Opte Project

What’s next?

We are currently working on a new version of LGL (3.0) which allows for fixed points, new weights, and more rapid image creation. Once we finish the fixed point (node) code, we can take archived BGP dumps from the Route Views Project and hopefully animate them. You’ll be able to see the Internet move, breath, die, and expand.

In addition to the animation output, we’re working on x,y perspective manipulation.

We are also working on the 2015 Internet map which will feature a much more interactive viewer and more unique highlights of different sections of the Internet.

To do this we need support, we’re hoping to sell some of our high-end prints to continue the funding of the project.

How do I appropriately attribute the image?

Barrett Lyon / The Opte Project
Visualization of the routing paths of the Internet.

What programs / code is Opte currently using?

Opte uses many different tools, scripts, and applications to generate a final image. The process starts with a BGP dump from routers, that is then processed into a relationship database. The database is exported to a format called LGL, which is eventually converted into vector images. At the end of the process, we have an Image.

Is this art?

People much more educated in what is considered modern art, deem the images to be art.  There is a special aesthetic to the images that speaks deeply to people. I’ve written a paper on why I feel the image is art.

What does OPTE stand for?

Opte (pronounced op-tee) originated from the Latin word Opti, meaning Optical. The name originated from the project creator Barrett Lyon, and the fluidness of the name made it stick.

How the heck do you map the Internet?


The original project utilized various tracerouting mechanisms to collect route data. This was a crude attempt to gather information, but it did work. It had a number of flaws, including speed and reliability of data. The project used the smallest block that is logically routed via BGP or allocated by ARIN is a class C network (CIDR /24.) After that concept was shown as possible, I moved on to a multi-node scanning system to provide better image and route detail with the traceroute system.

Over time, it was obvious that the image needed to be based off of the Internet’s true routing table: BGP. The Border Gateway Protocol is the standard for carrier-class routing on the Internet. A single BGP feed from a provider should contain most of the routes or prefixes available at any given moment. The prefix is also accompanied by what is commonly called an “AS path”. This is the path of networks a packet must take to reach the end network based off that particular BGP feed. A single BGP feed may not include all of the paths to a specific prefix. To ensure that this project has the most data possible, I used the data provided by the University of Oregon’s Route Views Project. Route Views has feeds from all over the Internet and allows the Opte image to be very diverse.The BGP table is then processed by several steps:



As a result, we get a very complete image that produces a very accurate view of the Internet. However, we do have a little downfall with resolution, we tend to not see all of the intricate paths a packet may take to hit the final prefix. Traceroute shows each IP address on each hop, where BGP shows each ASN in the path. The traceroute data is a lot more detailed, but the Internet is getting so large that the traceroute data may just turn the image into a big scribble. I felt this tradeoff was a good one and completely replaced the scanning mechanism with BGP in July of 2006.

The first image created in 2003 took a week of scanning and 3 days of processing. This was later reduced to a single day. Once the LGL (Large Graph Layout) data was produced, the PNG was created on an old Dell 533MHz laptop running Linux. The BGP-based images take about 7 hours from start to finish, with the PNG processed in about 5 seconds on a 2013 MBP.

When I first started the project, I was still in college and working part-time. I found a lot of value in the project, and after the proof-of-concept was completed, I continued to program. I think I missed a lot of classes because of my fascination with the project, but it seemed like my time was well spent. The first system was quickly turned into a distributed client/server model. The clients request a chunk of random IP space from the server, and when it is completed, the IP space is registered with the server. This is done until all of the IP space has been scanned. The older system was fun because it involved a lot of collaboration. The new BGP system is not as collaborative, as a result I am working on some mechanisms to bring the public back into the project by somehow allowing people to feed us their BGP and location data real-time.

How can I help the project?

Encourage your employer to use the image and buy licenses for it.  In addition, we are releasing our first ever limited edition prints which will help the project advance.

Why are the limited edition prints so expensive?

For one, they cost about $1000 to create. After they are printed in Los Angeles, Barrett has to fly to the lab and sign them all. Secondly, the sale of the 100 limited edition prints was to raise enough money to further the project without having to ship thousands of prints.

Once the limited edition prints are sold, we will have resources to deal with additional prints, new images, and lower cost options for everyone.

Meanwhile, if you really want a print of the image, and it’s for non-commercial use, you’re welcome to use the image free-of-cost and print your own.

Is Opte Open Source?

It was. We found it too hard to release the code because nobody could figure out how it works. The process is a little befuddled, resulting in a lot of email questions. However, we are updating and maintaining LGL which was on version 1.1, we’ve release 1.3 as open source and we will have a release of LGL 2.0 around the corner.

Can I print these?

Simple answer: Yes if you’re not making money with it or using it for commercial purposes.

Long answer: Opte is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. This means if you use the images, you should attribute “The Opte Project / Barrett Lyon”, and if you’re using the images for commercial purposes, you should purchase a license or get written permission to use the image.

Can I use this in my book?

If the book is educational and involves research data, we typically allow the image to be used with written permission. Just send us an email about the book and we’ll get back to you.

If the image is for a commercial book, we do ask for a license which is a one-time fee. We need these licenses to fund the project.

What about my Power Point Presentation?

If the presentation is educational and involves research data, we typically allow the image to be used with written permission. Just send us an email about the presentation and we’ll get back to you.

If the image is for a commercial presentation, we do ask for a license which is a one-time fee. We need these licenses to fund the project.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
© 2020 by LyonLabs, LLC and Barrett Lyon.