Turn your Linux computer into a wireless access point using hostapd

A few weeks ago I was living in accommodation that provided internet access via a wired router. This obviously meant no wireless access for some of my devices. This was especially bad for my Nexus One phone which because of the lack of wireless received all data via my mobile phone network causing me to go over my fair usage policy! Also have you ever tried sharing one ethernet cable with your girlfriend/boyfriend, it doesn’t work.

This was quite irritating so I decided I would try to turn my netbook into a wireless access point (AP). A diagram below illustrates the network setup I was trying to achieve.
Network diagram

  • DSL/cable modem – In my setup the internet connection is provided by a cable modem linked to the wired router via an ethernet cable.
  • Wired router – In my setup the wired router was a Netgear RP614 v2 which has some truly awful firmware installed. This router provides a DHCP server and a gateway.
  • AP machine – In my setup this is the machine I turned into an access point (AP) which is connected to the wired router via an ethernet cable. This is a Asus EeePC 1005HA netbook. This has an Atheros AR9825 wireless card (uses ath9k driver in Linux kernel) and an Atheros AR8132 wired ethernet card (uses atl1c driver in Linux kernel).
  • WiFi device – This could be any IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi device. In my setup this was my Nexus One phone. In Wi-Fi terminology this is referred to as a station (STA).

In the above network setup an AP is made using the AP machine by creating a bridge between the wireless card (in Master mode) & the wired ethernet card and then using the hostapd daemon to manage the access point. I used Arch Linux using version 2.6.35 of the stock Arch Linux kernel.

The AP machine requirements

In order to setup an wireless AP the AP machine must have the following:

  • A Linux distribution installed or running off a live-cd (you need Linux kernel >= 2.6.30 if using the ath9k driver)
  • A wired ethernet card
  • A wireless card that is supported by hostapd. This card must be capable of going into “Master” mode using the current driver you are using. A list of supported wireless cards/drivers can be found here. In my case I’m using the ath9k driver which implements the MAC80211 interface which hostapd supports.
  • The hostapd daemon installed.
  • The brctl program installed which is available from the bridge-utils package in most Linux distributions.

Checking what wireless driver you are currently using

The wireless card in your machine is what will probably cause the biggest headache to most users as hostapd doesn’t support every wireless driver.

To see what wireless driver you are currently using run the following command and look for a section mentioning your wireless card.

lspci -k

For example the relevant part of my output appears as follows which shows the kernel is using the ath9k module.

02:00.0 Network controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR9285 Wireless Network Adapter (PCI-Express) (rev 01)
	Subsystem: Device 1a3b:1089
	Kernel driver in use: ath9k
	Kernel modules: ath9k

You can check to see if your driver implements the MAC80211 interface (one of the driver interfaces hostapd supports) by running the following command (where KERNEL_MODULE is the kernel module being used by your wireless card, in my case this is ath9k) which will tell you what other kernel modules your driver depends on.

modinfo KERNEL_MODULE | grep '^depends:'

For example when I run the above command I see the following output which confirms that the ath9k driver depends on mac80211 which means it should implement the MAC80211 interface.

depends:        ath9k_hw,mac80211,led-class,ath,cfg80211,ath9k_common

Setting up the AP machine

In this section the Ethernet interface is eth0, the wireless interface is wlan0 & the bridge interface is br0. You will need to run most commands as root or using sudo.

  1. Make a back-up (in case you mess up your configuration file) copy of your hostapd configuration file (usually located at /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf) and open the original configuration file with your favourite text editor.

    The hostapd configuration file configures how your access point will behave and has a lot of options. It is here you can set important settings such as security, channel, SSID, etc. . Below are some of the most important settings I set in my configuration file. You should set yours appropriately.

