Note to self: Wireless configuration

The biggest stumbling block I ever had with Arch was configuring the wireless network. Wired network cards never gave me an ounce of trouble, but there was a three- or four-month period where I really wanted to use Arch, but was befuddled by the wireless configuration, and walked away as a result.

It’s a shame really, but there’s nothing to be blamed but my own inexperience at the time. Since then I have more or less figured it out … with emphasis on the more or less.

Two files make wireless work: /etc/rc.conf and /etc/conf.d/wireless. In addition, your wireless card has to be set up and responding to iwconfig. If you haven’t gotten that far, or you need special drivers or kernel modules to get your wireless working, I can’t do much to help you.

For my WPC11 with the Orinoco chipset, I get two entries with iwconfig: wifi0 and wlan0. Here’s what my /etc/conf.d/wireless entry looks like:

wlan_wlan0="wifi0 mode managed essid NETGEAR key 1234567890"

The actual interface name is wlan0. The “wifi0 …” is what’s passed to iwconfig when the machine boots. So that line should look exactly like what iwconfig can parse. Your line is going to look different because your network settings will be different. Don’t just cut and paste this time.

Here’s the inside of my /etc/rc.conf file, trimmed to the relevant stuff.

INTERFACES=(lo wlan0)

No wifi0 in there. It’s only the interface name again, and no need to bother with wifi0. The only thing that wants wifi0 is iwconfig, and that’s only when it is passed the configuration line in /etc/conf.d/wireless.

So it’s

wlan_XXXX="YYYY mode managed essid NETGEAR key 1234567890"



where XXXX is the interface name, and YYYY is the hardware assignment (or whatever it is … πŸ™„ )

I’ve worked with Arch builds where only eth0 was assigned to the same card, and in that case, both wlan0 and wifi0 were replaced with eth0. That made it a bit simpler, really. I don’t know how or why the same card in a different laptop sometimes gets eth0; there are some mysteries that cannot be fathomed by the mortal mind.

Hopefully, if you’re struggling to put together a wireless connection, that might help a little. Of course, this is really just a note to myself, so I can throw away the scrap of paper with these notes scribbled on it … the one that’s been on my desk since August.


2 thoughts on “Note to self: Wireless configuration

  1. K.Mandla

    I think the wiki (I’m thinking of this page in particular) does an adequate job explaining it, and if you’re fairly well versed in Linux on the whole, it’s not hard to decipher.

    The first time I tried this I had been working with Linux for about two months and only used Ubuntu, so I was still pretty green (and I still am, I sometimes think). So it’s not a shortcoming of the wiki really, it was more my inexperience. πŸ™„

    Having said that, it might be helpful to approach it in a step-by-step fashion, saying “First, enter an iwconfig command, and see what interfaces have been assigned to your card. Now enter them in these lines where you see XXXX and YYYY. …”

    It’s a noob issue … but to be honest, sometimes I still have to run back to my little scrap of paper to make sure I get the wifi0 and wlan0 in the right places.


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