How to Join a Wireless Network on Your MacBook

By Mark L. Chambers

Thinking of joining a wireless network? The two main types of base stations for your MacBook are Apple and non-Apple (which includes all 802.11n and 802.11g base stations and access points). Here’s what you need.

Apple AirPort Base Stations

To join a wireless network that’s served by any flavor of Apple Base Station, follow these steps on each Mac with wireless support:

  1. Click the System Preferences icon in the Dock.

  2. Click the Network icon.

  3. From the Connection list on the left, click Wi-Fi.

  4. Select the Show Wi-Fi Status in Menu Bar check box.

  5. Click the Apply button.

  6. Press cmd+Q to quit System Preferences and save your settings.

  7. Click the Wi-Fi status icon (which looks like a fan) on the Finder menu bar and choose an existing network connection that you’d like to join.

    The network name is the same as the network name you chose when you set up your AirPort Base Station.

  8. If you set up a secure network, enter the password you assigned to the network during setup.

By the way, security is always A Good Thing, and it is strongly recommended that you enable the password encryption features of your Apple Base Station while installing it! (Luckily, the Apple Base Station setup application leads you through this very process.)

Some wireless networks might not appear in your Wi-Fi menu list. These are closed networks, which can be specified when you set up your AirPort Base Station. You can’t join a closed network unless you know the exact network name (which is far more secure than simply broadcasting the network name). To join a closed network, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Join Other Network from the Wi-Fi menu.

    To open the menu, click the Wi-Fi status icon (which looks like a fan) on the Finder menu bar.

  2. Type the name of the network.

  3. If the network is secured with WPA, WPA2, WEP, or LEAP encryption — the security standards for protecting your data through encryption — click the Security pop-up menu and choose which type of encryption is being used.

    Avoid WEP encryption whenever possible — your best bet is WPA2 encryption, which is the current standard for home wireless networks.

  4. Enter the network password, if required.

To disconnect from a Wi-Fi network, click the Wi-Fi menu and either choose Turn Wi-Fi Off or connect to another wireless network. In other words, if you choose another available wireless network from the Wi-Fi menu, your MacBook will automatically drop the previous connection. (You can be connected to only one wireless network at a time, which makes Good Sense.)

Non-Apple Base Stations

If you’re using your MacBook to connect to a non-Apple base station at your office, you might need to follow a specific procedure that takes care of the slightly different password functionality used by standard 802.11b/g/n hardware.

Mountain Lion can take care of many potential wireless “language barriers” caused by security encryption — the two most common forms are WPA2 and WEP — so whether you need to massage your password to connect to your non-Apple base station depends on the specific hardware and encryption system that it uses.

Read or print the latest version of this procedure. This search term is the Apple Knowledge Base article number, which you can type in the first search field. The article (AirPort: Joining an encrypted WEP or WPA Wi-Fi network) provides the details on how to convert a standard wireless encrypted password to a format that your AirPort Extreme hardware can understand.

Transfer files the easy AirDrop way

AirDrop is the local Mac-to-Mac file transfer feature built in to OS X Mountain Lion, and it couldn’t be much easier to use. No setup and no passwords involved! However, here are three caveats :

  • AirDrop works only with Macs running Lion and Mountain Lion, and only with specific models: MacBook Pro (late 2008 or newer), MacBook Air (late 2010 or newer), and MacBook (late 2010 and newer). The 17″ MacBook Pro (late 2008) doesn’t support AirDrop.

  • AirDrop uses the Wi-Fi hardware built in to today’s Mac laptops and desktops, so don’t forget to turn on Wi-Fi first. (If you’re displaying the Wi-Fi status icon on your Finder menu bar, click the icon and choose Turn Wi-Fi On.)

  • You have to be within Wi-Fi signal range of another Mac to use AirDrop. Note, however, that the two computers dont have to be using the same Wi-Fi network. Because AirDrop uses a Wi-Fi connection, file transfers are significantly slower (and less secure) than they would be over a wired Ethernet network.

To use AirDrop to transfer files to another Mac, both users should click the AirDrop icon in any Finder window sidebar to join the AirDrop group. After a short delay, you’ll see the account pictures for all Macs within signal range and with AirDrop open. Just drag the files you want to transfer to the person’s picture.

Both you and the recipient are prompted for confirmation before the transfer begins. After the transfer is complete, the files you sent are saved in the recipient’s Downloads folder.

When you’re done using AirDrop, just close the Finder window displaying the account pictures (or click another location in the Finder window sidebar) to exit from the AirDrop group.