Guide: Find and Scan Wireless Networks from the Command Line on Mac OS

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A long hidden airport command line program buried deep within Mac OS X can be used to scan and find available wireless networks. This powerful tool is very useful for network administrators and administrators, but it is also useful for the average user to find nearby Wi-Fi routers.

Using the Wi-Fi Utility on the Mac OS X Command Line

If you want to use this tool to find nearby Wi-Fi networks, you must first create a symbolic link from the airport utility to /usr/sbin for easy access. This command varies depending on the version of Mac OS you are using, choose what is relevant for your version of Mac OS OS on this Mac.

Start the terminal and type the following command:

Creating a Symbolic Link to the Airport Tool in MacOS High Sierra, Sierra, OS X El Capitan, Yosemite and Latersudo ln -s /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/Current/Resources/airport/usr/local/bin/airport

If you see the “operation not allowed” error message, it’s probably because you don’t have a bin directory in /usr/local/ (you can do it yourself) or you have SIP enabled, SIP rootless feature can be disabled if you want power users.

Symbolically Link to Mac OS X Airport Tool Mavericks, Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard

sudo ln -s /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/Current/Resources/airport/usr/sbin/airport

Any of the commands above must be on a single line to work properly.

Enter the administrator password to create a symbolic link that acts as an alias in Finder. Now you can use the airport command without a long path to access it.

Scan for wireless networks on a terminal in Mac OS X.

You can now search and find all wireless networks in range by entering the following:

airport -s

The returned list displays all available Wi-Fi networks and their router name (SSID), router address (BSSID), signal strength (RSSI), channel, and security types used by the network.

It basically works like a command-line Wi-Fi stumble, revealing available wireless networks that are within range.

By monitoring airport departures and RSSI strength, you can use the airport command line tool similar to the WiFi diagnostic utility to optimize your wireless connection.

You can also get much of the same detailed information from the Wi-Fi menu by holding down the Option key, though it only shows information for one base station at a time.

Alternatively, Mac users can use Mac OS X’s native Wi-Fi scanner tool to scan nearby wireless networks entirely within the interface. The output is the same for the wireless diagnostic approach or the command line provided here.

Do you have any handy tips for scanning wireless networks from the Mac command line? Built-in tools or third-party alternatives to help? Share your opinion in the comments below!

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