How to share a Wi-Fi connection via macOS

An often-overlooked feature for connectivity.

Still life of mobile devices on desk with coffee with wifi symbol
Thinkstock

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by Macworld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Apple built Internet Sharing into macOS years ago, when personal hotspots and ubiquitous high-speed cellular data access was non-existent. It remains a powerful option, especially when you need to connect multiple devices and cellular isn’t an option—you’ve run out of Personal Hotspot data on your plan, for instance—or it’s a slow or expensive one.

Internet Sharing lets you take any incoming network connection and share it with one more outgoing ones. If you’re in a hotel, for instance, they may charge a fee per device for access but often an ethernet connection is offered as one way of plugging in. If so, and you’ve brought an ethernet adapter for your Mac or have ethernet built, you can connect that way.

  1. In the Sharing preference pane, select Internet Sharing.

  2. From the “Share your connection from” pop-up menu, select your Ethernet adapter.

  3. Click the Wi-Fi Options button in the bottom of the pane.

  4. Configure options, such as the network name, channel, and password. I definitely recommend a password. Using the higher-numbered channels allows for better throughput but shorter range, something that’s not an issue over short distances.

  5. Select the On box net to Wi-Fi.

  6. Select the On box next to Internet Sharing.

  7. When asked if you want to turn it on click Start.

mac911 share from macos internet IDG

Set Wi-Fi controls for sharing access via your Mac.

(You can sometimes tell when Apple hasn’t updated a dialog box in a long time. This warning one is text heavy, and ends with “Contact your system administrator before turning on Internet sharing”!)

After clicking Start, the network service will be shared via Wi-Fi just as if the Mac were a Wi-Fi gateway. Some hotels and other providers use techniques to block sharing, such as attempting to track certain telltales that multiple machines are accessing the same service, so there is that.

In cases in which only Wi-Fi is available and you’re trying to share that, Apple prevents sharing Wi-Fi over Wi-Fi, because Macs lack the built-in ability to operate two separately named networks on the same hardware. (This is technically possible: it’s called VLAN for virtual LAN, and it’s used widely in corporate and large-scale public Wi-Fi deployments.)

There are a couple of ways around this, though, if it’s a common problem for you:

  • Add a second Wi-Fi adapter to your Mac. The Edimax EW-7822ULC 802.11ac/Wi-Fi 5 adapter ($20) is one we’ve recommended for years for people whose Wi-Fi has failed or who had Macs with older flavors of Wi-Fi. Edimax provides new drivers for each macOS update, though it can take months—the Catalina updated appeared only in February 2020. With a second Wi-Fi adapter, you can connect to a network with the Edimax adapter and then share via your Mac’s built-in Wi-Fi system.

  • Purchase a portable Wi-Fi router. Paired with an ethernet adapter for Macs that don’t have ethernet built in, you can use a Wi-Fi router like the TP-Link N300 Wireless Portable Nano Travel Router ($25), which is powered via USB. Connect to the internet via your Mac’s built-in Wi-Fi adapter, then share via ethernet, and the TP-Link in turn shares that Internet feed over Wi-Fi.

Note: Some hotels and other venues that offer internet connections at no cost or for a fee may explicitly state you can’t do this. Read the terms of service.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Chris.

Ask Mac 911

We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to mac911@macworld.com including screen captures as appropriate, and whether you want your full name used. Not every question will be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon