Definitions

software method

Loopback

The term loopback (sometimes spelled 'loop-back') is generally used to describe methods or procedures of routing electronic signals, digital data streams, or other flows of items, from their originating facility quickly back to the same source entity without intentional processing or modification. This is primarily intended as a means of testing the transmission or transportation infrastructure.

Examples of applications include the following:

  • A method of performing transmission tests of access lines from the serving switching center, which method usually does not require the assistance of personnel at the served terminal.
  • A method of testing between stations (not necessarily adjacent) wherein two lines are used, with the testing being done at one station and the two lines interconnected at the distant station. Commonly called loop around when the interconnecting circuit is accessed by dialing.
  • A patch cable, applied manually or automatically, remotely or locally, that facilitates a loop-back test.
  • A communication channel with only one endpoint. Any message transmitted through such a channel is immediately received by the same channel.

Virtual network interface

All TCP/IP implementations support a loopback device, which is a virtual network interface implemented in software only and not connected to any hardware, but which is fully integrated into the computer system's internal network infrastructure. Any traffic that a computer program sends to the loopback interface is immediately received on the same interface.

Correspondingly, the Internet Protocol (IP) specifies a loopback network. In IPv4 this is the network with the CIDR prefix 127/8 ("this network", RFC 3330). The most commonly used IP address on the loopback device is 127.0.0.1 for IPv4, although any address in the range 127.0.0.0 to 127.255.255.255 is mapped to it. IPv6 designates only a single address for this function, 0:0:0:0:0:0:0:1 (also written as ::1), having the ::1/128 prefix (RFC 3513). The standard, officially reserved, domain name for these addresses is localhost (RFC 2606).

On Unix-like systems, the loopback interface usually has the device name lo or lo0.

A loopback interface has several uses. It may be used by network client software on a computer to communicate with server software on the same computer, viz., on a computer running a web server, pointing a web browser to the URLs http://127.0.0.1/ or http://localhost/ will access that computer's own web site. This works without any actual network connection–so it is useful for testing services without exposing them to security risks from remote network access. Likewise, pinging the loopback interface is a basic test of the functionality of the IP stack in the operating system.

Packets sent in an IP network with a source address belonging to the loopback interface can cause a number of problems for older or buggy network software. Such packets are known as "martian packets" The Internet Protocol specification dictates that such packets must not be transmitted outside of a host, and must be dropped if received on a network interface.

Loopback addresses are the subject of a reasonably common Internet prank: directing an inexperienced user to connect to (or attack) his own loopback interface as if it were a remote server Note, however, that contrary to popular belief, a computer will normally not crash if it "flood-pings" the loopback address. The only effect is a busy processor.

Network Equipment

Some network equipment uses the term loopback for a virtual interface used for management purposes. Unlike a proper loopback interface, this loopback device is not used to talk with itself.

Such an interface is assigned an address that can be accessed from management equipment over a network but is not assigned to any of the real interfaces on the device. This loopback address is also used for management datagrams, such as alarms, originating from the equipment. The property that makes this virtual interface special is that applications that use it will send or receive traffic using the address assigned to the virtual interface as opposed to the address on the physical interface through which the traffic passes.

Serial Interface

A serial communications transceiver can use loopback for testing its functionality. For example, a device's transmit pin connected to its receive pin will result in the device receiving exactly what it transmits. Moving this looping connection to the remote end of a cable adds the cable to this test. Moving it to the far end of a modem link extends the test further. This is a common troubleshooting technique and is often combined with a specialized test device that sends specific patterns and counts any errors that come back (see Bit Error Rate Test). Some devices include built-in loopback capability.

Telecommunications

In telecommunications, loopback, (short loop) is a hardware or software method which feeds a received signal or data back to the sender. It is used as an aid in debugging physical connection problems. As a test, many data communication devices can be configured to send specific patterns (such as all ones) on an interface, and can detect the reception of this signal on the same port. This is called a loopback test and can be performed within a modem or transceiver by connecting its output to its own input. A circuit between two points in different locations may be tested by applying a test signal on the circuit in one location, and having the network device at the other location send a signal back through the circuit. If this device receives its own signal back, this proves that the circuit is functioning.

A hardware loop is a simple device that hardwires the receive channel to the transmit channel. In the case of a network termination connector such as X.21, this is typically done by simply connecting the pins together in the connector. Media such as optical fiber or coaxial cable, which have separate transmit and receive connectors, can simply be looped together with a single strand of the appropriate medium.

A modem can be configured to loop incoming signals from either the remote modem or the local terminal. This is referred to as loopback or software loop.

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