(New Scientist) A project to create a comprehensive graphical representation of the internet in just one day and using only a single computer has already produced some eye-catching images.

Barrett Lyon, a networking engineer based in the US, thought he could “map” every node on the internet in far less time than that taken by other projects. Some efforts to produce images of the internet have taken months to complete.

Each colour on this Opte map represents a region; North America, blue; Europe/Middle East/Central Asia/Africa, green; Latin America, yellow; Asia Pacific, red; Unknown, white. (Image: Opte.org)

Each colour on this Opte map represents a region; North America, blue; Europe/Middle East/Central Asia/Africa, green; Latin America, yellow; Asia Pacific, red; Unknown, white. (Image: Opte.org)

Lyon reckoned he could quickly provide a simple picture of all the networks linking internet nodes using a standard networking program. After a colleague challenged him to prove that he could, Lyon began his mapping project, called Opte.

“It started as a bet, but after I warmed up to the idea I found a lot of value in the project itself,” Lyon writes on the project’s homepage. He says his maps could provide a useful overview of the internet’s structure and even reveal the effects of disruptions caused by real-world disasters. But more importantly, he says: “The project is art.”

Packet hops

The project uses a networking program called “traceroute”. This records the network addresses that a data packet hops between as it travels towards a particular network host.

Lyon’s software streamlines the process by only mapping larger “class C” networks. By performing 194 traceroute searches per second, it should be possible to scan the whole internet in a day, Lyon says.

“What he has done is apparently to automate it, which is cool,” says Steve Coast, a networking researcher at University College London. But Coast adds that the scheme is unlikely to find every interconnection.

“He apparently maps outward from one point, which means the map is incomplete since by definition you can’t see routes that don’t go to you,” he says.

Lyon has developed a distributed version of the software that would use more starting points and therefore create a more comprehensive map of all the links between network addresses.

Each link between network addresses is recorded using a standard networking program (Image: Opte.org)

Each link between network addresses is recorded using a standard networking program (Image: Opte.org)