Set Network Connection Priority in Mac OS X

Jun 15, 2013 - 2 Comments

For those of us who use several different types of network connections to get online, you may want to take a moment to set the networking service priority in OS X. This insures that a Mac isn’t connecting through the wrong networking interface when multiple network services are available.

For example, if you have a Mac that is connected to an ethernet network, but also finds available wi-fi networks, you can set one of those to be the preferred connection type. This can also be used to prioritize connections through a VPN, and you can go a step further and set the priority on a per-location basis, which is perhaps the most useful way to use this trick.

Use Service Order to Prioritize Network Connection Types

At it’s most basic function, you can choose the networking service priority by doing the following:

  • Open System Preferences from the  Apple menu, then go to the “Network” panel
  • Click the [+] plus icon in the lower left portion of the networking panel and choose “Set Service Priority” from the drop down menu
  • Set Network Service Order

  • At the “Service Order” window, drag networks according to the desired priority, the topmost service will have the highest priority

Set networking service priority

In this example screenshot, “Wi-Fi” has top priority, with “Wi-Fi Hotspot” as the second most prioritized service (meaning, if wi-fi is not available, use wi-fi hotspot if it’s available, otherwise use the services below it in descending order)

Note this does not prioritize one wireless network over another, unless the Mac happens to have multiple wi-fi cards available to it with unique interfaces, though that would be a fairly unusual circumstance. Instead, prioritizing individual wireless networks is done through the Advanced Wi-Fi options as described here.

Using Network Locations & Network Service Order

Setting network priority per “Location” is perhaps the most useful way to use this trick. This lets you set priorities that are specific to unique networks or areas, like work ethernet, home wi-fi with VPN, telecommuting hotspot with an iPhone or a tethered Android, a shared Mac hotspot, etc

  • From the “Network” panel, pull down the “Location” menu and choose “Edit Locations…”
  • Click the [+] plus button to create a new network location
  • Adjust the network settings as appropriate to the given network location setting, then use the “Set Service Order” trick mentioned above

Once different locations are set up with their respective service orders, you can now easily switch between them directly from the  Apple menu by pulling down to the “Locations” menu and choosing the desired network location.

Change network locations quickly in Mac OS X

This is highly recommended for anyone who regularly uses different networks, but laptop users who travel frequently between different locations with their Mac will likely find it most useful.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Franck P says:

    very useful tips indeed !

    I still have un unsolved issue: how can I set severall network locations so that I can switch from a local wifi to a tethered iPhone network sharing for instance ?
    I already can switch from my ethernet to a wifi signal, but my wifi priorities aren’t saved per location but globally, so when I switch from “wifi” to “iphone” location, wifi doesn’t switch accordingly…
    Probably a little tweak still needed ?
    Any piece of advice to solve this through ?
    Thank you for your help.

  2. Lakshmi Narasimhan says:

    Thanks. Worked perfectly.

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