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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 by running "ip link show"), 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 obtaining a driver, or the necessary firmware for your device.

Wireless network interface configuration requires a backend, generally wpa_supplicant (often in conjunction with ifupdown and other utilities) or IWD. These can be used with connection managers that provide advanced functionality, and an easier way to configure them. Examples of these would generally be NetworkManager, ConnMan, systemd-networkd, and Wicd.

<!> The WEP algorithm is insecure and deprecated by WPA. Use of WEP is not recommended and is not covered within this document.



For the average desktop user, the easiest way to configure your network is to install the GUI frontend for NetworkManager that corresponds to your desktop. NetworkManager itself is a frontend for different network backends (wpa_supplicant by default) that abstracts away the configuration and simplifies it. Your wireless interface should not be referenced within Debian's /etc/network/interfaces file.

NetworkManager Frontends

NetworkManager on GNOME

As of GNOME 3, integration with NetworkManager is baked into GNOME Shell, and will appear in the settings and as an icon in the top-right of your screen as long as it's running.

Open the "Networks" section of your settings, select your network in the list, enter the password as prompted, and you should be ready to surf the web.

The network-manager-gnome package still exists and provides a systray applet for other desktops, but will not make any difference with GNOME 3.

See the NetworkManager page for frequently asked questions, documentation and support references.

NetworkManager on KDE Plasma

The KDE Plasma task should bring in plasma-nm during system installation without any extra steps being required, and its usage should be intuitive. If you aren't sure how to use it though, or if you installed the desktop manually and might not have brought it in, the following will likely be useful.

  1. Ensure your user account is a member of the netdev group.

  2. Install the plasma-nm package.

  3. Restart your Plasma session (most easily by logging out and logging back in).
  4. A new applet (with a traditional "no Wi-Fi signal" icon) will appear in the system tray. Click this icon.
  5. Neighboring wireless networks with a broadcasted SSID should be listed:
    • Click on the desired network's name.
    • If the network uses WPA encryption with a password (aka passphrase/pre-shared key), you will be prompted to enter it. After providing, click the "Connect" button.
    • The wireless network connection will be activated.
    If the desired network is not listed (e.g. SSID not broadcast/hidden):
    • Click "Connect to Other Wireless Network...".
    • Enter the network's name in "Name (ESSID)".
    • Tick "Use Encryption" if in use on the network.
      • Select the encryption method used (usually "WPA Personal").
      • Enter the passphrase/pre-shared key at "Password".
      • Select "WPA 1" or "WPA 2" for the protocol version, as used by the network.
    • Click the "Connect" button to activate the wireless network connection.

See the NetworkManager page for frequently asked questions, documentation and support references.

NetworkManager on a generic desktop/headless session

If there is no GUI frontend available, the "nmcli" and "nmtui" commands are available as CLI and TUI frontends respectively for NetworkManager.

Troubleshooting & Tips for NetworkManager

WiFi can scan, but not connect using NetworkManager (Debian 9 Stretch)

If you find that your wireless network device can scan, but will not complete connecting, try turning off MAC address randomization.

Write inside /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf:


After doing this, restart NetworkManager with systemctl restart network-manager

Setting up a WiFi hotspot

In recent years, NetworkManager is sophisticated enough to set up a WiFi hotspot that "just works" (i.e. sets up a local private net, with DHCP and IP forwarding). In some desktops, such as KDE Plasma, a button to create a hotspot is visible in the network applet if two separate wireless network interfaces are present. Alternatively, it can be created manually with a command similar to:

nmcli dev wifi hotspot ifname wlp4s0 ssid test password "test1234"


Changing the backend

It's possible to replace wpa_supplicant with IWD in NetworkManager in Debian 10 and newer, though Debian 11 is recommended for the best experience as there are known issues with the old version of IWD present in Debian 10. For more information on how to switch, see NetworkManager/iwd.


While also available as backend for ConnMan, NetworkManager, and systemd-networkd, it's also possible to nearly base your entire networking stack on one codebase with IWD alone. It's an all-in-one wireless client, wireless daemon, and even a DHCP client optionally! At its best, your entire networking stack can be as minimal as IWD + systemd-resolved, and this works wonderfully for many scenarios. It has virtually zero dependencies and uses modern kernel features as often as possible. Anecdotal reports suggest that it's much faster to connect to networks than wpa_supplicant, and has better roaming support, among other perceived improvements.

First, install the iwd package. If you've installed wpasupplicant, either uninstall the package, or stop and disable the wpa_supplicant service with:

systemctl --now disable wpa_supplicant

Then, ensure that the newly-installed IWD service is enabled and running with with:

systemctl --now enable iwd

If you plan to go the route of using IWD standalone, you should first enable some essential features in IWD's configuration file, which can be found at /etc/iwd/main.conf. Edit this file with root permissions using your favorite editor.

