Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Sniffing the traffic on the loopback interface on Windows with RawCap

If you ever had to write a chunk of code for inter-process communication via Internet Protocol (IP) you must have came across using the loopback interfaceIPv4 address is usually the address of this virtual interface and also the address that hostname localhost  resolves to. You would, at least for tests, set one process (server) listening on some port on the localhost while the other process (client) would connect to the server and start their data exchange. 

In order to check the data sent from one end to another, we can use any kind of process output (standard output, log, ...) provided that given process actually shows that data. But what if there is no such output? We have to find a way how to sniff the traffic between these two parties.

RawCap is one of free tools capable of sniffing packets on the loopback interface. It collects packets and stores them in the file in pcap format. This file can be opened in Wireshark.

In order to demonstrate RawCap packet capturing we can use ready-made networking application which can serve both as a server and a client - Ncat. It comes as a part of Nmap for Windows and uses TCP by default.

Once Nmap is installed, open console window in C:\Program Files (x86)\Nmap directory and  type the following:

> ncat -v -4 -l localhost 6789

-v (or --verbose) sets verbose output
-4 instructs ncat to use IPv4 addresses only
-l (or --listen) switch makes Ncat to listen for incoming connections on the provided hostname and port. localhost will be resolved to and I also used an arbitrary port which was free - 6789.

We effectively have server running now but before we run the client it is necessary to start capturing packets. From the directory with RawCap.exe we have to open terminal window with Administrator's privileges and run RawCap.exe (which has to be run as Administrator). Now we just have to follow the instructions. RawCap lists network interfaces and asks which interface shall be monitored. We have to type in the number next to the loopback interface. In the next step we can set the name of the packet dump file or just leave default name which is dumpfile.pcap. At this point we have started sniffing packets on the localhost!

> RawCap.exe
0. 169.xxx.xxx.xxx Local Area Connection Ethernet
1. 169.xxx.xxx.xxx Local Area Connection* 2 Wireless80211
2. 169.xxx.xxx.xxx Ethernet Ethernet
3. 169.xxx.xxx.xxx Ethernet 2 Ethernet
4. 169.xxx.xxx.xxx Local Area Connection 2 Ethernet
5. Loopback Pseudo-Interface 1 Loopback
6. 192.xxx.xxx.xxx Wireless Network Connection 2 Wireless80211
Select interface to sniff [default '0']: 5
Output path or filename [default 'dumpfile.pcap']:
Sniffing IP :
File : dumpfile.pcap
Packets : 0

Let's now start the client. We have to open another terminal window in Nmap's directory and run another instance of Ncat which will try to establish TCP connection with the localhost:6789 endpoint:

> ncat -v 6789

Both server and client show the state of their current connections:


> ncat -v -4 -l localhost 6789
Ncat: Version 7.01 ( https://nmap.org/ncat )
Ncat: Listening on
Ncat: Connection from
Ncat: Connection from


> ncat -v 6789
Ncat: Version 7.01 ( https://nmap.org/ncat )
Ncat: Connected to

So far, only TCP handshake has taken place in the communication between these two instances of Ncat. We can expect that RawCap has captured at least these 3 packets so far (SYN, SYN-ACK, ACK). Let's now send some user data. By default Ncat works as an echo server which means that it echoes any text message it receives. If we type in the client "hello from client", that string will appear on the server's output. The same happens if we go the other way round and send message from the server to the client. Once we want to stop communication, we can use CTRL-C combination to stop one process. The other will get disconnected and also terminate. We can use the same combination in order to stop RawCap.exe.

At the end of the session we have:




RawCap.exe saved all captured packets in file dumpfile.pcap. If we open this file in Wireshark and filter out all packets with TCP port 6789 we can see packets exchanged between our Ncat processes:

If we follow that TCP stream we can see exact text messages sent between client and server:

Post a Comment