    #wireless interface to use as AP
    #bridge device (needed for madwifi & nl80211 drivers)
    #driver interface type (hostapd/wired/madwifi/prism54/test/none/nl80211/bsd)
    # Use nl80211 for wifi drivers that implement MAC80211 interface
    #You should set this to your relevant driver interface type
    #Enables logging to standard output (useful for debugging)
    #Set SSID to use
    # Operation mode (a = IEEE 802.11a, b = IEEE 802.11b, g = IEEE 802.11g)
    # note your card may not support every mode.
    #Channel to use (1-13)
    # IEEE 802.11 specifies two authentication algorithms. hostapd can be
    # configured to allow both of these or only one. Open system authentication
    # should be used with IEEE 802.1X.
    # Bit fields of allowed authentication algorithms:
    # bit 0 = Open System Authentication
    # bit 1 = Shared Key Authentication (requires WEP)
    #maximum number of stations (clients connecting to AP) allowed
    # Maximum number of stations allowed in station table. New stations will be
    # rejected after the station table is full. IEEE 802.11 has a limit of 2007
    # different association IDs, so this number should not be larger than that.
    #Enable WPA2
    # This field is a bit field that can be used to enable WPA (IEEE 802.11i/D3.0)
    # and/or WPA2 (full IEEE 802.11i/RSN):
    # bit0 = WPA
    # bit1 = IEEE 802.11i/RSN (WPA2) (dot11RSNAEnabled)
    #Set passphrase for WPA
    # Set of accepted cipher suites (encryption algorithms) for pairwise keys
    # (unicast packets). This is a space separated list of algorithms:
    # CCMP = AES in Counter mode with CBC-MAC [RFC 3610, IEEE 802.11i/D7.0]
    # TKIP = Temporal Key Integrity Protocol [IEEE 802.11i/D7.0]
    # Group cipher suite (encryption algorithm for broadcast and multicast frames)
    # is automatically selected based on this configuration. If only CCMP is
    # allowed as the pairwise cipher, group cipher will also be CCMP. Otherwise,
    # TKIP will be used as the group cipher.
    # (dot11RSNAConfigPairwiseCiphersTable)
    # Pairwise cipher for WPA (v1) (default: TKIP)
    wpa_pairwise=TKIP CCMP
    # Pairwise cipher for RSN/WPA2 (default: use wpa_pairwise value)

    The hostapd configuration file has many options which are documented in the example configuration file. Other than that there isn’t really much documentation for configuring hostapd.

  2. Disable any running network connection manager (e.g. wicd, Gnome Network manager, KNetwork manager), kill any running DHCP clients and disable the interfaces. In my case I’m using wicd so I ran the following commands.

    /etc/rc.d/wicd stop
    killall dhcpcd
    ifconfig eth0 down
    ifconfig wlan0 down

    The reason for doing this is we don’t want any of our interfaces to be automatically configured as neither eth0 or wlan0 should be given an IP address via DHCP.

  3. Enable IP forwarding by running the following command.
    echo 1 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_forward

    This is required because clients (STA – stations) connecting to the AP will most of the time want their traffic forwarded to the wired router.

  4. We will now setup our ethernet bridge by running the following commands.

    brctl addbr br0 #This creates the br0 bridge
    brctl addif br0 eth0 #This adds the eth0 interface to the br0 ethernet bridge
    brctl setfd br0 0 #This sets the forwarding delay to 0 seconds

    The current bridges can be shown by running brctl show. The result can be seen below (bridge id has been changed).

    bridge name	bridge id		STP enabled	interfaces
    br0		0000.000000000000	no		eth0

    You have probably noticed that the wlan0 interface is not part of the bridge. This is deliberate because the wlan0 interface cannot be added to the bridge until it is in “Master” mode. Unfortunately how this is done varies between drivers.

    • For the hostap driver I believe you need to run the following commands to put the wireless card into Master mode and add it to the ethernet bridge although I haven’t tested this.
      iwconfig wlan0 mode Master #Put the wlan0 interface in master mode
      brctl addif br0 wlan0 #Add the wlan0 interface to the ethernet bridge br0

      The hostap driver can be configured in many ways see this page

    • For the madwifi driver you will need to run the following commands apparently according to this article.
      wlanconfig ath0 destroy #destroy the VAP (virtual access point) ath0
      wlanconfig ath0 create wlandev wlan0 wlanmode ap #create a VAP from wlan0 in access point mode
      ifconfig ath0 mode Master #put VAP ath0 in Master mode
      brctl addif br0 ath0 #add VAP ath0 to ethernet bridge br0
      #Note that hostapd should use interface ath0 not wlan0
    • For drivers that implement the MAC80211 interface (in my case the ath9k driver does) we must use hostapd to put the interface Master mode and then add the wlan0 interface to the bridge afterwards. An explanation of why this is necessary is given here. This step is discussed later on.
  5. We will now launch hostapd. For initial testing purposes we can use the following command which will not go into the background which will show useful debugging output.

    hostapd -dd /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf

    If you’ve set something wrong in your hostapd.conf file you will warned about it here. Here is a sample of the output that is produced when hostapd starts successfully (with mac address of wlan0 not shown).

