging all of your bandwidth. This software runs on Windows.


  • A network protocol analyzer
  • Live traffic graphs
  • Appliance-based option


  • No packet viewer

Omnipeek installs on Windows and Windows Server and it is offered on a 30-day free trial.

7. NetSpot


NetSpot is one of many wireless network analyzers available on the market but it is arguably the most appealing because it is available in free and paid versions and it is suitable for both home and business use.

Key Features:

  • Wireless network activity
  • Floorplan overlay
  • Free version

Why do we recommend it?

NetSpot is a free wireless network analyzer and there is a paid version, called NetSpot Enterprise. The tool runs on Windows and macOS. You will get more from this tool if you install it on a laptop because if you can move around with the NetSpot software running, it will map wireless signal strength.

The console of the service has two main views. One is a table showing all of the nearby wireless devices and the second is a plan view of the property. The plan view is a very attractive feature. However, it needs to be set up. The user needs to get a floorplan of the property into the system that is difficult to match up with the way that NetSpot sees its surroundings. Without a custom floor plan, NetSpot shows a default location layout, which, of course, will have no relation to the actual floor plan of the premises.


NetSpot installs on Windows and macOS. As well as the free version, there are three paid editions, with progressively more expensive versions including more features. There is no free trial offer of the paid versions because potential customers can just download the free edition for that purpose.

Who is it recommended for?

Anyone who runs a wireless network will benefit from using NetSpot. Its ability to report on capacity and interference is very useful. However, the option of moving around and getting a report on signal strength in different locations is a bigger benefit. The NetSpot app for Android is actually a different product.


  • Wireless network analyzer
  • Signal footprint maps
  • Signal channel details


  • Although the plan feature looks good it takes a lot of work to set up

Choosing a Network Analyzer

If the statistics are gathered in a well-indexed way with lots of detail added to each metric, then time segments can be reassembled to create very insightful graphs of traffic. This can occur without having to search through the actual traffic all over again.

Why aren’t all network monitors categorized as network analyzers?

There are four types of network monitors:

  • Performance monitors that use SNMP queries to get statistics from network devices
  • Network testing tools, such as Ping and Traceroute
  • Packet sniffers that capture packets
  • Network analyzers that examine passing packets

Some network monitoring tools include a blend of these tools and some offer a bundle of network monitoring methodologies from which the user can choose.

The advantage of network analyzers is that they derive statistics from passing traffic without needing to store that traffic. Letting packets pass by doesn’t necessarily mean that all chances for historical analysis are lost.

Right-sizing network analyzers

The choice of network analyzers is very broad. That’s because there are so many different types of companies and budget and size are two other influencing factors when meeting requirements with the right tool.

The great thing about the large range of network analysis systems that are available is that there are tools that everyone will use when managing a network and then tools for technicians and others for busy system managers.

Tools that provide packet capture are only of interest to developers and technicians working on specific investigations, such as penetration testers. Automated traffic pattern tracking tools are not much good for those who want to see packet-level details, but they are real timesavers for busy systems managers. Systems that record and store traffic statistics over time can help identify bottlenecks and underutilized links. Big businesses that can afford top-level systems have packages available to them that offer all of the above functions.

Why use a network analyzer?

The most common method of network monitoring used today is through the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). This system queries network devices, such as switches and routers, for network traffic information.

Centralizing the data

The reason that SNMP is so popular is that all network device manufacturers include an SNMP agent in the firmware of their equipment. All the system lacks is a central SNMP manager to demand reports from device agents and interpret them. So, the producers of network monitoring tools just need to write that central manager in order to access a rich source of network information. This includes the make and model of each device and how they link together, which immediately creates a network inventory and a network topology map.

Many network monitoring tools include SNMP, testing tools, such as Ping and Traceroute, and a network analyzer. SNMP is a great source of information on device statuses and throughput statistics. However, it doesn’t provide actual information about the packets that pass through the devices.

Reducing packet sniffing waste

Packet sniffers are useful for examining passing traffic because the user can actually read each packet in a viewer and examine it. The problem with packet capture systems is that they can get out of hand very quickly. If the capture function is left on for more than a couple of minutes, the storage file for those packets gets enormous. It isn’t feasible to get a day’s worth of packets to look at traffic patterns around the clock.

Most data payloads nowadays are encrypted for security, so packet sniffers that copy all of every packet just manage to store a large number of undecipherable characters. A more efficient option is to copy the header of each packet and that cuts down a lot of the volume of data that needs to be stored.

Reducing storage and DPI

Even that more efficient strategy of reaping only packet headers is a little wasteful. Very little in a header is of any interest. Rather than storing a header, the packet analyzer just notes down the values of those useful fields, reducing storage to a fraction of that needed for a packet sniffer.

You might end up using a network analyzer without realizing it. Security software, including firewalls, use network analyzer techniques. With security systems, the examination of packet headers is called “Deep Packet Inspection” (DPI). While network analyzers note down data from passing packets, firewalls will search for specific identifiers and block packets that match or, in some cases, block packets that don’t match.

Network Analyzer FAQs

What is the best free network analyzer?

Nmap is a widely used free network analyzer, which you can read about here. For a great free wireless network analyzer, look at NetSpot on our list.

What benefit does network analysis provide over other types of tools that enhance connectivity?

Network analysis usually involves examining the packet headers of traffic samples. This is a time-consuming task and should only be used as a last resort after the use of automated traffic analysis tools. If standard traffic monitoring doesn’t solve your network’s problems, Network analysis can show you where your big traffic generators are.