Sharing your Mac’s Internet connection only takes a few clicks, and you can even set up an improvised WiFi hotspot without installing any third party software.
Maybe there’s only one Ethernet cable in the hotel room, and you want to share your connection with others. Maybe you paid for airport Wi-Fi, and want to share that connection with a friend. Or maybe you just want to give a desktop computer you’re working on a temporary connection to the web.
Whatever your reason, sharing your Mac’s Internet connection is relatively simple. Here’s where to find the Internet Sharing feature on your Mac, and how to use it to share your current connection with other devices.
Finding The Share Internet Feature
First, open System Preferences. You’ll find this on the dock, by selecting it from the menu on the Apple logo at top-left, or by hitting cmd+spacebar and searching for it using Spotlight.
Click the Sharing options, then look at the panel in the left. See Internet Sharing? Click that (but don’t check it yet!) and you’ll bring up a set of options for sharing your connection.
From you can configure everything you need to share your Internet connection. You need to set where you Internet access is currently coming from, and which device you’d like to share it. Let’s get started with a likely example.
Share Your Mac’s Ethernet Connection Over WiFi
If you’ve got a wired connection to the Internet that you want to share, you’ll need to set up an improvised Wi-Fi network. Under Share your connection from, pick “Ethernet“, then under To computers using pick “Wi-Fi“.
Once you check Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi Options button will become clickable. Click it and you can set up a WPA2 password for your improvised network, or choose an older security method in case the computer you’re sharing with has particularly old hardware that doesn’t support WPA2.
WPA2 is the best way to protect a Wi-Fi network, so if you’re in a public place it’s probably a good idea to secure it. If the network isn’t long term, though, you might not want to bother. Up to you.
When you’re done, click the checkmark beside Internet Sharing in the left panel. You’ll see this warning:
All this means is you can’t connect to Wi-Fi networks while you’re Mac is set to use your wireless card for Internet Sharing – you’ll have to turn it off if you want to use Wi-Fi again. Click Start if you understand this, and just like that you’ve created a Wi-Fi network.
You can connect to this with any device. I tested my network with an Android phone, and it worked flawlessly.
The range was bigger than I expect for an improvised network: I walked around my house and the connection kept working. This won’t replace a router, but it’s not bad considering it’s such a cinch to set up.
Share Your WiFi Connection Over Ethernet
Maybe you have access to a Wi-Fi network, and want to share that connection with another machine. If you have access to an Ethernet cable, you can quickly get this working. Just pick Wi-Fi as the connection you’ll be sharing, and Ethernet as where you’ll be sharing it from.
Click the checkmark next to Internet Sharing and you’re ready to share your connection. Plug your Ethernet cable into your Mac, then plug the other end into whatever other device needs access. This will work with other Macs, Windows and Linux PCs and pretty much any device with an Ethernet port. I use this occasionally while trying out Raspbery Pi projects, for example.
But Wait, There’s More
By now I think you’ve grasped the concept: if you’re getting Internet access from one source, you can share it with another. It’s worth noting that you have other options: you can share your connection with a Firewire/USB cable, for example, or even over Bluetooth. I had trouble getting a Bluetooth connection to actually do things, but your mileage may vary. Devices with newer Bluetooth technology are likely to see more stable connections and faster speeds.
If you really want to complicate things, you can try tethering an Android phone to your Mac and then sharing that connection over Wi-Fi or Firewire/USB. Just be aware that you have options.
What Did We Miss?
This gives you the basics for sharing your Internet connection. It’s not necessarily something you will use every day, but it’s a good thing to know about for the occasional situation where it’s useful.
Of course, it isn’t just Macs that can do this: you can share you Windows Internet connection as well, and even turn a Windows computer into a WiFi hotspot. You can share your Ubuntu Internet connection too — if you want to share an Internet connection from a computer, you’ve got options.
What other Internet sharing tips do you have, and are there any helpful programs out there we should know about? Feel free to point things out, or just ask for help, in the comments below.