Zenmap vs Nmap: Which One to Use (and When)? (2023)

Nmap and Zenmap are popular tools for scanning network ports, services, and IP ranges - but what’s the difference? Why would you use one instead of the other? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of each?

In this article, we’ll answer these questions and provide an in-depth look at both tools. Some of the major points we’ll discuss are:

  • What Zenmap and Nmap are, their features, and uses
  • Which operating systems they’re available for, and how to install them
  • Pros and Cons of Zenmap vs Nmap
  • Frequently asked questions

In short, everything you might want to know about both products to determine when you might select one over the other and why.

Table Of Contents

  1. What Are Zenmap and Nmap?
  2. How to Download and Install Zenmap and Nmap
  3. NMAP vs Zenmap Pros and Cons
  4. Conclusion
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Zenmap and Nmap?

If you’re unfamiliar with these applications, you may be surprised to learn that they are [effectively] the same tool!

Nmap security scanner is a command-line-based multi-platform (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux etc.) network scanning application designed to detect hosts and services on a computer network.

Zenmap is the official Nmap security scanner GUI (Graphical User Interface) version of Nmap. Like Nmap, Zenmap is also multi-platform (available on Linux, Windows, and other operating systems).

Who Uses Zenmap and Nmap?

Nmap users include everyone from beginners to cyber security professionals.

Network administrators use Nmap (and Zenmap) to map subnets and discover hosts. Cyber security professionals use Nmap to scan target systems for open ports and services they might be running. These security scanners are used during hacking and penetration testing to discover target systems, gather information, and check for vulnerabilities.

Regardless of the use case, Nmap and Zenmap should never be used to scan networks and systems you don’t own without explicit permission!

What Are the Capabilities of Zenmap and Nmap?

Both Nmap and Zenmap can be used to provide extensive information about a target network. Some of the commonly-used Nmap features include:

  • Host Discovery: Generate a list of hostnames (i.e., a computer or other device that communicates on a network. E.g., PCs, printers, servers, etc.) and their IP addresses.
  • Port Scanning: Scan specific ports (or ranges of ports) to determine if they’re open on a given target or set of targets.
  • Operating System Detection: Attempts to guess details about the target’s operating system, such as vendor (e.g., Microsoft), underlying OS (e.g., Windows), and OS generation (e.g., 10).
  • Firewall/Intrusion Detection System (IDS) Evasion: Provides several options for advanced users to prevent scanning activities from being detected (and subsequently dropped) by a firewall or IDS system. E.g., Hiding (or spoofing) your IP address, source port, MAC address, etc.

In Nmap, users leverage command-line switches to define scanning parameters. Zenmap’s interface features a command creator which allows the interactive creation of Nmap command lines using drop-down utilities (which can also be edited by advanced users).

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Zenmap can also provide (and save) topology map graphics to help you visualize reachable hosts and their ports:

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Zenmap also allows you to save scan results, which can be compared with one another to determine what’s changed (e.g., hosts or services that were added or removed).

The infographic below provides a side-by-side comparison:

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OTHER RESOURCES YOU MAY LIKE:

  • Nmap Cheat Sheet
  • IPv4 Subnet Cheat Sheet
  • List of Common Ports Cheat Sheet
  • Top 20 Nmap Commands

How to Download and Install Zenmap and Nmap

Both Nmap and Zenmap are available for download at nmap.org/download.html. At the top of the page, you can select your operating system by clicking on the corresponding anchor link:

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Supported Operating Systems

Some of the operating systems Nmap and Zenmap are available for are:

You can find support for other operating systems at the bottom of this page.

How to Install Zenmap and Nmap on Windows

The following guide will walk you through the installation steps for Zenmap and Nmap on a Windows PC.

