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How to use a WiFi interface

This page describes how to configure a WiFi interface on a Debian system, for use on a network.


Once your wireless device has an interface available (verifiable with [http://manpages.debian.net/man/8/iwconfig iwconfig]), it is required to be configured to access a network. If you do not have a wireless interface present, please refer to ["WiFi"] for information on providing a driver for your device.

Wireless network interface configuration can be performed using a connection manager (such as [#network-manager NetworkManager]) or through Debian's /etc/network/interfaces file with a special purpose utility (such as [#wpa_supplicant wpa_supplicant]). Examples of NetworkManager and wpa_supplicant configuration are described below.

<!> The [wiki:Wired_Equivalent_Privacy WEP] algorithm is insecure and deprecated by ["WPA"]. Use of WEP is not recommended and is not covered within this document.


Network Manager

NetworkManager is configured by graphical interfaces, which are available for [:Gnome:GNOME] and ["KDE"]. Your wireless interface should not be referenced within Debian's /etc/network/interfaces file.

NetworkManager is also a front-end for [#wpa_supplicant wpa_supplicant].


  1. Install the network-manager-gnome package:

    $ su
    # aptitude update
    # aptitude install network-manager-gnome
  2. Right-click on a GNOME panel and select "Add to Panel...".
  3. From the list presented, select "Network Monitor" and click "Add". A new systray applet will appear. Click "Close".
  4. Right-click on the applet and select "Properties".
  5. From the dialog presented, click "Configure". You will be asked for the administrative (root) password.
  6. A list of network interfaces will be displayed. Select your wireless interface, then click "Properties".
  7. Tick "Enable this connection" and enter details regarding your wireless network. Click "OK" when finished.

See also ["NetworkManager"] for frequently asked questions, documentation and support references.


  1. Install the network-manager-kde package:

    $ su
    # aptitude update
    # aptitude install network-manager-kde
  2. From the K Menu, select "Run Command". Enter "knetworkmanager" and click "Run".
  3. A new systray applet will appear.

ToDo: Complete knetworkmanager procedure.

See also ["NetworkManager"] for frequently asked questions, documentation and support references.



wpa_supplicant is a ["WPA"] client and IEEE 802.1X [wiki:Supplicant_(computer) supplicant].

The wpasupplicant package provides wpa-* [http://manpages.debian.net/man/8/ifup ifupdown] options for /etc/network/interfaces. If these options are specified, wpa_supplicant is started in the background when your wireless interface is raised and stopped when brought down.

Before continuing, install the wpasupplicant package:


{i} Also known as "WPA Personal" and "WPA2 Personal" respectively.

  1. Restrict the permissions of /etc/network/interfaces, to prevent pre-shared key (PSK) disclosure:

    # chmod 0600 /etc/network/interfaces
  2. Open /etc/network/interfaces in a text editor:

    # sensible-editor /etc/network/interfaces
  3. Define appropriate stanzas for your wireless interface, along with the SSID and PSK. For example:

    auto wlan0
    iface wlan0 inet dhcp
        wpa-ssid mynetworkname
        wpa-psk mysecretpassphrase
    The "auto" stanza will bring your interface up at system startup. If not desired, remove or comment this line.
  4. Save the file and exit the editor.
  5. Bring your interface up. This will start wpa_supplicant as a background process.

    # ifup wlan0

Additional wpa-* options are described within /usr/share/doc/wpasupplicant/README.modes.gz. This should also be read if connecting to a network not broadcasting its SSID.

For general /etc/network/interfaces information, see the [http://manpages.debian.net/man/5/interfaces interfaces(5)] man page.


For networks using [wiki:Extensible_Authentication_Protocol EAP-TLS], you are required to establish a wpa_supplicant configuration file and provide the client-side certificate. An example WPA2-EAP configuration file can be found at [file:///usr/share/doc/wpasupplicant/examples/wpa2-eap-ccmp.conf /usr/share/doc/wpasupplicant/examples/wpa2-eap-ccmp.conf].

Once available, reference your configuration file in /etc/network/interfaces. For example:

More information can be found in the [http://manpages.debian.net/man/5/wpa_supplicant.conf wpa_supplicant.conf(5)] man page. A fully-commented wpa_supplicant configuration file example is at /usr/share/doc/wpasupplicant/README.wpa_supplicant.conf.gz.

Switching Connections

To switch between multiple distinct configurations:

See Also

CategoryNetwork | CategoryWireless