Alun Davies

RIPE Atlas Software Probes

Alun Davies
Contributors: Philip Homburg
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RIPE Atlas probes are now available as software, offering future hosts a new way to help build the RIPE Atlas network. While not a replacement for their hardware counterparts, software probes will improve coverage by bringing RIPE Atlas to new and previously hard-to-reach places.


After several months of development and testing, we’re ready to start receiving applications from anyone interested in hosting the RIPE Atlas software probes. The new probes are software packages that work just like regular probes. As such, hosting one doesn’t involve plugging in any dedicated RIPE Atlas hardware. Instead, hosts will install the probes on their own bits of infrastructure – e.g. virtual machines, home routers, servers, and so on.

Apply to host a RIPE Atlas software probe

Software Where Hardware is Hard

Offering hosts the software option will help RIPE Atlas reach a wider audience. One reason for developing software probes is that they can go places hardware probes can’t. This includes places where it’s just very difficult to get items delivered, places where plugging devices in isn’t an option, or even places where hardware probes just don’t function very well (say, due to high temperatures or humidity).

More generally, software probes give people another way to get involved in RIPE Atlas. For some, running probes as software will be more appealing than plugging in a hardware probe. And there’s even the option for developers who are interested in doing so to add code to the existing software, allowing them to experiment with new types of measurements and, in doing so, help improve RIPE Atlas.

That said, the new probes won't be the best choice for all users. Given the technical requirements involved in installing and running software probes (see next section), we expect that many future hosts will find it easier to continue plugging in hardware probes. So, since we want to keep reaching all kinds of hosts at all kinds of locations, we don't plan to cease distribution of hardware probes. What's more, it's worth adding that we're not planning to get software probes running anywhere and everywhere, but will continue to give preference to applicants who can put probes in places we need them.

The bottom line here is that, giving people the choice or hosting probes as software will lend greater versatility to RIPE Atlas, which will help get RIPE Atlas into as many geographical locations and ASes as possible, which will help RIPE Atlas provide an ever more accurate understanding of the state of a still rapidly growing Internet.

Installation Options

Getting a software probe connected and keeping it connected calls for a certain degree of technical know-how. Exactly what you need to know depends on how you plan to install and run the package. Right now, there are several different platforms and operating systems you can use for this, each of which comes with its own level of support and ease of use. Current options for installation include: 

  • CentOS 7 - binary RPM package
  • CentOS 7 and 8 - source installation
  • Debian (9 and 10) and Raspbian - source installation
  • Docker - preliminary source installation
  • Turris Routers - official software package from Turris

Full details on getting your software probe up and running for all the approaches listed above are available on our website.

As usual, software probe hosts agree to make a best effort to keep the probe connected to the Internet at all times, which means hosts will also be expected to keep the version of their software up to date by upgrading to newer versions as they become available.

Feedback

When the testing for software probes began, we created a mailing list to collect feedback and to provide a place for people interested in the code and/or the packaging of it. We'd like to continue these efforts, so please sign up if you're interested in:

  1. Helping to port the software probes to different platforms or distributions
  2. Making distribution-supported, easily deployable packages of the software
  3. Developing or enhancing features of the measurement code.

Alternatively, feel free to leave other comments or questions below. 

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About the author

Alun Davies Based in Amsterdam

Hailing from a research background in philosophy, linguistics and computer science, I came to the RIPE NCC back in 2016 and took on my role as the RIPE Labs Editor in 2020. My job is to help keep all corners of the Internet community informed and engaged on developments and events that continue to shape the Internet as we know it. As RIPE Labs editor, I'm here to help you to get your ideas across on RIPE Labs. Whether you have questions about how to create a new article or profile, need help preparing a draft article for publication, or would just like to discuss whether your idea would be a good fit for RIPE Labs, don't hesitate to get in touch.

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