Hostapd : The Linux Way to create Virtual Wifi Access Point

NOTE: Although this guide should work in most cases, it is not flawless and still requires few minor modifications to make the process bug-free. Please do point out corrections and changes.

(After you are done with this post, please do checkout my Python Hostapd Client)

I was recently looking into ways to use my laptop’s wifi adapter as a wireless access point to enable my phone (Nokia E63) and playstation portable to connect to the internet through it. Ad-hoc feature may be used to share internet through wifi, but it doesn’t work with many phones and my PSP. I found connectify and virtual router for Windows which served this purpose, unsatisfactorily. Other than the reasons like Virtual Router not detecting my 3g modem and Connectify (free version) not allowing me to set desired ssid for my virtual access point, the biggest issue with these two was the limited modes available for the access point. Both the programs offered only WPA2-PSK encryption for infrastructure mode and WEP and open encryption for ad-hoc modes. Many devices connect only through infrastructure mode and support for WPA2-PSK is absent in few devices (including the PSP). Also, since I am a Linux user, I needed something else.

This is where hostapd kicks in.

HOSTAPD

“hostapd is a user space daemon for access point and authentication servers. “

In simple words, hostapd allows you to create software wifi access points allowing decent amount of configuration options. In rest of this post, I will show how to create a software access point in Linux using hostapd and share your internet to the devices through it. I have used my Lenovo Z560 with ath9k wifi driver under Arch Linux and have also tested it under Ubuntu 11.10. But the method is also applicable for other Linux distros and supported hardware.

If the method works/doesn’t work for a non-Atheros wifi card, please do comment.

REQUIREMENTS

  • Supported Wireless Card (ie. supports master mode)
  • An internet connection you want to share. (not strictly a neccessity)
  • A linux distro

CHECKING WIFI CARD SUPPORT

First of all, you will need to find if your wireless card is supported by hostapd.

To check what kernel driver is in use for your wireless card, type the follwing in the terminal

lspci -k | grep -A 3 -i "network"

Look for the section in the output which corresponds to your Wireless controller. In my case, it is

06:00.0 Network controller: Atheros Communications Inc. AR9285 Wireless Network Adapter (PCI-Express) (rev 01)
Subsystem: Lenovo Device 30a1
Kernel driver in use: ath9k

The Bold part is my kernel driver in use. It will vary depending on your wifi card and driver you are using.

Now get the interface details of your wireless driver by

modinfo ath9k | grep 'depend'

replace ath9k by your wifi kernel driver you determined in the last step. In my case, the output was

depends: ath9k_hw,mac80211,ath9k_common,ath,cfg80211

modinfo says my Kernel driver supports mac80211 interface which is supported by hostapd which implies that my wifi card is compatible with hostapd.

Supported wireless cards/drivers

INSTALLING HOSTAPD

Install Hostapd from your distro’s repo

#Arch Linux
sudo pacman -S hostapd
#Ubuntu
sudo  apt-get update && sudo apt-get install hostapd
#Should be available in official repo of your distro

Or Download Hostapd here and compile it.

CONFIGURING HOSTAPD

The /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf is the main configuration which you need to deal with in order to set up a SoftAP.

This is the minimal configuration setting which will let you test if hostapd is working. Create a file ~/hostapd-test.conf
with the following content:

#change wlan0 to your wireless device
interface=wlan0
driver=nl80211
ssid=test
channel=1

start hostapd by

sudo hostapd ~/hostapd-test.conf

Use a wifi device to check if the access point is being detected. You won’t be able to connect to it at present.
Once hostapd is working fine, its time to configure hostapd with more options.
Here is a brief overview of some of its options:

#sets the wifi interface to use, is wlan0 in most cases
interface=wlan0
#driver to use, nl80211 works in most cases
driver=nl80211
#sets the ssid of the virtual wifi access point
ssid=dontMessWithVincentValentine
#sets the mode of wifi, depends upon the devices you will be using. It can be a,b,g,n. Setting to g ensures backward compatiblity.
hw_mode=g
#sets the channel for your wifi
channel=6
#macaddr_acl sets options for mac address filtering. 0 means "accept unless in deny list"
macaddr_acl=0
#setting ignore_broadcast_ssid to 1 will disable the broadcasting of ssid
ignore_broadcast_ssid=0
#Sets authentication algorithm
#1 - only open system authentication
#2 - both open system authentication and shared key authentication
auth_algs=1

#####Sets WPA and WPA2 authentication#####
#wpa option sets which wpa implementation to use
#1 - wpa only
#2 - wpa2 only
#3 - both
wpa=3
#sets wpa passphrase required by the clients to authenticate themselves on the network
wpa_passphrase=KeePGuessinG
#sets wpa key management
wpa_key_mgmt=WPA-PSK
#sets encryption used by WPA
wpa_pairwise=TKIP
#sets encryption used by WPA2
rsn_pairwise=CCMP

