Display Filters

Find the packets you are looking for
6 min |  Ross Jacobs |  July 7, 2019

Table of Contents

Display Filters are a large topic and a major part of Wireshark’s popularity. If you are unfamiliar with filtering for traffic, Hak5’s video on Display Filters in Wireshark is a good introduction.

Introduction to Display Filters

Display filters allow you to use Wireshark’s powerful multi-pass packet processing capabilities. To use a display filter with tshark, use the -Y 'display filter'. Single quotes are recommended here for the display filter to avoid bash expansions and problems with spaces.

If you create a filter and want to see how it is evaluated, dftest is bundled with Wireshark.

Layers 2-4

For any major protocol, there is query for each direction and either.

  1. eth.src == 00:11:22:33:44:55: Source MAC address is 00:11:22:33:44:55
  2. ip.addr == Find all traffic that has IP of
  3. tcp.dstport != 80: Destination tcp port is NOT 80

For the table below, create a filter by joining the relevant header and word below it with a .. For example, source MAC address becomes eth.src.

direction eth ip tcp udp
source src src srcport srcport
destination dst dst dstport dstport
either addr addr port port

Care must be taken when using != with a filter that specifies either direction like addr or port. If you are wondering why, dftest can be used to investigate.


Protocols you might run into are icmp, dhcp, and http. These are provided as examples as the list of available protocols is extremely long. For example:

bash$ tshark -Y 'icmp'
Capturing on 'Wi-Fi: en0'
    1   0.000000 → dns.google   ICMP 98 Echo (ping) request  id=0x1d5b, seq=48153/6588, ttl=63
    2   0.025354 → mbp.attlocal.net ICMP 98 Echo (ping) reply    id=0x1d5b, seq=48153/6588, ttl=53 (request in 1)
   13   1.001761 → dns.google   ICMP 98 Echo (ping) request  id=0x1d5b, seq=48154/6844, ttl=63
   14   1.026759 → mbp.attlocal.net ICMP 98 Echo (ping) reply    id=0x1d5b, seq=48154/6844, ttl=53 (request in 13)
   31   2.004378 → dns.google   ICMP 98 Echo (ping) request  id=0x1d5b, seq=48155/7100, ttl=63
   35   2.029677 → mbp.attlocal.net ICMP 98 Echo (ping) reply    id=0x1d5b, seq=48155/7100, ttl=53 (request in 31)


and, or, (), and ! are used to combine statements. For example, to get all traffic going to google’s dns servers that is not a ping or dns lookup, use

ip.addr == and !(icmp or dns)

If you like C-style syntax, you can also use && instead of and and || instead of or.

Finding Components of Protocols

Sometimes you know the protocol you’re looking for, just not the relevant fields you need to filter with. tshark -G will print all protocols, so you can use it in conjunction with grep to find fields of interest.

grep for a specific field by name

If we already know what the field name is, we can get the full display filter by searching for it.

bash$ tshark -G | grep -E "sec_websocket_version"
F	Sec-WebSocket-Version	http.sec_websocket_version	FT_STRING	http		0x0	

find all subfields of a protocol

In this example, use http.response, and escape the periods.

bash$ tshark -G | grep -E "http\.response\."
F	Response line	http.response.line	FT_STRING	http		0x0	
F	Response Version	http.response.version	FT_STRING	http		0x0	HTTP Response HTTP-Version
F	Status Code	http.response.code	FT_UINT16	http	BASE_DEC	0x0	HTTP Response Status Code
F	Status Code Description	http.response.code.desc	FT_STRING	http		0x0	HTTP Response Status Code Description
F	Response Phrase	http.response.phrase	FT_STRING	http		0x0	HTTP Response Reason Phrase

2-pass analysis with -R, -Y, and -2

If you would like to optimize display filtering over 2 passes, you can specify the first and second with -R <filter> -2 -Y <2nd filter>.

There are few circumstances where this relevant, but I can make a contrived example: Let’s say that you want the 5th arp frame in a capture. You could do this with two passes or by calling tshark twice. Using two passes is faster:

bash-5.0$ time tshark -r large.pcapng -R "arp" -2 -Y "frame.number == 5"
    5   5.872787 18:68:cb:ad:97:60 → Broadcast    ARP 60 Who has Tell

real  0m2.945s
user  0m2.702s
sys   0m0.447s
bash-5.0$ time tshark -r large.pcapng -Y "arp" -w - | tshark -r - -Y "frame.number == 5"
    5   5.836911 18:68:cb:ad:97:60 → Broadcast    ARP 60 Who has Tell

real  0m4.660s
user  0m4.633s
sys   0m0.781s

Realtime Analysis

One of the biggest differences between tshark and Wireshark is that you can change the Termshark is the way to analyze a capture in the terminal. You can change filters just like Wireshark’s GUI to see what’s happening.

Termshark: A UI for tshark

Filter with Regex: matches and contains

Sometimes you want to search packet data and a display filter won’t cut it. matches will search with a regex while contains searches for exact byte sequences.


You cannot use matches and contains with fields that have a number type like int.

matches: Search for a URL with regex

You’re looking for an HTTP GET that contains a request for a URL that starts with ‘http’ or ‘https’, has the Russian ‘.ru’ domain, and contains the word ‘worm’ in the query string. Luckily, Wireshark gives you matches which uses PCRE regex syntax. A simple one that satisfies this is https?.*?\.ru.*?worm. If this seems like greek, you can explore it on regex101.

Given that this is GET, it’s better to just search the ‘http’ protocol: http matches "https?.*?\.ru.*?worm" Note that the regex is double quoted. With tshark, -Y "display filter" also needs to be double-quoted. In order to use this display filter, escape the inner quotes:

tshark -r $file -Y "frame matches \"https?.*?\.ru.*?worm\""

You cannot use the null character,\x00 when using matches because Wireshark uses null-terminated C-strings. Use [^\x01-\xff] instead.

contains: Search for a byte sequence

contains searches the text representation of a field. If you’re looking for any frames that match an OUI ‘00:16:e3’, there are a couple ways of doing this.

# These are all equivalent
tshark -r $file -Y "eth.addr contains 00:16:e3"
tshark -r $file -Y "eth.addr[0:3] == 00:16:e3"
tshark -r $file -Y "eth.addr matches \"^[^\x01-\xff]\x16\xe3\""

Further Reading

This will be a long list as this is the meat of what Wireshark does.



Similar Programs

  • ngrep: Use PCRE and libpcap syntax to search for data. This qualifies as a similar program, but tshark with match has a superset of functionality. Limited to pcaps and parses vastly fewer protocols.