1. Browse to https://nmap.org/download.html#windows, then click on the link to download the latest stable release (version 7.93 at the time of writing):

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2. Locate and run the installer, e.g., nmap-7.93-setup.exe. The first step of the installation is to accept the license agreement. Select I Agree to continue:

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3. Next, choose the components you want to install. Both setup program installs both Nmap and Zenmap. Untick Zenmap if you wish to forgo the GUI. Click Next to continue:

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4. Next, determine where you’d like to install Nmap/Zenmap (C:\Program Files (x86)\Nmap by default). You can leave this as is or install it in a different location by clicking the Browse… button. Click Install to begin installation:

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5. The setup program will validate the installation to let you know it was completed successfully. Click Next to continue:

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6. The Nmap setup application will default create shortcuts in your Windows Start Menu and Desktop. Click Next to continue:

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7. At the end of the installation process, click Finish to close the Nmap Setup application:

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How to Install Zenmap on Kali Linux

Nmap comes bundled with Kali Linux (along with hundreds of other useful tools), so there’s no need to install it separately. Kali Linux version 2019.4 (and later) removed Zenmap from its package bundle, but you can still install it manually. Here’s how:

1. Begin by updating Kali Linux’s package index list. To this, open a terminal window (CTRL+ALT+T), then enter, sudo apt update:

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2. To upgrade all packages, run sudo apt full-upgrade -y:

3. Since Zenmap requires dependencies that are no longer supported in Kali Linux, we’ll need to use “Kaboxer” (Kali Applications Boxer) to install it as a packaged app in a Docker container. Run sudo apt install zenmap-kbx -y:

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4. Zenmap will now be available from the application list:

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NMAP vs Zenmap Pros and Cons

Nmap Pros

Free and open source.

Smaller and more portable than Zenmap.

You can run multiple and concurrent scans.

It can be used in environments that lack a GUI (e.g., SSH).

Nmap Cons

The CLI creates a steeper learning curve than GUI-based tools.

Lack of options to export information in a human-readable format suitable for presentation to non-technical stakeholders.

Zenmap Pros

Free and open source.

Easy to use Graphical User Interface (GUI).

Displays scan results in text and graphical formats.

Allows you to save and compare previously-run scans.

Zenmap Cons

Larger footprint compared to Nmap and other CLI-based tools.

Requires dependencies not needed for Nmap, which may or may not be available for your chosen operating system.

Conclusion

In this article, we explained the differences between Nmap and its official GUI, Zenmap. Zenmap is excellent for users who aren’t comfortable working with command line consoles and provides additional functionality in the way of saveable searches and topology graphics.

For those who need a lightweight but powerful network scanning utility and don’t have access to a GUI (e.g., running scans while connected via SSH), Nmap is the way to go.

In conclusion, these are two sides to the same coin, and both are a welcome addition to your cyber security arsenal. You can master Nmap with our Complete Nmap Ethical Hacking Course, or practice using both in your own virtual hacking lab.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the uses of Zenmap?

Zenmap (and Nmap) are used to discover useful information about target endpoints on a network, including:
• Hostnames
• IP Addresses
• Open ports
• Possible operating systems
• Possible services and service versions

How is Zenmap related to Nmap?

Zenmap is the official Graphical User Interface (GUI) of Nmap.

What are some alternatives to Nmap?

Advanced Port Scanner (Windows Only): A freeware utility for Windows that can quickly find open ports on network endpoints and retrieve information about programs running on those ports. The application can be installed on your computer or run as a portable executable.

Masscan (Multiplatform): Masscan is a free, open-source internet-scale port scanner. While Linux (including Kali Linux) is the primary target platform, its source code can be compiled to run on other systems such as Windows or macOS.

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FAQs

When might you need to use Nmap instead of Zenmap? ›

Who Uses Zenmap and Nmap? Nmap users include everyone from beginners to cyber security professionals. Network administrators use Nmap (and Zenmap) to map subnets and discover hosts. Cyber security professionals use Nmap to scan target systems for open ports and services they might be running.

Which is better Nmap or Zenmap? ›

Nmap is known for port mapping as it can scan networks and ports both of which can detect the hosts and services of the network which is used for scanning. Zenmap is a multi-platform that also can run on various platforms such as Linux, Windows, BSD, Mac OS X, etc.

What is the difference between Zenmap and Nmap? ›

What are Nmap and Zenmap? Nmap is a command-line network scanner used to detect hosts and services. Zenmap is a GUI version of nmap. Both programs work by sending packets to a user-specified host and analyzing the host's response or lack thereof.