Enable IPv6 support by adding this section to the configuration file:


Enable network autoconfiguration, so that IWD uses its own built-in DHCP client rather than requiring use of a separate standalone DHCP client. Add this section to the configuration file:


Restart the service with "systemctl restart iwd" after making these additions. Start the IWCtl client by running "iwctl" as your standard user (not root!), which will start an interactive prompt. You can run "help" to get a full list of commands here.

To connect to a Wi-Fi network in the most typical scenario, first type "device list" to find the name of your wireless device. We will use wlan0 in this example, but your name may be different, and potentially much longer if your system renames interfaces to a unique name.

After you have the device name, run something like "station wlan0 scan" to have the device scan for networks. You can then list these networks by running "station wlan0 get-networks". After you've found the network you intend to connect to, run "station wlan0 connect Router123", replacing 'Router123' with the name of the network. Put the name of the network in double-quotes if it contains a space. IWCtl will then prompt you for the passphrase. After entering this, IWD will connect to the network, and store it permanently in the /var/lib/iwd directory. After being added in this way, IWD will attempt to auto-connect to the network in the future.

Try running ping to see if you can reach an IP, and then ping to see if you can reach a domain. If you can't reach an IP, something's gone horribly wrong when connecting to the network. If you can't reach a domain but you can reach an IP, you'll need to configure your DNS. The simplest way to accomplish that is...

Setting up DNS resolution for IWD (Simple)

If "EnableNetworkConfiguration=true" is set, you'll also need to configure IWD's name resolving service. It supports systemd-resolved and resolvconf. If unspecified, it uses systemd-resolved. Refer to the IWD.CONFIG(5) page if you care about using resolvconf instead.

If DNS is nonfunctional, you likely need to configure systemd-resolved for use with IWD. Enable and start the systemd-resolved service, if it isn't already, by running:

systemctl enable --now systemd-resolved

Then, symlink /etc/resolv.conf to /run/systemd/resolve/stub-resolv.conf by running:

# ln -sf /run/systemd/resolve/stub-resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf

That should be enough to get you online. If you want to make changes to your DNS configuration, refer to the /etc/systemd/resolved.conf file, and the associated manpage at RESOLVED.CONF(5)

Further reading

Keep in mind, this is just covering the most basic of basics for getting online in a completely typical scenario, and it might not apply to you! For more advanced setups, refer to the help output for IWCtl. Documentation on other options for the /etc/iwd/main.conf file can be found in IWD.CONFIG(5). Documentation for the network files in /var/lib/iwd can be found in IWD.NETWORK(5).

Some of the information here was adapted from this lovely blogpost, which has more details and more ideas for how you can configure your own setup:


<!> You must remove network-manager to get wicd to work. Check to see if network-manager is installed and see if, after you installed the driver, your wireless is already working in the notification area of your desktop manager. You may already be good to go.

wicd (Wireless Interface Connection Daemon) is a lightweight alternative to NetworkManager, using wpa_supplicant as a backend. It is environment-independent, making it suitable for all desktop environments, including GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, and Fluxbox. Like NetworkManager, wicd is configured via a graphical interface. Your wireless interface should not be referenced within Debian's /etc/network/interfaces file.

  1. Update the list of available packages and install the wicd package:

    # apt update
    # apt install wicd
  2. Amend /etc/network/interfaces to contain only the following:

    # This file describes the network interfaces available on your system
    # and how to activate them. For more information, see interfaces(5).
    # The loopback network interface
    auto lo
    iface lo inet loopback

    Note: as of wheezy it is fine to have your wireless interface in /etc/network/interfaces, but not required. You can set the wireless interface (e.g. wlan0) in the wicd client's preferences.

  3. If not already performed, add your regular user account to the netdev group and reload DBus:

    # adduser yourusername netdev
    # systemctl restart dbus
  4. Start the wicd daemon:

    # systemctl start wicd
  5. Start the wicd GUI with your regular user account:

    # exit
    $ wicd-client -n

See also wicd frequently asked questions.


ConnMan is another network frontend designed for embedded devices. Example usage:

# apt install connman

$  /usr/sbin/connmanctl 
connmanctl> enable wifi
connmanctl> scan wifi 
Scan completed for wifi

connmanctl> services 
$SSID    wifi_f8d111090ed6_6d617269636f6e5f64655f6d6965726461_managed_psk
...      ...

connmanctl> agent on
Agent registered

connmanctl> connect wifi_f8d111090ed6_6d617269636f6e5f64655f6d6965726461_managed_psk 
Agent RequestInput wifi_f8d111090ed6_6d617269636f6e5f64655f6d6965726461_managed_psk
Passphrase = [ Type=psk, Requirement=mandatory, Alternates=[ WPS ] ]
WPS = [ Type=wpspin, Requirement=alternate ]
Passphrase? $PASS
Connected wifi_f8d111090ed6_6d617269636f6e5f64655f6d6965726461_managed_psk

connmanctl> quit

After the configuration, connman remembers your SSID selections and reusees them automatically. Don't worry about long HEXes - in client mode TAB auto-completion works both for commands and data.


