Connect to a Wireless Network Using Windows

How to connect any Windows device to a wireless network

A screen shot showing a laptop, tablet computer, desktop computer, wireless router, and two phones connected to the World Wide Web.
Figure 1-1: Wireless connections are now the de facto standard for making connections. Getty Images
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All modern Windows devices support wireless network connections, provided they are equipped with the necessary hardware. Generally, that’s a wireless network adapter. How you go about making the network connection depends on the operating system installed on the device though, and oftentimes there are multiple ways to connect. Good news for those of you with an older device: you can purchase and configure a USB-to-wireless adapter as a workaround.

01
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Windows 10

The result of clicking the Network icon on the Taskbar in Windows 10 with available networks showing and one selected.
Figure 1-2: The Windows 10 Taskbar offers access to a list of available networks. Joli Ballew

All Windows 10 devices including desktop PCs, laptops, and tablets let you view and log in to available wireless networks from the Taskbar. Once at the Network list you simply click the desired network and then input credentials if prompted.

If you connect using this method, you’ll need to know the network name so that you can select it from the list. You will also need to know the network key (password) assigned to the network, if it’s secured with one. If you’re at home, that information is likely on your wireless router. If you’re in a public place like a coffee shop, you’ll need to ask the proprietor. Some networks don’t require credentials though, and thus no network key is necessary.

To connect to a network in Windows 10:

  1. Click the Network icon on the Taskbar (refer to the Note below if you don’t see a Network icon). If you’re not already connected to a network, this icon will be a Wi-Fi icon with no bars and will have an asterisk on it.

Note: If you don’t see a Network icon on the Taskbar, click Start > Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Show Available Networks.

  1. In the list of available networks, click the network to connect to.
  2. If you’d like to connect to this network automatically next time you’re within range of it, click next to Connect Automatically.
  3. Click Connect.
  4. If prompted, type the network key and click Next.
  5. If prompted, decide if the network is a public network or a private one. Click the applicable answer.

Rarely, the network you want to connect to is hidden from view, which means the network name won’t appear in the Network list. If this is the case you’ll have to work through the Network Connection wizard, available from the Network and Sharing Center.

To connect to a network using the Network and Sharing Center:

  1. Right-click the Network icon on the Taskbar.
  2. Click Open Network And Sharing Center.
  3. Click Set Up A New Connection Or Network.
  4. Click Manually Connect To A Wireless Network and click Next.
  5. Input the required information and click Next. (You’ll have to ask for this information from the administrator of the network or from the documentation that came with your wireless router.)
  6. Complete the wizard as prompted.

For more information about the different types of Windows network connections refer to the article Types of Network Connections.

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Windows 8.1

A man holding a Windows 8.1 tablet.
Figure 1-3: Windows 8.1 has a Start screen with a Desktop tile and a Charms bar. Getty Images

Windows 8.1 offers a Network icon on the Taskbar (which is on the Desktop) just like Windows 10 does, and the steps for connecting to a network from there are almost identical. To connect from the Desktop though you must first access it. You can do that from the Start screen by clicking the Desktop tile or by using the key combination Windows key + D. Once at the Desktop, follow the steps shown above in the Windows 10 section of this article.

If you’d rather connect to a network from the Windows 8.1 Charms bar, or if there’s no Network icon on the Taskbar:

  1. Swipe in from the right side of your touch-screen device, or, move your mouse cursor to the bottom right corner of the screen. (You can also use the keyboard combination Windows key + C.)
  2. Click Settings > Network.
  3. Click Available.
  4. Select the network.
  5. If you’d like to connect to this network automatically next time you’re in range, place a check next to Connect Automatically.
  6. Click Connect.
  7. If prompted, type the network key and click Next.
  8. If prompted, decide if the network is a public network or a private one. Click the applicable answer.

If the network you want to connect to is hidden and doesn’t appear in the Network list, use the Network and Sharing Center as detailed in the Windows 10 section above. 

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Windows 7

A screen shot of a Windows 7 laptop computer.
Figure 1-4: Windows 7 can connect to wireless networks too. Getty images

Windows 7 also offers various ways to connect to networks. The easiest way is to connect using the Network icon on the Taskbar:

  1. Click the Network icon on the Taskbar. If you’re not already connected to a network, this icon will look like a Wi-Fi icon with no bars and will have an asterisk on it.
  2. In the Network list, click the network to connect to.
  3. If you’d like to connect to this network automatically next time you’re in range, place a check next to Connect Automatically.
  4. Click Connect.
  5. If prompted, type the security key and click OK.

As with all other consumer Windows systems, Windows 7 offers the Network and Sharing Center, available from Control Panel. Here you’ll find the option Manage Wireless Networks. If you experience wireless network connection problems or if you don’t see the network you want to connect to in the network list when working through the steps above, go here and click Manually Create a Network Profile. Work through the wizard to add the connection.

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Windows XP

A screen shot of the Windows XP Desktop.
Figure 1-5: Windows XP offers wireless connection options too. Getty images

 To connect a Windows XP computer to a wireless network refer to the article Set Up Network Connections in Windows XP.

05
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Command Prompt

A screen shot of a command prompt with the netsh wlan connect command shown.
Figure 1-5: Use the Command Prompt to connect to a network manually. joli ballew

The Windows Command Prompt, or Windows CP, lets you connect to networks from a command line. If you’ve experienced wireless connection problems or simply can’t figure out any other way to connect you can try this method. You’ll need to know the following information first:

  • SSIDThe Sevice Set Identifier. You’ll likely find this on your broadband router and might also be the name of the network.
  • Key – The network identifier (password).

To make a network connection using the command prompt:

  1. Search for command prompt using any method you prefer. You can search from the Taskbar on a Windows 10 device.
  2. Choose Command Prompt (Admin) in the results.
  3. To locate the name of the network to connect to, type netsh wlan show profiles and press Enter on the keyboard. Write down the name of the network you want to connect to.
  4. To locate the name of the interface, type netsh wlan show interface and press Enter on the keyboard. Write down what you find in the first entry, next to name. This is the name of your network adapter.
  5. Type netsh wlan connect name="nameofnetwork" interface="nameofnetworkadapter" and press Enter on the keyboard.

If you see errors or are asked for additional information, read what’s offered and add parameters as required.