When would you use Zenmap? ›

Describe a scenario in which you would use this type of application. Zenmap is a graphical version of Nmap. It is typically used to get a list of hosts, as well as what operating system and services they are using. The activity notes that it is used for the scanning and vulnerability phase of hacking.

Why would you need to use Nmap? ›

Nmap allows you to scan your network and discover not only everything connected to it, but also a wide variety of information about what's connected, what services each host is operating, and so on. It allows a large number of scanning techniques, such as UDP, TCP connect (), TCP SYN (half-open), and FTP.

Why Nmap is the best? ›

Internet security companies can use Nmap to scan a system and understand what weaknesses exist that a hacker could potentially exploit. As the program is open-source and free, it is one of the more common tools used for scanning networks for open ports and other weaknesses.

Why not to use Nmap? ›

When used properly, Nmap helps protect your network from invaders. But when used improperly, Nmap can (in rare cases) get you sued, fired, expelled, jailed, or banned by your ISP.

What are the disadvantages of using Nmap? ›

What are the disadvantages of using Nmap? Nmap has some drawbacks that should be considered before using it. It can be detected and blocked, as it can generate a lot of traffic and noise on the network which can alert network defenders or trigger intrusion detection and prevention systems.

How do I use ZeNmap and Nmap? ›

On the “Target” box, fill the field with the IP address, domain name, IP range or subnet to scan. Once selected, press on the “Scan” button, next to the drop down menu to select the desired Profile. Below you will see the following tabs: Nmap Output, Ports / Hosts, Topology, Host Details and Scans.

Is there anything better than Nmap? ›

Angry IP Scan

An angry IP scanner is the best alternative for Nmap for the port scan tool. It is mainly used for the fast scanning speed of port and IP address scanners, as it has a multi-thread process that separates each scan. Moreover, it is free and supports operating systems Linux, Windows, Mac, etc.

What scan is faster than Nmap? ›

Masscan is the fastest network port scanner. It can scan the whole internet under 6 minutes with 25 millions per second data transmitting speed. Is it faster than flash? This fastest port scanner gives the output like nmap but masscan works like unicornscann, Zenmap internally(asynchronous scan).

What is the purpose of a Zenmap GUI Nmap report and Nessus report? ›

The purpose of using Zenmap® GUI (Nmap) and Nessus® reports is to enable you to create network discovery port scanning reports and vulnerability reports. These reports can identify the hosts, operating systems, services, applications, and open ports that are at risk in an organization.

What are the differences between Zenmap GUI Nmap and Nessus? ›

What are the differences between ZeNmap GUI (Nmap) and Nessus? Nessus is a vulnerability scanner whereas Nmap is used for mapping a network's hosts and the hosts' open ports. Nmap discovers active IP hosts and gathers information about the open ports.

How do I scan an IP range with Zenmap? ›

Scan IP Range with Zenmap

As shown above, at the “Target” field just enter the IP address range separated with dash: For example 192.168. 0.1-100. Then select the scan Profile (e.g quick scan, intense scan, ping scan etc) and hit the “Scan” button.

Why is Nmap an important tool in your cybersecurity toolbox? ›

nmap is a free, open source tool for identifying hosts on a network and the services running on those hosts. It's a powerful tool for mapping out the true services being provided on a network. It's also easy to get started with nmap. Nessus is another free network security tool, though its source code isn't available.

What is the difference between ZMap and Nmap? ›

Nmap: Nmap is widely used for network inventory, vulnerability assessment, and penetration testing on smaller networks or specific targets. ZMap: ZMap is designed for large-scale internet-wide scans, data collection, and research projects, enabling the analysis of a significant portion of the internet in a short time.

What are the differences between ZeNmap GUI Nmap and Nessus? ›

What are the differences between ZeNmap GUI (Nmap) and Nessus? Nessus is a vulnerability scanner whereas Nmap is used for mapping a network's hosts and the hosts' open ports. Nmap discovers active IP hosts and gathers information about the open ports.

What is the purpose of a ZeNmap GUI Nmap report and Nessus report? ›

The purpose of using Zenmap® GUI (Nmap) and Nessus® reports is to enable you to create network discovery port scanning reports and vulnerability reports. These reports can identify the hosts, operating systems, services, applications, and open ports that are at risk in an organization.

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