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WiFi wireless networking on MacBooks generally works under Debian, sometimes out-of-the-box, but support and configuration depend on the specific hardware (and kernel support for it), and often requires some hacking.

If the network card is supported by the kernel then simply refer to the documented WiFi instructions in case of problems. However, if the network card is not supported by your running kernel, then some hacking may be required.

Initial setup and check

If you’ve installed Debian with the Laptop or Gnome-Desktop installation, you have the basic necessary tools; otherwise install wireless-tools for wireless, and optionally NetworkManager for a user interface (so you can select a network), or use an alternative, as discussed at WiFi.

To start, try running iwconfig.

Getting packages

It is significantly easier to setup wireless with a working (wired) network connection, for installing packages and finding documentation.

If you do not have access to a wired connection, you can boot into Mac OS X (if you are dual-booting) and download required packages, or else obtain them from a separate computer with working wireless connection, but this may require re-booting into another OS and then back into Debian as well as using dpkg manually to install packages instead of aptitude/apt-get.

Identify wireless card

The first step is to identify your network card; "AirPort" and "AirPort Extreme" are Apple product names for varying hardware, with "AirPort Extreme" meaning "IEEE 802.11g" (and for more recent cards, /n (802.11n)). Different cards require different configuration.

Under GNOME or KDE, one can use a graphical application, as described at How to Identify PCI. Alternatively, one can check manually via:

update-pciids # if necessary; run as root, to update PCI database
lspci | grep -E "Atheros|Broadcom" # Finds card

MacBooks before the late 2008 models use Atheros chipsets, while late 2008 are now using Broadcom 4322 chipset.

Most Atheros models work out-of-the-box; Broadcom chipsets all require non-free firmware, and thus require some user intervention.

Broadcom chipset

The b43 driver requires non-free firmware for device operation. The b43-fwcutter utility can be used to extract firmware from a Broadcom-provided driver.

Atheros chipset

Atheros chipsets will work automatically with either the ath5k (802.11a/b/g) or ath9k (802.11a/b/g/n) modules.