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The native yet powerful Wi-Fi Diagnostics Tool in Mac OS X got a redesign in modern versions of Mac OS X, bringing with it some new features that make the utility better than ever. One of the best new additions is the built-in Wi-Fi scanner tool, which is a fully featured Wi-Fi stumbling block to find and discover nearby Wi-Fi networks, even those that don’t broadcast their network name.
This is really advanced feature which has a wide variety of possible uses besides locating access points, most users would be best off just using the Wi-Fi menu to find available wireless networks to join. For those who want a wireless trip, here’s how to find and use it.
Access to Wireless Diagnostics in Mac OS X
In modern versions of Mac OS X such as OS X Yosemite, OS X Mavericks, you can access Wireless Diagnostics from the Wi-Fi menu bar item:
- Option + click the Wi-Fi menu item in OS X
- Choose ‘Open Wireless Diagnostics’
This is somewhat hidden, but still much easier than accessing in previous releases of OS X where the app was basically hidden.
Scan for Wi-Fi networks with the Mac Wireless Diagnostics Tool
Now that you are in Wireless Diagnostics, here it is how to use the scanner:
- Go to the “Window” menu and choose “Scan” to immediately open the Wi-Fi Stumbler tool built into Mac OS X
- In the scanner tool, click Scan button to search for available networks
This opens up the wireless card to detect all possible nearby Wi-Fi networks, effectively tripping on available wireless routers and discovering details about those networks.
All available wireless network names, SSID, channels, band, network protocol (wireless n, g, b, etc.), the network security type, network signal strength and network noise level of the detected signal are displayed by the scan utility.
This is of course much easier in modern versions of Mac system software, but don’t worry if you’re not on OS X Yosemite, you can still access and use these tools with the instructions below.
Making Wi-Fi diagnostics more easily accessible in OS X
For other versions of OS X, such as OS X Mountain Lion, you’ll want to make the Wi-Fi Diagnostics app readily available by taking it to LaunchPad or the Dock, to do that:
- From a Finder window, press Command + Shift + G and enter the path: / System / Library / CoreServices /
- Search for “Wi-Fi Diagnostics” (or “Wireless Diagnostics”, depending on the OS X version) and drag it to Launchpad or the OS X Dock for easy access
Now that you have the Wifi app in an easy to find location, using it is slightly different depending on your OS X version. Newer versions of Mountain Lion (10.8) have changed it slightly, and those changes are also reflected in OS X Mavericks (10.9). Apart from access to the tool, all functionality remains the same.
If it app is called ‘Wi-Fi Diagnostics’, here’s what to do:
- Run Wi-Fi Diagnostics and ignore the front menu, but instead press Command + N to bring up the new “Network Utilities” window (this is also where the wireless signal strength measurement utility is now)
- Click on the “Wi-Fi Scan” tab to get started with the wireless tripping tool
If it app is called ‘Wireless Diagnostics’, to access the scan tool is something else:
- Open Wireless Diagnostics and ignore the menu, but pull down the “Window” menu and select “Utilities”
- Select the “Wi-Fi Scan” tab to access the scanner and wireless network stumbling block
Under the Wi-Fi Scan tool, you will see all available network names and their respective BSSID, channel, band, protocol (wireless n, g, b, etc.), Security type, their signal strength and the noise level of the signal.
By default, the tool scans once and displays the information found, but you can enable Active Scan or Passive Scan mode to constantly search for new networks by clicking the “Scan” drop-down menu in the lower right corner.
There are plenty of possible uses for this utility and the wireless stumbling block, be it optimizing networks, reducing interference and noise, or discovering people around you, but the Wi-Fi diagnostics app also includes many powerful features which allows you to capture network traffic, be it data sent from the computer in use or even from any nearby wireless networks. Ultimately, those latter features and their uses are well beyond the scope of this article, but previously Mac users had to use third-party apps like Kismet or boot from a separate Linux installation to access advanced network recording capabilities.
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