[Winpcap-users] Captured packets buffered and not returned to the application immediately

Guy Harris guy at alum.mit.edu
Thu Dec 11 00:30:07 GMT 2008

On Dec 10, 2008, at 3:28 PM, Oliver Zheng wrote:

> I'm using WinPcap in an application to capture packets, but it seems  
> that calls made to pcap_next() do not return immediately when a  
> packet is received. The timeout is set to 0 (blocking indefinitely).  
> The packets seem to be buffered in some location, so that in order  
> to see a packet that just arrived, I have to capture a lot more  
> packets for that packet to be flushed to my application. I am  
> comparing my results to that of Wireshark, which seems to display  
> packets immediately as they are received.

> Does anyone know what could be causing it

To quote the WinPcap documentation of pcap_open_live():


"to_ms specifies the read timeout in milliseconds. The read timeout is  
used to arrange that the read not necessarily return immediately when  
a packet is seen, but that it wait for some amount of time to allow  
more packets to arrive and to read multiple packets from the OS kernel  
in one operation. Not all platforms support a read timeout; on  
platforms that don't, the read timeout is ignored. A zero value for  
to_ms, on platforms that support a read timeout, will cause a read to  
wait forever to allow enough packets to arrive, with no timeout."

Windows is a platform that supports a read timeout (the text in  
question appears to have come from the libpcap documentation; libpcap  
is a multi-UN*X-platform library for capturing network traffic, and  
WinPcap is a port of that library to Windows plus a driver to provide  
access to NDIS for that library).

This means that the read will block for as long as it takes to fill up  
WinPcap's buffer (or *BSD/Mac OS X's BPF buffer, or Solaris's DLPI  
buffer), so you will not see any packets until the buffer fills up.

> and how it can be fixed?

Wireshark does not say "block indefinitely"; it specifies a timeout,  
so that if the specified number of milliseconds pass before the buffer  
fills, the read will complete even though the buffer isn't full.

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