The Meaning of Ping

The popular term has surprising origins

The word "ping" spelled with lettered blocks.

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In the age of internet communication and mobile texting, the word ping simply means "to get in touch." Decades ago, however, before email and Facebook and smartphones and the internet itself existed, ping meant something very different.

The Origins of the Word "Ping"

The word "ping" has its roots in sonar. Sonar involves setting off sound waves to basically "see" the surrounding environment. The sound waves bounce off of other objects and the sea floor so that watercraft can measure depth and the distance between objects for navigation purposes.

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Photo © Ken Schultz

During World War II, ships used sonar to detect enemy submarines. This is where the word "ping" came to be associated not only with an electronic signal, but also an electronic sound.

The Evolution of the Word "Ping"

In the very early days of computers and internet technology, the meaning of ping evolved. According to the Dictionary by Merriam-Webster, Michael Muuss was the computer scientist who wrote the modern day "ping" code back in 1983—taking his inspiration from echo-location while trying to troubleshoot a computer network problem.

The computer code that he wrote triggered a host computer to set off an echo-like signal (an "echo request') to a remote computer to check its online or offline status. Its status could then be determined by its response (an "echo reply").

"Ping" in the Web 2.0 Era

The transition from a static web (Web 1.0) to a more dynamic and interactive web (Web 2.0) gave rise to new ways for the word ping to be used, particularly among blogs and social networks.

For blogs, the word ping refers to the XML-RPC signal a blog sends to another server to notify it of newly updated content. Today, there are all sorts of blog ping services that automatically ping search engines on behalf of bloggers to help them get their content indexed faster.

In social networking, ping refers to the share or post activity of an external link from a website. A social-sharing plugin installed on that website might display the share count number on that web page, which essentially represents the number of "pings" that that particular web page received.