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AirPort Utility Explained

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AirPort is Apple's term for all things WiFi, from the technologies built into your Mac to its own lineup of routers and base stations. You may also have heard of AirPort from the pre-installed utility hidden away in your Applications folder: AirPort Utility.

In this tutorial, I will show you the basics of AirPort Utility, including setting up an AirPort base station from scratch and how to configure or restrict access.

Setting Up An AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule

When it comes to setting up a new AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule, AirPort Utility is the app that handles that process. Before you begin, first ensure you have the latest version of AirPort Utility by checking the Updates tab in the App Store.

Ensure the new AirPort device is plugged in to a power source and, if applicable, switch it on. Launch AirPort Utility from the Utilities sub-folder inside the Applications folder. AirPort Utility will then attempt to connect to the AirPort device, though this may take a few moments. 

When the AirPort device has been detected, it's factory-preset name will appear under Other Wi-Fi Devices. Click this and select the device from the list that appears.

Your new AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule will appear under the New AirPort Base Stations label.

AirPort Utility will then gather some information about any nearby networks. If this process takes a few minutes, don't worry; that's normal.

Once AirPort Utility has gathered the information, there will be three options available, depending on how you want the AirPort base station to act as part of the network setup.

  • Create a new network–This option will make the AirPort base station run its own network that can be connected to independently. Useful if you're using the device to make a wired Internet connection available wirelessly.
  • Add to an existing network–This option will allow the AirPort base station to join an existing WiFi network to connect new devices or to extend its reach.
  • Replace an existing device–This option will allow you to replace an existing AirPort device or other non-Apple router with the new base station entirely. Note: an AirPort Extreme cannot replace a modem.

By default, AirPort Utility will start the setup process as if you wanted to follow the first option, Create a New Network. If desired, change this by clicking Other Options, selecting the desired option and clicking the Next button.

Create a New Network

To create a new network, fill in the desired names and password for both the base station, for easy reference in the future, and the new wireless network. Then, click Next.

You can set a custom name for your wireless network that will appear when connecting in the future.

Follow the on-screen instructions to connect the device with an Ethernet cable. The exact position of the port on the AirPort device differs between models, but AirPort Utility will point out the correct one. 

When the AirPort device has successfully connected, AirPort Utility will automatically take you to the next screen. Click Next to continue. When prompted, click Done.

The AirPort device will then be set up and AirPort Utility will automatically connect your Mac to the new wireless network.

Add to an Existing Network

After selecting the Add to an Existing Network option, select the existing wireless network that you want to extend from the list and click Next.

Enter a name and password for the base station. This will be used for future reference and to make changes to the AirPort device's configuration. Neither of these need to be the same as the existing network's details. Click Next to continue.

When prompted, click the Done button.

Replace an Existing Device

By selecting, the Replace an Existing Device option, AirPort Utility will ask whether you wish to replace an existing AirPort base station or a non-Apple router. Select which is appropriate and click Next.

If you select to replace an existing AirPort base station, make sure the old device is still plugged in and connected to a nearby network. Choose this network from the list in AirPort Utility and click Next

Follow any additional steps that appear–these may vary depending on the type of device and the existing network configuration. The new AirPort device will then be appropriately configured to replace the role of the old AirPort base station.

When prompted, move the Ethernet cable from the existing router to the AirPort base station.

If you select to replace a non-Apple router, when prompted, remove the Ethernet cable from the old device and plug it in the AirPort base station. AirPort Utility will show exactly which port to use, as this depends on the specific model. 

Follow the steps in the Create a New Network section above. Fill in the desired names and password for both the base station, for easy reference in the future, and the new wireless network. Finally, click Next.

Configuring The AirPort Base Station

After you've performed the initial setup of an AirPort base station, AirPort Utility is still used to change the configuration of the device when needed. To make changes, launch AirPort Utility, select the AirPort base station and click Edit.

Before you click Edit, AirPort Utility offers quick access to some basic details about the current AirPort setup.

The various configuration options that AirPort Utility handles are split up into the following five sections:

  • Base Station–the name and login information for the device, independent from any credentials you define for signing in to a network that the base station broadcasts.
  • Internet–the options relevant to how the base station connects to the Internet, including setting custom DNS servers.
  • Wireless–the settings for any wireless networks that the base station creates or extends.
  • Network–various network options including setting the router mode, reserving static IP address, port control and timed access control.
  • Disks–management of any connected storage devices that the base station is sharing.

Base Station

To edit the name and password of the base station, select the Base Station tab, enter the desired name and/or password and click Update.

The Base Station options allow changes to the individual base station's information to be made.

If you want to use the AirPort base station with Back To My Mac, click the + button, enter your Apple ID and password, and click Sign In. Click Update. To remove Back To My Mac functionality for an Apple ID that's enabled on the base station, select the Apple ID from the list and click the - button.

Internet

The Internet tab allows changes to made to the way that the AirPort base station handles everything needed for a connected device to access the Internet.

To change the protocol used to connect to the Internet, select the desired option–DHCP, PPPoE or Static–from the list and click Update. You can renew the DHCP lease easily by clicking the Renew DHCP Lease button. 

This section also lists information like the base station's local address and the IPv4 address which may be needed in future diagnostics. Unless you have good reason to or are otherwise instructed to do so, it's generally best to leave these options alone.

