ToolboxNew Products for IT Pros

Greg Steen

Inspect HTTP Traffic


I am always on the hunt for new tools to help me see what is really going on beneath the surface of the applications I run, and when it comes to debugging Web traffic and applications, the free HTTP debugging proxy, Fiddler, gives me the details I need. When you launch the application, Fiddler plugs itself in between Microsoft® Windows® Internet Services (WinInet process) and your external connections, registering itself as a system proxy. This allows it to filter all HTTP requests and responses traveling through the WinInet on your system.

As you start to capture traffic with Fiddler, each HTTP session is displayed in the interface, color-coded by traffic-type. This means you can easily see what is involved in each HTTP transaction, including the HTTP response code, the host and URL requested, size, caching status, and content-type (for example, "text/html", "image/jpeg", and so on).

Clicking on an individual request gives you even more detailed information regarding that request and this is where the Fiddler tool really gets interesting. On the Performance Statistics tab, you can see the number of bytes sent and received, the response bytes by content-type, and a pie chart showing the percentage of the total request size that was taken by each of the elements of the response. Then, on the Session Inspector tab, you can see a tree view of the request headers, a detailed view of any forms, a hex representation of the response, the real raw request, caching information, any privacy information, and even an image viewer for applicable content-types.

Once you have isolated a problem or would like to run a very specific test, you can use the Request Builder feature to engineer and request that item from your target server. There is a drag and drop clone feature as well, so you won't have to craft the request from scratch. If all of these capabilities aren't enough for you, the Fiddler tool can be extended programmatically as well. It is a .NET Framework-based application that allows you to extend the application in two ways: "Inspectors" and "Custom Rules."

Inspectors are .NET plug-ins that are split into two types: RequestInspectors and ResponseInspectors. If you have a developer on staff who can write these custom-derived objects you can really tailor the application to your specific needs. For example, since the tool runs as a proxy, you can write a read/write Response Inspector that could modify the HTTP response before it gets to the application that requested it, testing both the resilience of your requesting application and allowing you to create very precise test conditions. All of this for free makes it a definite addition to my IT toolbox.

Price: Free.

Getting Statistics on HTTP Traffic

Getting Statistics on HTTP Traffic  (Click the image for a larger view)

Defrag Your Disks

Diskeeper 10 Professional Premier

Defragmentation is a necessary task for every heavy system user, and you have probably seen quite a few of those red-peppered disk analysis graphic representations on your clients' workstations. File fragmentation is a natural occurrence just because files are constantly being written, rewritten, resized, and deleted. And as those files get scattered, system performance degrades.

Diskeeper 10 Professional Premier Edition from Diskeeper Corporation could be the answer to fast, efficient disk defragmenting for your organization. The Premier Edition gives you features such as I/O SMART, which will monitor drive access from other processes on your system to ensure that the defragmentation process doesn't severely degrade the overall system performance. Diskeeper also includes both manual and automatic volume defragmentation scheduling.

In addition, Diskeeper allows you to defragment your Master File Table (MFT) with its Boot-Time Mode, in accordance with Microsoft recommended guidelines (since the OS utilizes the MFT extensively). The Frag Shield feature helps you configure system paging files and MFTs as recommended by Microsoft published guidelines with the goal of keeping those files contiguous to ensure maximum system performance. For those looking for remote defragmenting, a remote administration edition is also available.

Price: $99.95 Professional Premier Edition. $49.95 Professional Edition. $29.95 Home Edition.

Diskeeper Map Showing File Performance

Diskeeper Map Showing File Performance  (Click the image for a larger view)

Edit HEX Byte Data


Your PC stores everything as hex bytes and getting to that "real" data can be tough. If you are looking for a hex file editor that will let you explore the hidden side of your files and file systems, FlexHEX might be the tool you want to consider adding to your toolbox.

FlexHEX integrates into Windows Explorer, so editing a binary file is as easy as right-clicking the file and choosing "Edit with FlexHEX". The application supports editing logical drives, physical drives, and files. The interface splits the file into four views: the address, the array of hex bytes, an ANSI pane for character content, and even a Unicode pane for displaying two-byte characters. Selecting a set of 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 bytes from the byte array pane gives you a nice tooltip of any valid representations of the data such as corresponding decimal or RGB values.

Editing is simple and the application has a great undo/redo feature that will help protect you from accidentally destroying a file by typing in the wrong byte values. You can also search, replace, search for multiple patterns simultaneously, scan for strings, scan for GUIDs, and compare the current edit stream with a file or disk. Another nice feature of FlexHEX is the Navigation pane, which allows you to quickly jump back and forth between areas you have edited in the stream.

Price: $39.95 for home and academic users. $59.95 for corporate users.

  (Click the image for a larger view)

Check for Bad Links


Bad links are bad for business. And let's face it, they happen. If you are looking for an extremely low-cost, easy-to-use, simple site link spider, ByteShift's SiteScan could be a nice addition to your toolbox. The interface is simple: you type in the start page URL or select one of your recent URLs from the dropdown list, set the maximum number of links to follow, and then click the Start button. The application reaches out (don't forget to give it outbound access on your host firewall) and spiders the site from that starting point, displaying near real-time results as each subsequent link is processed.

The interface summarizes the results showing you the target page, its URL, the response time for retrieving that page, the HTTP response code, and any server messages like "403.1 Access Denied". You can limit the scanner to spider only the file types you want to spider; for example, if you are only interested in spidering the static pages on your site, you can limit the scan to HTM and HTML files and ignore dynamically generated pages like ASP.

The interface has a built-in browser that displays the page response of any link you click. And you can click a button on the browser and instantly see the source code, which is a fast way to troubleshoot (rather than having to open another editor window to see the page source). When you click on a child link from the starting point, the application will start another page analysis from that point. In the results pane, the application lists the link title, which is a fast way to find out which links are not titled correctly on your site.

Price: $20 per user.

SiteScan LinkChecker

SiteScan LinkChecker  (Click the image for a larger view)

Book Review

SQL Server 2005 Distilled

If you are thinking of migrating your data stores to SQL Server™ 2005 and aren't sure what features have been improved or added, SQL Server 2005 Distilled by Eric L. Brown (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2006) will get you started. The book is not meant to be a huge reference tome about all the ins and outs of the new server system, but rather presents most of the new and extensively revised components in comparison to SQL Server 2000.

The security feature set of the SQL Server product family has been greatly enhanced and the book discusses each new feature, from data encryption to authentication. And SQL Server 2005 Distilled does a nice job of describing the SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) architecture along with details of the control flow designer and error handling within SSIS. One section of the book that should set some IT pros' minds at ease is about Certificate Revocation List (CRL) integration. It explains CRL integration into the platform and how and when to use managed code versus T-SQL in your apps.

The XML features of SQL Server have also been greatly enhanced and the book does a good job detailing those features. For example, it explains when you should use a native XML storage and when you should use XML View technology. It also introduces the XML data type, a variant of the binary large object.

Price: $34.99.

Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur, and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools and methods to help make operations and development easier for IT professionals.

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