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Nmap Network Scanning

Chapter 13. Nmap Output Formats

Introduction

A common problem with open-source security tools is confusing and disorganized output. They often spew out many lines of irrelevant debugging information, forcing users to dig through pages of output trying to discern important results from the noise. Program authors often devote little effort to organizing and presenting results effectively. The output messages can be difficult to understand and poorly documented. This shouldn't be too surprising—writing clever code to exploit some TCP/IP weakness is usually more gratifying than documentation or UI work. Since open source authors are rarely paid, they do what they enjoy.

At the risk of offending my friend Dan Kaminsky, I'll name his Scanrand port scanner as an example of a program that was clearly developed with far more emphasis on neat technical tricks than a user friendly UI. The sample output in Example 13.1 is from the Scanrand documentation page.

Example 13.1. Scanrand output against a local network

bash-2.05a# scanrand 10.0.1.1-254:quick
  UP:        10.0.1.38:80    [01]   0.003s
  UP:       10.0.1.110:443   [01]   0.017s
  UP:       10.0.1.254:443   [01]   0.021s
  UP:        10.0.1.57:445   [01]   0.024s
  UP:        10.0.1.59:445   [01]   0.024s
  UP:        10.0.1.38:22    [01]   0.047s
  UP:       10.0.1.110:22    [01]   0.058s
  UP:       10.0.1.110:23    [01]   0.058s
  UP:       10.0.1.254:22    [01]   0.077s
  UP:       10.0.1.254:23    [01]   0.077s
  UP:        10.0.1.25:135   [01]   0.088s
  UP:        10.0.1.57:135   [01]   0.089s
  UP:        10.0.1.59:135   [01]   0.090s
  UP:        10.0.1.25:139   [01]   0.097s
  UP:        10.0.1.27:139   [01]   0.098s
  UP:        10.0.1.57:139   [01]   0.099s
  UP:        10.0.1.59:139   [01]   0.099s
  UP:        10.0.1.38:111   [01]   0.127s
  UP:        10.0.1.57:1025  [01]   0.147s
  UP:        10.0.1.59:1025  [01]   0.147s
  UP:        10.0.1.57:5000  [01]   0.156s
  UP:        10.0.1.59:5000  [01]   0.157s
  UP:        10.0.1.53:111   [01]   0.182s
bash-2.05a#

While this does get the job done, it is difficult to interpret. Output is printed based on when the response was received, without any option for sorting the port numbers or even grouping all open ports on a target host together. A bunch of space is wasted near the beginning of each line and no summary of results is provided.

Nmap's output is also far from perfect, though I do try pretty hard to make it readable, well-organized, and flexible. Given the number of ways Nmap is used by people and other software, no single format can please everyone. So Nmap offers several formats, including the interactive mode for humans to read directly and XML for easy parsing by software.

In addition to offering different output formats, Nmap provides options for controlling the verbosity of output as well as debugging messages. Output types may be sent to standard output or to named files, which Nmap can append to or clobber. Output files may also be used to resume aborted scans. This chapter includes full details on these options and every output format.

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