The Internet tab handles configurations for the protocols used to connect to the Internet.

The Internet tab also allows you to use custom DNS servers, which can be configured by entering them into the appropriate field and clicking Update. For more information about DNS servers refer to the tutorial How to Change Your DNS for Safer, Faster Browsing.

You can also modify some additional IPv6 options by clicking the Internet Options button at the bottom of the Internet tab. Again, it is best to leave these options as default unless you are otherwise instructed to do so.

Wireless

If you're using the AirPort base station to create a new wireless network, its details–including the network's name, password and security type–can be changed by modifying them in this tab and clicking Update

Alternatively, if you're using the base station to extend an existing wireless network, the name, password and security of the existing network can be updated here in the same way.

The Wireless tab handles information about the network that the base station creates or connects to.

To switch between broadcasting a new network and extending an existing one, change the value in the list next to Network Mode and click Update. You may have fill in some additional information under the Network Mode field as appropriate to get things up and running.

You can also use the Wireless tab to create an additional wireless network intended by guests. To do this, tick the box next to Enable Guest Network and enter the desired name in the text field adjacent. 

To add a password, choose a security type from the Guest Network Security list–generally, WPA/WPA2 Personal is recommended–and type in the desired password. Click Update.

The Wireless Options button hides some additional network options.

By clicking the Wireless Options button, you can also modify some additional advanced options relevant to the base station's wireless broadcasting. In addition to creating a guest network, when supported, you can also broadcast a network on the 5GHz spectrum by ticking the box next to 5GHz network name and entering the desired name. Click Save.

You can also use the Wireless Options section to change the broadcast channel on both the 2.4GHz (this is the standard wireless network, configured in the main Wireless tab) and 5GHz channels. Select the chosen channel number from the respective list and click Save.

Network

Different to the Wireless tab, the Network tab handles how your connected devices talk to the base station. More specifically, the Network tab controls DHCP leasing and IP assignments, in addition to other options to restrict outside connections. 

Generally, the options you can modify in this tab are for advanced users who fully understand the options available so it's best to leave them alone unless you're specifically instructed to do so or otherwise know exactly what you're changing.

Your IP address can be provided a number of ways. The most common are manual addresses you receive from your ISP and addresses you receive automatically using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP).

When you're using your AirPort base station alongside another existing router on your network, Bridge Mode avoids making the base station assign IPs to connected wireless devices. Instead, assigning IPs is left to your main router. If you're using the base station as your only router, the DHCP and NAT option is required in order to assign IP addresses and allow connected devices to access the Internet.

Based on the options you chose during setup, AirPort Utility will automatically set the router mode for the base station. To change this mode, however, from using DHCP and NAT to using Bridge Mode, and vice versa, select the desired configuration from the list next to Router Mode and click Update.

Additional DHCP options, including setting a custom lease period and selecting the IPv4 range for DHCP-assigned addresses, can be found by clicking the Network Options button. Click Save to make changes to any of the options here.

The Network tab handles advanced options for DHCP configurations, including address reservations.

You can also set DHCP address reservations and create custom port settings by clicking the + button under DHCP Reservations or Port Settings, respectively, inputting the required information and clicking Save. To remove an existing setting for either of these options, select it from the list and click the - button.

Access to the network can also be restricted, based on time, for specific wireless devices that connect to the base station. To add any restrictions of this kind, tick the box next to Enable Access Control and click Timed Access Control. On the next screen, click the + button. 

Enter a description into the Description field for future reference and type the target device's MAC (Media Access Control) address into the MAC Address field (for more information on how to find the MAC address on a number of platforms, including OS X, Windows, iOS, Android and a number of games consoles, refer to How to Find the MAC Address of Your Computer on WikiHow).

AirPort Utility allows you to restrict specified wireless clients from accessing your network at certain times.

Create the rules for when that particular wireless client can access your network. Use the drop-down lists and text fields to select the specific days and time ranges that you wish to allow and use the + button to add additional ranges. Click Save and then Update to enact these restrictions.

Disks

The Disks tab allows you to manage access to any connected storage devices. To enable or disable file sharing entirely, tick the Enable file sharing box as appropriate.

You can also modify how access to these drives are authenticated. By default, AirPort Utility uses the With device password option which leaves authentication to the device's password. You can change this by selecting an alternative option from the Shared Secure Disks list.

  • With accounts allows you to create custom accounts for accessing shared files. Add a new account by clicking the + button, fill in the desired account information and click Save. Remove an account by selecting it from the list and clicking the - button.
  • With a disk password allows you to type a single custom password and use this as the universal means of authentication for file sharing on the base station.

Click the Update button to make any changes here.

Other Features

You can restart or restore the base station by selecting the desired base station from the main AirPort Utility screen and clicking Base Station in your Mac's menu bar. Then, click either Restart or Restore Default Settings as appropriate.

You can also add a wireless (WPS) printer by selecting a base station from the main AirPort Utility screen, clicking Base Station in your Mac's menu bar and selecting Add WPS Printer and following the on-screen instructions.

Conclusion

In this tutorial, I have shown you how to set up and configure an AirPort base station with the use of AirPort Utility. AirPort Utility is generally a forgiving app that's fairly self-explanatory in what it does. If you run into any further problems, however, be sure to let me know in the comments.

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