OS X: How to Configure the Network System Preference

Out of the box, a Macintosh is configured to search for a wired and Wi-Fi Internet connection. However, there may be a need for some additional adjustments. This article explains the basics of the Network System Preference.


When you first turn on a Mac and start to walk through the setup process, the OS will look for ways to connect to the Internet. It will look for a local Wi-Fi signal because that's fairly typical in the home or an office these days. The Mac will also look for a router that was connected to the Mac with an Ethernet cable.

Regarding that Ethernet cable, most Macs have a port for that. In fact, Mac Pros have two. An exception is the MacBook Air. If you want to use an Ethernet cable with a MacBook Air, you'll need a USB to Ethernet adapter cable.

To see the default network configuration, click on the Apple icon on the top left of the menu bar, slide downwards with the mouse or trackpad, and select System Preferences.

Then, in the third row, click on Network. If there was a local Wi-Fi network, you'll see something like this.

Note the status that says "Connected," the assigned IP address, and the Network Name. At this point, there's little else to do if the indicator next to the location is green. That means you're on the Internet, and you can now go about your business with browsing, email and so on.

If the Mac finds both networks, it will select both in Automatic mode. There's no need to worry about that, but if you want to disable one of them, I'll explain below.

Configuring Ethernet

At this point, you may want to make some basic changes. Here are two to help you get you started.

I. Disable a Network. If you want to temporarily disable Wi-Fi in Automatic mode, say, for better security, you can

  1. Select the Wi-Fi network in the list on the left.
  2. Click the gear at the bottom of the list window.
  3. Select "Make Service Inactive."
  4. Click Apply.

From now on, the Automatic Location won't look for a Wi-Fi connection.

II. Create a New Location. Let's say you want to create a new Location that uses only Wi-Fi.

  1. Click the Location popup at the top of the Network Preference.
  2. Select Edit Locations.
  3. Click the '+' button underneath.
  4. Give the new location a name. In this example, it's "Wi-Fi only."
  5. Click Done.

Note that when you created a new Location, the Mac will list all the possible network interfaces available to you. You can leave the ones you don't want there, not connected, or you can delete them for clarity one at a time by selecting and clicking the '-' button. If you make a mistake, click the Revert button.

Next, the Location named "Wi-Fi only" and the selected network, Wi-Fi, need to be enabled. Click the Apply button.

From now on, if you select the "Wi-Fi only" Location and click Apply, the Mac will only look for a Wi-Fi network and ignore any other network connections.

Location Management

All of the Locations you've defined can be found under the Apple Menu > Locations. The nice thing about this is that you don't need to open System Preferences > Network. The Location you select from the list will automatically be activated.

There are many other options in the Network System Preference, but these basic operations should get you started with basic configuration.


Network image via Shutterstock.