Pifimon: NetStumbler for Linux?

Well no, not really. But Pifimon does do a little of what NetStumbler does.

Pifimon is a small programme to monitor wireless networks under Linux. It is written in Perl and works by presenting the output of iwlist in a more friendly, and constantly updating, way.

The initial screen presents a list of visible access point with a summary of information about them in table format. The list is updated as fast as iwlist can rescan. You can select one access point to monitor and display that access point’s signal strength as a constantly updating histogram. Here are some screenshots:

List of access points

Initial screen: list of visible access points

Signal strength histogram

Monitoring the signal strength of one access point

Pifimon supports several wireless card drivers, and provides a way to extend support to other drivers. You can download the latest version (pifimon-0.4rc2.tar.gz) or get Pifimon from Github.

Why did I write it?

For various reasons I’ve become interested in building antennae to boost wifi coverage. I needed some way to get a constantly updating representation of signal strength to help test and align antennae. The thing most people seem to use is NetStumbler, but NetStumbler only runs on Windows. Most of my machines, and in particular the netbook I plan to use for testing, run Ubuntu.

After a bit of Googling I came across scanmeter, a bash script that processes the output of the Linux `iwlist scan` command to produce a histogram. Just what I needed! Well nearly, but the great thing about open source is that if it’s not quite right, you can change it.

I started playing about with scanmeter. I didn’t want to have to enter a whole MAC ID to select the cell I wanted to monitor. I thought it would be nice to colour code with a third colour for ‘moderate’. I put colours in the signal strength column of the cell list. Then I thought it would be nice if the cell list updated regularly…

By now I was really stretching the limits of my bash scripting. So I decided to rewrite it in Perl. A bit more googling threw up this blog on using Perl to neaten up iwlist’s output which provided some great ideas on parsing iwlist output with Perl. I rewrote that script as a Perl package, largely to allow for easy extending to cope with different wireless drivers producing different iwlist output. A few hours later I had my first stab at Pifimon…



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