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Thu, Feb 27, 2014 10:13 pm

Determining available WiFi networks from OS X shell prompt

On a Mac OS X system, such as a MacBook Pro laptop, you can detemine the available WiFi networks from a shell prompt, which you can get by running the Terminal program located in Applications/Utilities, by using the command below:

/System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/A/Resources/airport scan

For example:

$ /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/A/Resources/airport scan
                            SSID BSSID             RSSI CHANNEL HT CC SECURITY (auth/unicast/group)
                           SC8QR f8:e4:fb:ea:29:5d -86  11      Y  -- WPA2(PSK/AES,TKIP/TKIP) 
                    08FX02038916 00:18:3a:8a:01:c5 -80  6       N  -- WEP
                  Norman Netgear 84:1b:5e:2d:c9:16 -79  6       Y  -- WPA2(PSK/AES/AES) 
                          558935 0c:54:a5:48:19:e5 -16  1       Y  -- WPA(PSK/AES,TKIP/TKIP) WPA2(PSK/AES,TKIP/TKIP) 
                          Hickox 0c:d5:02:c5:e8:8e -80  11      N  -- WEP
                            Haze 94:44:52:5a:54:54 -33  11      Y  -- WPA(PSK/AES/AES) WPA2(PSK/AES/AES) 
                     David's Net ec:1a:59:8d:dd:61 -80  11      Y  -- WPA2(PSK/AES/AES) 

The SSID is the "Service Set Identification", which is a 1 to 32 byte string that represents the "network name". The SSID allows you to identify a network to which you may wish to connect. Sometimes a person setting up a wireless router may choose to not have the SSID broadcast. In that case you wouldn't see the SSID in the list even though the network is available for connections if you know the SSID.

The BSSID is the "Basic Service Set Identification". Each Basic Service Set is identified by a BSSID. For a BSS operating in infrastructure mode, the BSSID is the media access control (MAC) address of the wireless access point (WAP), which is generated by combining the 24-bit Organizationally Unique Identifier, which identifies the manufacturer, and the manufacturer's assigned 24-bit identifier for the radio chipset in the WAP. The BSSID is the formal name of the BSS and is always associated with only one BSS. The SSID is the informal human name of the BSS which is more easily remembered by humans.

You can determine the manufacturer from the BSSID by searching the IEE-SA - Registration Authority MA-L Public Listing. Take the first six digits of the BSSID and replace the colons with dashes and then put the result, which will be in the form of xx-xx-xx in the "Search for" field. E.g., in the case of the wireless network above identified as "David's Net", the BSSID is ec:1a:59:8d:dd:61, so you would search using ec-1a-59, which would show the wireless device was manufacturered by Belkin International Inc., a company that make wireless routers for the home market. For the network identified as "Norman Netgear", searching on 84-1b-5e shows the manufacturer is, indeed, Netgear.

If you just want the names of the available networks, i.e., the SSIDs, you can use the same command and then pipe its output to the cut command. Since the SSID will be the first 32 characters on each line, you will need to cut out the first 32 characters from each line.

$ /System/Library/PrivateFrameworks/Apple80211.framework/Versions/A/Resources/airport scan | cut -c1-32
                            SSID
                           SC8QR
                    08FX02038916
                  Norman Netgear
                          558935
                          Hickox
                            Haze
                     David's Net

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