    Configuration file: hostapd.conf
    Opening raw packet socket for ifindex -1218870462
    BSS count 1, BSSID mask ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff (0 bits)
    SIOCGIWRANGE: WE(compiled)=22 WE(source)=21 enc_capa=0xf
    nl80211: Added 802.11b mode based on 802.11g information
    RATE[0] rate=10 flags=0x2
    RATE[1] rate=20 flags=0x6
    RATE[2] rate=55 flags=0x4
    RATE[3] rate=110 flags=0x4
    Passive scanning not supported
    Mode: IEEE 802.11b  Channel: 6  Frequency: 2437 MHz
    Flushing old station entries
    Deauthenticate all stations
    Using interface wlan0 with hwaddr 00:00:00:00:00:00 and ssid 'YOUR_SSID'
    WPA: group state machine entering state GTK_INIT (VLAN-ID 0)
    GMK - hexdump(len=32): [REMOVED]
    GTK - hexdump(len=32): [REMOVED]
    WPA: group state machine entering state SETKEYSDONE (VLAN-ID 0)
    wlan0: Setup of interface done.
    MGMT (TX callback) ACK

    Once you have found a configuration where hostapd starts correctly you can start it in the background by running the following command if you wish (kill your original hostapd first!).

    hostapd -B /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf
  6. If you are using drivers that don’t implement the MAC80211 interface then skip this step.
    If you are using wireless card drivers that do implement the MAC80211 interface then your card should now have been put into “Master” mode by hostapd. You can check this by running iwconfig wlan0 . You should see something similar to the following output.

    wlan0     IEEE 802.11bgn  Mode:Master  Frequency:2.437 GHz  Tx-Power=20 dBm   
              Retry  long limit:7   RTS thr=2347 B   Fragment thr=2346 B   
              Power Management:off

    You should now add wlan0 to the ethernet bridge by running the following command.

    brctl addif br0 wlan0
  7. Now we should bring up the eth0 interface and our bridge. This can be done by running the following command.

    ifconfig eth0 up
    ifconfig br0 up

    Our AP should now be operational so go give it a try!

  8. This is an optional step. If you’d like to be able access the internet on the machine you’ve decided to use as an AP then we need to get an IP address for the br0 interface from the DHCP server. This can be done by running the following command.
    dhcpcd br0

Congratulations you should now have a working wireless AP. Just as a note you may find you are able to connect to the wireless network but then are not able to access “the internet”. This happened to me and this was caused by a particular iptables rule I had set in the past and had forgotten about. For initial debugging you may wish to stop iptables entirely.

Disabling your AP

Here are the commands you should run to disable your AP (access point).

killall dhcpcd
killall hostapd
brctl delif br0 wlan0 #remove wlan0 from ethernet bridge br0
brctl delif br0 eth0 #remove eth0 from ethernet bridge br0
brctl delbr br0 #delete ethernet bridge br0


I’m indebted to the following articles which were very useful.

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15 Responses to “Turn your Linux computer into a wireless access point using hostapd”

  1. Curly says:

    I think your title should read …\into a wireless\…

  2. admin says:


    Thanks. I should clearly also proof read my titles too. :)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Twitter Trackbacks…

  4. [...] Turn your Linux computer in a wireless access point using hostapd … [...]

  5. “brctl setfd 0 ” should be “brctl setfd br0 0 “

  6. admin says:

    @Christian Weiske – Thanks I didn’t notice that.

  7. [...] Turn your Linux computer into a wireless access point using hostapd [...]

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  12. [...] Turn your Linux computer into a wireless access point using hostapd « su-root.eu [...]

  13. Looking nice process to turn LInux into Wifi..

  14. NiX says:

    Really helped a lot, thanks!

  15. Alex says:

    Thanks a lot for the article. Really helpful!
    But I still can’t access AP from other computers. I.e. I’m not able to access Samba and FTP servers on AP from other computers as well as make VNC connection to AP from STAs. Are there any way to set up it?
    Thank you in advance.