Wireless on the command line

Categories:  Linux
Labels:  terminal, internet, command, wifi, bash

Connecting to wireless access points completely from the command line in linux using the built-in tools is not actually very complicated. The hardest part about it is turning off whatever “friendly” wireless/network managers your system is already running.

Why the command line?

Graphical tools like nm-applet are handy but what they’re doing is very opaque. Sometimes you will tell them to connect to an access point but they will ignore you and continue connecting to some other access point that you don’t want them to connect to. If you prefer to tell the computer exactly what to do, managing wireless on the command line is actually not that hard or difficult and you gain a lot of transparency into what your computer is doing to avoid frustrating situations tinkering with opaque graphical tools.

Also if you like minimal or tiling windowing managers using a wireless applet by way of something like stalonetray feels really awkward and strange.

turning things off


$ sudo update-rc.d network-manager remove
$ pkill nm-applet
$ sudo service network-manager stop

or if sudo service network-manager stop didn’t work, try:

$ sudo /etc/init.d/network-manager stop

If you’re using a graphical environment with a panel that automatically spins up something like nm-applet, you’ll also need to figure out how to disable that although it won’t do anything if network-manager isn’t running.

Figuring out the interface name

Type iwconfig. You will see a list of interfaces. Ignore all the interfaces that say “no wireless extensions”.

The interface name will be wlan0, wlan2 or ath0 or something like that.

This document uses the name wlan0 but you should substitute wlan0 for whichever interface your system reports.

Try run:

Booted up the card with:

$ ifconfig wlan0 up

Where wlan0 is your interface card.

$ sudo iwlist wlan0 scan

To scan wifi networks around.

Adding passwords

$ sudo su
# wpa_passphrase SSID PASSPHRASE >> /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

Make sure to use » and not > or else you will delete all your wireless passwords! It’s a good idea to make a backup occasionally:

$ sudo cp /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf{,.backup}

/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf example:


 pairwise=CCMP TKIP
 group=CCMP TKIP

run wpa_supplicant

Scanning for access points

$ sudo iw dev wlan0 scan | grep SSID
 SSID: MEO-876078
 SSID: Thomson249040
 SSID: MEO-089464
 SSID: Solmar - Guests
 SSID: Solmar

Connecting to an access point

To connect to an access point called SSID, do:

$ sudo iw dev wlan0 connect -w SSID

Or try run wpa_supplicant:

$ sudo su
# wpa_supplicant -B -Dwext -i wlan0 -c /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

See if you’re connected to an access point

Use iwconfig:

$ iwconfig wlan0

When you’re connected, you will see something like:

wlan0 IEEE 802.11abgn ESSID:"Thomson249040" 
 Mode:Managed Frequency:2.412 GHz Access Point: 00:24:17:44:35:28 
 Bit Rate=48 Mb/s Tx-Power=19 dBm 
 Retry limit:231 RTS thr:off Fragment thr:off
 Power Management:off
 Link Quality=46/70 Signal level=-64 dBm 
 Rx invalid nwid:0 Rx invalid crypt:0 Rx invalid frag:0
 Tx excessive retries:170 Invalid misc:134 Missed beacon:0

Getting an IP address

Most of the time you’ll just need to do:

$ sudo dhclient wlan0

But sometimes you will get the message:

RTNETLINK answers: File exists

In that case, release the dhcp lease first with -r and then get a lease:

$ sudo dhclient -r wlan0
$ sudo dhclient wlan0

note: dhcpcd is another dh client to obtain an ip.

Once dhclient finishes, you’re online!


$ sudo iw dev wlan0 disconnect

See also

The manual setup section of the archlinux wiki is very good but somewhat specific to arch in places.

If Wireless shows up as disabled, how can I get it working?

Try this:

  • Install rfkill -> sudo apt-get install rfkill
  • Give this command in terminal -> rfkill unblock all

Your wireless will work instantly, I hope. I guess you have a Intel wireless card and an Hp laptop, one of them at least.

Or try:

Unblock rfkill -> sudo rfkill unblock wifi

Make sure that the wifi card isn’t disabled by the keyboard. My dell laptop is fn+f2 to diable and enable wifi card. XD.

If you switching wifi laptop button isn’t working try “rfkill list” in terminal. This will bring something similar to the following:

0: dell-wifi: Wireless LAN
Soft blocked: yes
Hard blocked: yes
1: phy0: Wireless LAN
Soft blocked: no
Hard blocked: no

See also:

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