How to Set Up Apple AirPort Express

smartphone being used to wirelessly control a home

Busakorn Pongparnit/Moment/Getty Images

Apple discontinued the AirPort and AirPort Express line of Wi-Fi devices in April 2018. Because the hardware is no longer being sold and the software no longer being maintained by Apple, we are no longer updating this article. The AirPort Express is still available on the secondary market, though. The instructions in this article should still roughly apply to models bought that way, though some exact steps may have changed.

Apple's AirPort Express Wi-Fi base station lets you wirelessly share devices like speakers or printers with other computers.

The possibilities for cool tech projects and solutions this introduces are exciting. For instance, using the Airport Express you can connect speakers in every room in your house to one iTunes library to create a wireless home music network (we promise: this way really cool back before Sonos was widely available and somewhat affordable). You can also use AirPrint to wirelessly print documents to printers in other rooms.

Whatever your goal, if you need to share data from your Mac wirelessly, the AirPort Express makes it happen with just an electrical outlet and a little configuration. Here’s how.

01
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Plug in the AirPort Express Base Station

Setting up Airport Express, step 1
image copyright Apple Inc.

Start by plugging the AirPort Express into an electrical outlet in the room where you want to use it.

Then go to your computer. I you don’t already have the AirPort Utility software installed, install it from the CD that comes with the AirPort Express or download it from Apple's website.

The AirPort Utility software comes pre-loaded with the operating system on Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) and higher. No need to download it on those systems.

02
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Launch the AirPort Utility Program

setup airport express, step 2

With the AirPort Utility program installed, follow these steps:

  1. Launch the program. 
  2. When it starts, you’ll see the new AirPort Express base station listed on the left. Single click to highlight it, if it's not already highlighted.
  3. Click Continue.
  4. Fill out the fields in the right side of the window. Give the AirPort Express a name (for instance, it it's located in your home office, maybe call it "office") and a password that you'll remember so you can access it later. 
  5. Click Continue.
03
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Choose the Airport Express Connection Type

Airport Express set up, step 4

Next, you'll need to decide what kind of Wi-Fi connection you want to set up by following these steps:

  1. Choose whether you're connecting the AirPort Express to an existing network (choose this if you already have a Wi-Fi network you're adding it to), replacing another (if you're getting rid of your old network hardware and will be using this as your main Wi-Fi hotspot), or connecting via Ethernet. For the purposes of these instructions, let's assume that you’ve already got a wireless network and that this is just an addition to it. Choose that option and click Continue.
  2. The program displays a list of the nearby available wireless networks. Select yours to add the AirPort Express to. Click Continue.
  3. When the changed settings are saved, the AirPort Express restarts.
  4. When it restarts, the AirPort Express appears in the AirPort Utility window with the new name and will be ready to use. 

To learn more about AirPort Express and how to use it, check out:

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Troubleshooting AirPort Express Problems

The Apple Airport Express base station is simple to set up and a useful addition to your home or office technology. But what happens when something goes wrong? Here are some AirPort Express troubleshooting tips.

If the Airport Express has disappeared from the speakers list in iTunes, try the following:

  1. Make sure your computer is on the same Wi-Fi network as the AirPort Express. If it's not, join that network.
  2. If your computer and the AirPort Express are on the same network, try quitting iTunes and restarting it.
  3. You should also make sure you have the most recent version of iTunes and, if not, install it.
  4. If that doesn’t work, unplug the AirPort Express and plug it back in. Wait for it to restart. When its light turns green, it has restarted and connected to the Wi-Fi network. You may need to quit and restart iTunes.
  5. If that doesn't work, try resetting the AirPort Express. You can do this by pressing the reset button on the bottom of the device. It's the small, soft plastic, gray button. This may require a paper clip or other item with a small point. Hold the button for about a second, until the light flashes amber. This resets the base station password so you can set it up again using the AirPort Utility.
  6. If that doesn’t work, try a hard reset. This erases all data from the AirPort Express and lets you set it up from scratch using the AirPort Utility. This is a step to take after all others have failed. To do this, hold the reset button for 10 seconds. Then set up the base station again.