4 ways to take control of your Wi-Fi connections on Linux

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Easy connection to the Internet over Wi-Fi is no longer a privilege denied Linux users. With a recent distribution on a fairly recent laptop, connecting your Linux laptop to an available Wi-Fi network is often as easy as it is with your phone.

It wasn’t always like this. Wi-Fi has long been a running joke among Linux laptop users. Many a user would wipe their hard drives and install Linux only to find that they couldn’t get online. I went through this when I first installed Ubuntu 8.04 on my Asus Eee PC. (Luckily, the Eee PC came with an RJ45 ethernet jack.)

Getting Wi-Fi working is less of an issue today (though it still can be difficult on occasion). But just getting something to work is only the first step. With a little extra effort, you can optimize your Wi-Fi connections on Linux for the best speed and improved privacy.

linux wifi network listAlex Campbell

Using NetworkManager’s connection editor

All of the features I’m explaining can be found in NetworkManager’s connections applet. For many users of Gnome or Unity (Ubuntu), you can simply click on the Wi-Fi or network icon in the top-right of your screen. In the drop-down menu, select Edit Connections. If you don’t see that option, or the correct window doesn’t appear, you can open a terminal window and launch it manually by typing nm-connection-editor and hitting Enter.

linux wifi default screenAlex Campbell

NetworkManager’s Edit Connections window.

Once the window opens, you should see a list of wireless connections under the Wi-Fi heading. (If you have any virtual private networks (VPNs) set up, you can see those details in the VPN heading that follows the Wi-Fi heading.) To edit the options for a connection, simply click the connection name and click Edit.

While the connection names default to the SSID (the name broadcast by the router) of the network, you can change the name to anything you like.

Enable automatic VPN connections

Using a VPN is one of the easier and more effective ways to protect your privacy online. While not everybody needs to use a VPN at home, I recommend that everybody use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi, especially when doing things like online banking.

The thing is, it’s hard to remember to connect to your VPN every time you sit down in a coffee shop or airport. Luckily, NetworkManager makes it easy to “set it and forget it.”

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