Set up Multiple Network Locations on Your Mac

Network preference pane being used to edit location information screenshot

The Mac makes it easy to connect to a local network or the Internet. In most cases, the Mac will make the connection automatically the first time you start it up. If you only use your Mac in one location, such as at home, then this automatic connection may be all you'll ever need.

But if use your Mac in different locations, such as taking a MacBook to work, you must change the network connection settings each time you change locations. This tip assumes you have already been changing the network connection settings manually, and that you have the necessary network configuration information for each location.

Rather than change the network settings manually each time you change locations, you can use the Mac's Network Location service to create multiple "locations." Each location has individual settings to match a specific network port's configuration. For example, you can have one location for your home, to connect to your wired Ethernet network; one location for your office, which also uses wired Ethernet, but with different DNS (domain name server) settings; and one location for the wireless connection at your favorite coffee house.

You can have as many locations as you need. You can even have multiple network locations for the same physical location. For example, if you have both a wired network and a wireless network at home, you can create a separate network location for each. You can use one when you're sitting in your home office, connected via wired Ethernet, and the other when you're sitting on your deck, using your wireless network.

It doesn't stop with just different physical networks, any networking setting that is different can be a reason to create a location. Need to use a web proxy or VPN? How about a different IP or connecting via IPv6 versus IPv4? Network Locations can handle it for you.

Set up Locations

  1. Open System Preferences by clicking its icon in the Dock, or by selecting it from the Apple menu.

  2. In the Internet & Network section of System Preferences, click the Network icon.

  3. Select Edit Locations from the Location dropdown menu.

    • If you want to base the new location on an existing one, because many of the parameters are the same, select the location you want to copy from the list of current locations. Click the gear icon and select Duplicate Location from the pop-up menu.
    • If you want to create a new location from scratch, click the plus (+) icon.
  4. A new location will be created, with its default name of 'Untitled' highlighted. Change the name to something that identifies the location, such as 'Office' or 'Home Wireless.'

  5. Click the Done button.

You can now set up the network connection information for each network port for the new location you created. Once you complete each network port's setup, you can switch between the various locations using the Location dropdown menu.

Automatic Location

Switching between home, office, and mobile connections is now just a dropdown menu away, but it can get even easier than that. If you select the 'Automatic' entry in the Location dropdown menu, your Mac will attempt to select the best location by seeing which connections are up and working. The Automatic option works best when each location type is unique; for example, one wireless location and one wired location. When multiple locations have similar types of connections, the Automatic option will sometimes pick the wrong one, which can lead to connection problems.

To help the Automatic option make the best possible guess for which network to use, you can set a preferred order for making a connection. For example, you may want to connect wirelessly to your 802.11ac Wi-Fi network operating on the 5 GHz frequencies. If that network is not available, then try the same Wi-Fi network at 2.4 GHz. Finally, if neither network is available, try connecting to the 802.11n guest network your office runs.

Set the Preferred Network Order

  1. With the Automatic location selected in the dropdown menu, select the Wi-Fi icon in the Network preference pane sidebar.

  2. Click the Advanced button.

  3. In the Wi-Fi dropdown sheet that appears, select the Wi-Fi tab.

A list of networks you have connected to in the past will be displayed. You can select a network and drag it to the position within the preference list. Preferences are from the top, being the most preferred network to connect to, to the last network in the list, being the least desirable network to make a connection to.

If you would like to add a Wi-Fi network to the list, click the plus (+) sign button at the bottom of the list, then follow the prompts to add an additional network. 

You can also remove a network from the list to help ensure you will never connect to that network automatically by selecting a network from the list, then clicking the minus (-) sign.