How to Add a Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme to an Existing Network with Bridge Mode


James writes: I currently use an Apple Time Capsule to provide the wireless signal to my home network, but I’d like to switch to using multiple non-Apple modems and routers to provide better Wi-Fi coverage. However, I’d like to keep my Time Capsule connected to the network in order to back up my Macs, but I don’t want to utilize any of its wireless or routing functions. Is this possible and, if so, how can I set this up?


Time Capsule PortsPort layout of Apple's Time Capsule

While Apple’s Time Capsule (and related AirPort Extreme) provides relatively strong wireless performance, you can still use it with its wireless and routing functions disabled. Doing so will essentially make the Time Capsule a network-enabled hard drive and gigabit switch. Here's how to configure your Time Capsule for wired Bridge Mode on your network (note that while we refer to the Time Capsule below, these instructions apply equally to the AirPort Extreme).

To get started, first unplug all of the Ethernet cables from your Time Capsule to disconnect it from your existing network. Next, connect a single Mac to your Time Capsule using an Ethernet cable plugged in to one of the Time Capsule’s LAN ports (see the port layout image to the right to distinguish the LAN ports from the WAN port). While we advise using Ethernet, you can also perform the following functions via Wi-Fi. In that case, however, make sure your Mac is connected only to the Time Capsule and not to the network of another router or modem).

On your Mac, turn off Wi-Fi to ensure that you’re only connected to your Time Capsule and then launch AirPort Utility. Select your Time Capsule from the window and press Edit.

AirPort Utility Time Capsule

We now need to configure two items: 1) Disable the wireless functions of the Time Capsule and, 2) Set your Time Capsule to Bridge Mode. Start first by selecting the Wireless tab.

AirPort Utility Disable Wireless

Here, under the Network Mode drop-down menu, select Off. This will disable any wireless networks created by your Time Capsule. Next, select the Network tab.

AirPort Utility Bridge Mode

Under the Router Mode drop-down, select Off (Bridge Mode). While the intricacies of networking are complex and beyond the scope of this article, in simple terms, Bridge Mode tells the Time Capsule not to assign its own IP addresses to connected devices and, instead, to simply pass along the assignments from the primary router. This effectively turns to Time Capsule into a very expensive Ethernet switch.

Once you’re done, press Update and your Time Capsule will reboot and enable the changes you configured. At this point, disconnect your Mac from the Time Capsule, re-enable your Wi-Fi if necessary, and connect your Mac to your primary Wi-Fi network. Then use an Ethernet cable to connect one of your router’s LAN ports to your Time Capsule’s WAN port. After a moment or two, your router will assign the Time Capsule its own IP address and the Time Capsule’s hard drive should appear as a Time Machine candidate on any Mac connected to the same network.

Time Machine Select Disk

Additionally, as we mentioned above, you can use your Time Capsule’s LAN ports as you would with any network switch. Any device connected to these ports will have an IP address assigned by the non-Apple primary router, with the Time Capsule simply passing the connection along.

While James wanted to disable both routing and Wi-Fi on his Time Capsule, readers should note that it’s not necessary to disable Wi-Fi in order to enable Bridge Mode. If your ISP requires that you use their router/modem, for example, you can still use the Time Capsule as your primary Wi-Fi hotspot by enabling Bridge Mode, as described above, but skipping the steps to disable the Wi-Fi signal on the Wireless tab. In this scenario, just be sure to instead disable the wireless feature of your ISP's router so as not to interfere with the Time Capsule's network.