Using IWD

While IWD is often a backend for more comprehensive connection managers, it can also be used fully standalone, and is completely distinct from wpa_supplicant. With virtually no extra dependencies, it's one of the lightest and simplest methods for configuring wireless networking. See the IWD section for more information, and view the IWD.NETWORK(5) manpage if you're interested in writing manual connection files for IWD rather than going through IWCtl.

Using ifupdown

These instructions require and make use of ifupdown, iproute2, wpa_supplicant (For WPA2 support), iw, and wireless-tools. Ensure you have all of these installed before continuing. You also might be interested in the instructions below that only use ifupdown and wpa_supplicant, along with using a more advanced configuration. See #wpa_supplicant

Find your wireless interface and bring it up: (NOTE: wlp2s0 is an example, you will need to make sure to use the correct device name for your system)

# ip a
# iw dev
# ip link set wlp2s0 up

Scan for available networks and get network details (If you already know your wifi network id/ESSID, you can skip this step):

$ su -l
# iwlist scan

Now edit /etc/network/interfaces. The required configuration is much dependent on your particular setup. The following example will work for most commonly found WPA/WPA2 networks:

# my wifi device
allow-hotplug wlp2s0
iface wlp2s0 inet dhcp
        wpa-ssid ESSID
        wpa-psk PASSWORD

Bring up your interface and verify the connection:

# ifup wlp2s0
# iw wlp2s0 link
# ip a

You can manually bring your interface up and down with the ifup and ifdown commands. If you added allow-hotplug wlp2s0 as in the example above, the interface will be brought up automatically at boot.

For further information on available configuration options, see man interfaces, man iw, man wireless and /usr/share/doc/wireless-tools/README.Debian.



Find your WiFi network where WPS is enabled.

# iwlist scan

wlan0     Scan completed :
          Cell 01 - Address: 11:22:33:44:55:66
                    Frequency:2.462 GHz (Channel 11)
                    Quality=64/70  Signal level=-46 dBm 

Use wpa_cli to connect to the MAC address provided by the scan.

# wpa_cli wps_pbc 11:22:33:44:55:66

Then press the WPS button on your access point to start the PBC mode.

Once connected, start dhclient to obtain a dynamic IP address.

dhclient wlan0


wpa_supplicant is a WPA client and IEEE 802.1X supplicant.

The wpasupplicant package provides wpa-* 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 (alternatively use a separate config file such as /etc/network/interfaces.d/wlan0 on newer Debian versions):

    # chmod 0600 /etc/network/interfaces
  2. Use the WPA passphrase to calculate the correct WPA PSK hash for your SSID by altering the following example:

$ su -l -c "wpa_passphrase myssid my_very_secret_passphrase > /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf"

If you don't put the passphrase on the command line, it will be prompted for. The above command gives the following output and pipe(write) it to "/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf":


Since wpa_supplicant v2.6, you need to add following in your /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf in order to function sudo wpa_cli:


you'll need to copy from "psk=" to the end of the line, to put in your /etc/network/interfaces file.

Quick connect to the configured network (doesn't require ifupdown):

sudo systemctl reenable wpa_supplicant.service
sudo systemctl restart wpa_supplicant.service
sudo systemctl restart dhcpcd.service
sudo wpa_supplicant -B -Dwext -i <interface> -c/etc/wpa_supplicant.conf

Now you should have connected to the internet.

  1. Open /etc/network/interfaces in a text editor :

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

    allow-hotplug wlan0
    iface wlan0 inet dhcp
            wpa-ssid myssid
            wpa-psk ccb290fd4fe6b22935cbae31449e050edd02ad44627b16ce0151668f5f53c01b
    The "allow-hotplug" stanza will bring your interface up at system startup. If not desired, remove or comment this line.
  3. Save the file and exit the editor.
  4. 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 interfaces(5) man page.


For networks using 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 /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 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:

Security consideration

  1. Every member of a network can listen to other members' traffic (whether it's an unencrypted public hot-spot, or a WEP/WPA/WPA2, or LAN). Use SSL/TLS protocols (HTTPS, IMAPS...) or VPN to preserve your privacy.

  2. WEP is so insecure that it is basically equivalent to not using any encryption at all.
  3. WPA1 is deprecated. Use WPA2 instead.

  4. Make sure you use a strong pass-phrase.

Network security, see:

See Also

CategoryNetwork | CategoryWireless