Set up Multiple Network Locations on Your Mac

Control how and when your Mac connects to the internet

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 has 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. You can set another for your office, which also uses wired Ethernet, but with different DNS (domain name server) settings. Finally, you can create a location for the wireless connection at your favorite coffee house.

Instructions in this article apply to Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) and later.

How to Set up Locations

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.

Here's how to set up and manage locations on your Mac.

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

    Mac desktop with the System Preferences command highlighted
  2. Click the Network icon.

    Network icon in System Preferences
  3. Select Edit Locations from the Location drop-down menu.

    Edit Locations chosen in the Network preferences
  4. 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.

    Duplicate location option in Mac Network preferences
  5. To create a new location from scratch, click the plus (+) icon.

    Plus Sign selected in Network preferences
  6. System Preferences creates a new location with a default name of "Untitled." Change the name to something that identifies the location.

  7. Click the Done button.

    Done button on Mac Network preferences screen
  8. 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 drop-down menu.

Automatic Location

Switching between home, office, and mobile connections is now just a drop-down menu away, but it can e even easier than that. If you select the Automatic entry in the Location drop-down menu, your Mac selects 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 sometimes picks the wrong one, which can lead to connection problems.

How to Set the Preferred Network Order

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.

  1. With the Automatic location selected in the drop-down menu, select the Wi-Fi icon in the Network preference pane sidebar and click the Advanced button.

    Network preferences showing Wi-Fi and Advanced highlighted
  2. Select the Wi-Fi tab in the Wi-Fi drop-down sheet to open a list of networks you have connected to in the past.

    WI-Fi in Network Advanced preferences
  3. Select a network and drag it to the desired position in 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.

  4. 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. 

  5. Remove a network from the list to help ensure you will never connect to that network automatically by selecting a network from the list and clicking the minus (-) sign.