OS X

Create Multiple Network Locations and Switch Between Them with Ease


If you only ever use your Mac in one location, then you typically won’t have to worry about your network settings: just enter your Wi-Fi password once, and your Mac will automatically connect to the Internet every time you switch it on.

However, with us all spending more time online than ever before, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to take their MacBooks out of their homes and offices, specifically so they can stay connected to the World Wide Web.

Regularly spend your train ride to work tapping away on your laptop? Or is your lunch break dedicated to catching up on Facebook and Twitter while sat in your favourite coffee shop? Or perhaps you can’t quite resist keeping one eye on your work emails when you’re supposed to be away on holiday?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, then you might want to take a look at your Mac’s ‘Location’ feature, as it allows you to define different sets of network preferences for different locations. For example, you can instruct your Mac to connect to your home Wi-Fi and ignore any other networks when you’re at home, and then create a separate ‘Work’ profile that has your Mac checking for an ethernet connection first, before falling back on your office’s employee-only Wi-Fi and then, if all else fails, connecting to the building’s ‘guest’ Wi-Fi network as a last resort.

Having multiple location profiles can also be useful if you ever find yourself struggling to get online in a particular location, as you can tweak and test your network settings for this location only, without having to worry about messing up your network settings for other locations.

In this article I’ll be showing you how to create additional location profiles, before covering all the major ways that you can customise each of these profiles, so you can be confident that your Mac is always going to connect to the “right” network, and manage that connection correctly, regardless of your current location.


Create a new network profile

By default, your Mac has a single ‘Automatic’ location profile that contains your Mac’s default network settings. However, if you want to define different network behaviour for different locations, then you’ll want to create some additional location profiles:

  • Select ‘Apple’ from the Mac menu bar, followed by ‘System Preferences > Network.’
  • The Location dropdown displays the name of the currently-selected profile. Open this dropdown and select ‘Edit Locations.’
  • In the menu that appears, click the ‘+’ icon and give your new profile a name, for example ‘Work’ or ‘Home.’ Click ‘Done.’
  • Make sure your new profile is selected in the ‘Location’ dropdown, and the ‘Network’ window will display all of this profile’s settings. Spend some time exploring the different options and make any necessary changes (I’ll be showing you how to add interfaces and change the service order later in this article, so skip ahead if you want to make these changes now).
  • Once you’re happy with your profile, save your work by clicking the ‘Apply’ button.
  • Rinse and repeat for every profile you want to create.

Sometimes, you may want to create a profile that’s very similar to an existing profile, but has a few minor changes. In this instances, it’s typically easier to copy the existing profile and make your adjustments, rather than creating an entirely new profile from scratch:

  • Open the ‘Location’ dropdown and select ‘Edit Location…’
  • Select the profile that you want to copy.
  • Click the little cog icon, then select ‘Duplicate Location’ from the dropdown menu.
  • Give your duplicate a name, then click ‘Done.’
  • Make any edits you want to apply to this profile.
  • Save your changes, by clicking ‘Apply.’

Switch between locations – with the click of a button

By default, you can switch between profiles by navigating to ‘System preferences > Network’ and making your selection from the dropdown menu. However, once you’ve created at least one additional profile, a new option appears in this menu, which makes it much easier to move between profiles:

  • Click the ‘Apple’ logo in the Mac menu bar.
  • Select ‘Location.’
  • Choose the profile you want to switch to.

Customising your location profiles

There’s many different ways that you can edit a location profile, but in this section I’m going to cover all the major changes you’ll typically want to make, immediately after creating a new location profile.

Make sure the profile you want to edit is selected in the ‘System preferences > Network > Location’ dropdown menu, and let’s get started:

  • Edit any connection type

You’ll find all of the profile’s current connections (or interfaces) in the left-hand menu. A green dot indicates that this connection is active; a yellow dot indicates that the connection could be active but hasn’t been configured; and a red dot indicates that there’s no connection.

Each interface has its own unique settings that you can customise to better suit your needs, for example if you select a VPN interface then you’ll be able to edit the server address, local ID and authentication settings.

When you create a new location profile, you’ll typically want to spend some time exploring each connection type in the left-hand menu, to see whether there’s any settings you can tweak in order to make this connection type work better for you.

If you do make any changes, then don’t forget to save them by clicking the ‘Apply’ button.

Add new interfaces

Every Mac supports a range of different connection types (or interfaces), so you may want to add some extra connections to your newly-created profile:

  • Click the little ‘+’ icon directly below the left-hand menu.
  • Open the ‘Interface’ dropdown and select a new connection type from the list, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, VPN, or PPPoE.
  • Give this new interface a name.
  • Click ‘Create.’
  • In the left-hand menu, select the interface you just created and review all of the settings and options for this particular interface. Make any necessary adjustments.
  • Rinse and repeat for every interface you want to add, and when you’re finished don’t forget to save your changes by clicking ‘Apply.’

Change the network service order

With the spread of public and home Wi-Fi, it’s becoming increasingly common for you to have options when it comes to how you connect to the Internet – it’s not unusual to find that your Mac is detecting multiple open Wi-Fi signals even when you’re sat at home!

When your Mac has a choice of networks that it can connect to, you’ll typically want it to favour one network over the other, for example if there’s a choice between an unsecured public network and an encrypted, password-protected network, then you’ll generally want your Mac to opt for the latter!

If several networks are available, then your Mac chooses a network to connect to based on the service order (also known as port priority). Therefore, it’s important that you review the service order for each location profile:

  • Navigate to ‘System preferences > Network.’
  • Open the ‘Location’ dropdown and select the location you want to edit.
  • Click the little cog icon below the left-hand menu, and select ‘Set Service Order…’

  • The subsequent window displays all the Wi-Fi networks that are associated with this profile. When your Mac is attempting to connect to the Internet, it’ll start at the top of this list and work its way down until it establishes a successful connection. You can change the order networks appear in this list using drag and drop.
  • Once you’re happy with your changes, you can make them permanent by clicking ‘OK,’ followed by ‘Apply.’

Delete a location profile

If there’s a location profile that you no longer need, then you can remove it:

  • Navigate to ‘System preferences > Network’ and open the ‘Location’ dropdown.
  • Select ‘Edit locations…’
  • Select the location that you want to delete, then click the ‘-’ icon.
  • Click ‘Done.’
  • Don’t forget to save your changes, by clicking ‘Apply.’

Struggling to connect?

If you’ve recently made a change to your network settings or location profiles and find that you’re suddenly unable to connect, then you can often restore a lost connection by renewing the DHCP license:

  • Navigate to ‘System preferences > Network.’
  • In the left-hand menu, select the connection that’s been causing you problems.
  • Click the ‘Advanced’ button.
  • Select the ‘TCP/IP’ tab.
  • Click the ‘Renew DHCP license’ button.

If this doesn’t solve your problem, then navigate back to the main ‘Network’ window, click the ‘Assist Me’ button, select ‘Diagnostics’ and then follow the onscreen instructions.

About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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