One of the best purchases I’ve made recently was a Miniature WiFi Module for my Raspberry Pi, from Adafruit Industries. No more having my RaspPi tethered to an Ethernet port on my wireless router. I can have my RaspPi with me, wherever I’m working. At the same time, I have Internet access on both my laptop and the RaspPi. All this for less than $12!
The Miniature WiFi Module is technically a wireless network interface controller (WNIC). It connects the RaspPi to a wireless local area network (WLAN). Wherever you see the word ‘Interface’ in this post, it is referring to either the new Miniature WiFi Module, or the built-in network interface controller (NIC), which connects the RaspPi to a local area network (LAN) via Ethernet.
In researching how to properly install and configure the WiFi Module, I read a number of articles and posts on the Internet. The simplest approach I found was presented in this article by Macro M.C. on MacroMC.com. Much of the following is based on his article. Marco directly edits the ‘interfaces’ file, instead of also editing the ‘wpa_supplicant.conf’ file, as is demonstrated in other posts. I will only be connecting my RaspPi to a single WLAN in this post. If you will be switching between multiple WLANs with your RaspPi, you might want to investigate the alternate method of editing the ‘wpa_supplicant.conf’ file, or using the wpa supplicant user interface, instead.
I will be installing and configuring my RaspPi using a Windows laptop. However, if you are using a Mac or Linux-based computer, you shouldn’t need change these directions. Also, I am using the WPA2-Personal security protocol on my home’s wireless network. These directions should work for both commonly used WPA and WPA2 wireless network security protocols; I will explain further in step 2. Lastly, since I largely develop Java SE Embedded applications for the Raspberry Pi, I have installed Soft-float Debian “wheezy” on my RaspPi. However, these directions should also work for the more commonly installed Raspbian “wheezy”, as well.
The configuration and installation of the Miniature WiFi Module takes less 15 minutes. I’ve broken the process down into three steps:
- Installing the WiFi Module driver
- Installing wireless LAN security protocol software
- Configuring the new WiFi Module
Before we start, make sure you have the following items available:
- Your wireless network’s name (aka SSID)
- Your network security key (aka passphrase)
- SSH enabled on your RaspPi
- LAN access to your RaspPi
- Internet access from your RaspPi
- PuTTY to your RaspPi
- WinSCP to copy files to your RaspPi
- Advanced IP Scanner, Fing, or similar network scanning software (optional)
Installing the WiFi Module Driver
Don’t insert the WiFi Module into the RaspPi, yet. Instead, connect the RaspPi to your LAN using an Ethernet cable. Make sure the RaspPi has Internet access. Insert the small CD that comes with the WiFi Module into your laptop’s CD/DVD player. Connect to the RaspPi from your laptop using WinSCP. Copy the ‘Linux and Android’ folder from the CD to the ‘tmp’ folder on the RaspPi, as shown below.
Before we install the driver, let’s examine the current network interface configuration on the RaspPi. Log into your RaspPi using PuTTY. Using the
ifconfig command, you should only see the built-in NIC (eth0), as shown in the example below.
Realtek is the WiFi Module’s chipset manufacturer. To install the Realtek WiFi Module driver on the RaspPi, enter the following series of commands.
cd /tmp/Linux\ and\ Android
chmod +x install.sh
During the install you’ll be prompted to select between two card types, enter 1;
Please select card type(1/2):
Installing Wireless LAN Security Protocol Software
After installing the driver, we need to install software that allows us to configure and connect to our WPA-secured wireless network. The particular software is referred to as ‘wpa_supplicant’. According to Jouni Malinen, wpa_supplicant is a WPA Supplicant for Linux, BSD, Mac OS X, and Windows with support for WPA and WPA2 (IEEE 802.11i / RSN). It is suitable for both desktop/laptop computers and embedded systems. Supplicant is the IEEE 802.1X/WPA component that is used in the client stations. It implements key negotiation with a WPA Authenticator and it controls the roaming and IEEE 802.11 authentication/association of the wlan driver.
To install wpa_supplicant, enter the following commands. Note this will check for any upgrades to the RaspPi’s existing software, first. This is a commonly-recommended step. The upgrade command might take a few minutes if you haven’t run this on your RaspPi in a while.
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install wpasupplicant
Next, enter the following command, substituting your own SSID (‘your_ssid’) and passphrase (‘your_passphrase’).
wpa_passphrase your_ssid your_passphrase
Based your SSID and passphrase, this command will generate a pre-shared key (PSK), similar to the following. Save or copy the PSK to the clipboard; we will need it in the next step.
Configuring the New WiFi Adapter
The last step is to configure the new WiFi Module (WNIC) for your WLAN. Open the ‘/etc/networks/interfaces’ file using Nano, by entering the following command.
sudo nano /etc/network/interfaces
This file will only have the default settings for the current NIC (eth0), as shown below.
To add the new WNIC (wlan0), enter the following lines of code to the end of the ‘interfaces’ file. Substitute you SSID (‘your_ssid’) in quotes and the PSK you generated in the previous step. Do not use the SSID and PSK below, it will not work for your network, it is only an example.
iface wlan0 inet dhcp
Save the file and exit Nano. Shutdown the RaspPi and remove the Ethernet cable. Insert the Miniature WiFi Module and restart the RaspPi. You should not run the RaspPi with both the LAN and WLAN Interfaces connected.
Finding the Raspberry Pi’s Wireless Address
Since you used Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) in the interface’s configuration, the Module has been assigned a new IP address. To find the RaspPi’s new wireless IP address, log directly into the RaspPi and use the
ifconfig command. Alternately, we can use a program like ‘Advanced IP Scanner’ for Windows or ‘Fing’ for iOS, to discover the address of the RaspPi. The RaspPi will show up with the WiFi chipset manufacturer’s name, ‘REALTEK SEMICONDUCTOR’ or ‘REALTEK SEMICONDUCTOR CORP.’.
In the example below from Fing on an iPhone, there are two wireless RaspPi’s on my network, an inactive wireless RaspPi at 192.168.1.7, and my active wireless RaspPi at 192.168.1.9.
Here is another view of my network using Advanced IP Scanner on Windows. My active wireless RaspPi at 192.168.1.9.
If you are unable to find your RaspPi on the WLAN, re-connect to the RaspPi directly and check for errors. I had to do this on more than a few occasions while researching this post, mostly due to typos in my interface file. Try rebooting the RaspPi and watch the shutdown and boot-up screens for errors.; network errors will often show up here.
Use the RaspPi’s new wireless IP address you found to connect back into your RaspPi with PuTTY. To better understand how the new WiFi Module (WNIC) is configured, run the
ifconfig command, again. This time you should see both the NIC (eth0) and WNIC (wlan0).
Congratulations, your RaspPi is wireless. Please feel free to ‘move about the cabin’. -gs