Updated April 6, 2023
Introduction to Nmap vs Wireshark
Nmap and Wireshark are defined as networking technique tools that enable users to perform network troubleshooting in various forms like troubleshooting of network, analysis of the network, protocol development in communications, discovering of hosts or services on the network, and so on. Each of the 2 tools falls under the respective subcategory of network troubleshooting. Specifically, Nmap falls under the category of network scanner and in turn helps in the domain of network security, whereas Wireshark falls under the subcategory of packet analyzer. Both the platforms are cross-platform i.e. both have the capability to run on different operating systems like Solaris, macOS, Windows, Linux, BSD, or any other Unix distribution. Some more facts on Wireshark is that it was initially named Ethereal but was later renamed because of issues with the trademark. In this article, we will go through the differences between the 2 so that it is easier for developers to decide which is the best suited for the use case being solved.
Head to Head Comparison Between Nmap and Wireshark (Infographics)
Below are the top 6 differences between Nmap and Wireshark:
Key differences between Nmap vs Wireshark
Before we learn about the differences between Nmap and Wireshark, we need to understand why this article of difference is even needed in the first place. There are similarities between the 2 networking technique tools which makes it even important for this topic to be discussed in the first place. Both these techniques are indispensable tools for any network-related use cases. The reason both Nmap and Wireshark are used interchangeably is because of some cases where both are used together and in some other cases, one of them is used. These pointers of similarities bring in confusion for developers on which one to use at what instance and hence the need of this article in order to identify and get the context of the usage right every single time!
If one needs to perform any network scanning, we will need Nmap to be used in those cases whereas in cases where there is a need for network security, we will need to use Wireshark. As the name of network scanning signifies the work it scans the network and information regarding groups, shares, services, usernames of the computers in the network is fetched and saved for future processing. On the other hand, Wireshark sniffs the “network traffic” for look and scan the packets that go in and comes out of the PC. Nmap allows one to send packets for the purpose of scanning and discovering the information talked about and understand what all other PCs are connected in the network and what services are running on it. Wireshark on the other hand looks within the system and sniffs the packets and not necessarily look at network traffic that concerns other PCs in the network. This is how the feature of scanning comes for Nmap and security comes for Wireshark.
Another feature that can be derived from the earlier discussion, is that Nmap is a targeted scanning and Wireshark is a generic scanning. Some of the features in Nmap includes host discovery, scanning of ports, detecting versions of the applications, fingerprinting of TCP/IP stack, and scriptable interaction for Nmap whereas Wireshark’s features include capturing of packets of the different protocols, parsing and displaying the fields from the capture only on the types of network that pcap supports. Another point of difference lies in the organization that makes Nmap and Wireshark available, Nmap is made available by insecure.org whereas Wireshark is made available by wireshark.org.
Nmap is written in C, C++, Python, and Lua, whereas Wireshark is written in C and C++. Users find it relatively easy to use Nmap rather than Wireshark, but this pointer is again from user choice and perceptiveness on knowing how and what to do with Nmap and Wireshark.
Next, we will look at the comparison study in the table to have a face-off between the 2!
Comparison Table of Nmap vs Wireshark
Below are mentioned few comparison:
|Gerne of comparison
|Purpose of use
|Nmap is primarily chosen for the use case of network scanners. Network scanner enables information regarding groups, shares, services, usernames of the computers in the network to be fetched and saved for future processing.
|Wireshark falls into the category of packet scanner. The objective is similar to network sniffing where network traffic that is a part of the entire larger network of the system is intercepted and logged for future processing.
|Nmap comprises various features very different from that of Wireshark in order to fulfill the task of network scanning. Some of the features include host discovery, scanning of ports, detecting versions of the applications, fingerprinting of TCP/IP stack, and scriptable interaction.
|Wireshark makes sure it encompasses the required features in order to fulfill the task of packet scanning. These features include capturing packets of the different protocols, parsing, and displaying the fields from the capture only on the types of network that pcap supports.
|Made available by
|Nmap is made available by insecure.org.
|Wireshark is made available by wireshark.org.
|Nmap is written in languages like C, C++, Python, Lua although it is a cross-platform tool
|Wireshark is written only in C and C++ although it being a cross-platform tool.
|Since Nmap is a targeted scanning, Nmap will return only the details from the scanned network. For example, details of only the IP the network is connected to.
|Wireshark is mostly generic scanning and hence returns details of every request that is made in the network.
|Allows to learn
|Nmap allows applications to learn about the other computers that are available on the network.
|Wireshark allows an application to learn what is being sent or receive on one’s computer.
We understand the similarities between Nmap vs Wireshark that lead to users getting confused on which tool to use in the use cases to be solved. After going through this article it is clear to all, on the major pointer of distinction which will ease out the choice as per the use case between Nmap vs Wireshark. In short, for network security the obvious choice is Wireshark, and for scanning it is Nmap!
This is a guide to Nmap vs Wireshark. Here we discuss Nmap and Wireshark key differences with infographics and comparison tables, respectively. You may also have a look at the following articles to learn more –