#################################

#####Sets WEP authentication#####
#WEP is not recommended as it can be easily broken into
wep_default_key=0
wep_key0=qwert    #5,13, or 16 characters
#optionally you may also define wep_key2, wep_key3, and wep_key4

#################################
#For No encryption, you don't need to set any options

So, here is my complete /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf with WPA authentication options.

interface=wlan0
driver=nl80211
ssid=dontMessWithVincentValentine
hw_mode=g
channel=6
macaddr_acl=0
auth_algs=1
ignore_broadcast_ssid=0
wpa=3
wpa_passphrase=KeePGuessinG
wpa_key_mgmt=WPA-PSK
wpa_pairwise=TKIP
rsn_pairwise=CCMP

SETTING UP THE DHCP SERVER

Alternative Method: I recommend using dnsmasq over dhcpd for this scenario mainly due to the ease in configuring it. I have continued this post from this point in a new separate post which uses dnsmasq instead of dhcpd. If you have any reason to choose dhcpd over dnsmasq or if dnsmasq isn’t working for you, then carry on.

Now that hostapd is running fine, you need to setup a DHCP server to run along with hostapd in order to assign ip address to the devices connecting to the access point. Setting up a dhcp server is quite straightforward.

Install dhcp server from your distro’s repo.

#Arch Linux
sudo pacman -S dhcp
#Ubuntu
sudo  apt-get update && sudo apt-get install isc-dhcp-server
#Fedora
sudo yum -y install dhcp

edit /etc/dhcpd.conf (for arch linux) or /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf (for Ubuntu) to

ddns-update-style none;
ignore client-updates;
authoritative;
option local-wpad code 252 = text;

subnet
10.0.0.0 netmask 255.255.255.0 {
# --- default gateway
option routers
10.0.0.1;
# --- Netmask
option subnet-mask
255.255.255.0;
# --- Broadcast Address
option broadcast-address
10.0.0.255;
# --- Domain name servers, tells the clients which DNS servers to use.
option domain-name-servers
10.0.0.1, 8.8.8.8, 8.8.4.4;
option time-offset
0;
range 10.0.0.3 10.0.0.13;
default-lease-time 1209600;
max-lease-time 1814400;
}

options are easy to understand and you may change it according to your needs (if required).

FINAL STEPS

The final steps involves enabling NAT to share internet in one network interface  with the clients connected through hostapd.

I have included all the steps to configure wlan interface, enable NAT, start DHCP server and hostapd in the BASH script below

Let the name of this file be initSoftAP.
Copy the BASH file below to the file initSoftAP.(and make changes to file according to your system)

#!/bin/bash
#Initial wifi interface configuration
ifconfig $1 up 10.0.0.1 netmask 255.255.255.0
sleep 2
###########Start DHCP, comment out / add relevant section##########
#Thanks to Panji
#Doesn't try to run dhcpd when already running
if [ "$(ps -e | grep dhcpd)" == "" ]; then
dhcpd $1 &
fi
###########
#Enable NAT
iptables --flush
iptables --table nat --flush
iptables --delete-chain
iptables --table nat --delete-chain
iptables --table nat --append POSTROUTING --out-interface $2 -j MASQUERADE
iptables --append FORWARD --in-interface $1 -j ACCEPT

#Thanks to lorenzo
#Uncomment the line below if facing problems while sharing PPPoE, see lorenzo's comment for more details
#iptables -I FORWARD -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN -j TCPMSS --clamp-mss-to-pmtu

sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1
#start hostapd
hostapd /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf 1>/dev/null
killall dhcpd

Script Changes (12/9/12) : Added check for already running dhcpd process (Thanks to Panji), Added an optional line to fix issues related to PPPoE connection sharing (See lorenzo’s comment)

It might be more convenient to use hostapd -B /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf which runs hostapd in background. (Thanks to Enda for pointing out)

Make this file executable, and run it. The syntax for executing it is

./initSoftAP wifi_card_interface interface_with_internet

chmod +x initSoftAP
./initSoftAP wlan0 eth0

The “wifi_card_interface” will be wlan0 most of the cases. For “interface_with_internet“, since I want to share internet from my ethernet network interface, I used eth0. If I ever want to share internet from my 3g modem, I use ppp0. (These values need not be same for everyone)
You may see available network interfaces by

ifconfig -a

Note:

  • If dhcpd is failing to start and throwing errors like No subnet declaration for wlan0, take a look at these comments by Mahesh and Charlie. Either use dnsmasq, or try adding the following to the  /etc/default/isc-dhcp-server file

INTERFACES=”wlan0″
option netbios-name-servers 10.0.0.1

  • Raspberry Pi users might want to take a look at Denis Kökeny’s comment.

Problems, Errors, Feedback or any alternatives? Feel free to reply.

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431 thoughts on “Hostapd : The Linux Way to create Virtual Wifi Access Point

  1. whoeza

    Hello nims11,
    I followed a document in the Archlinux documentation about “Software AP”, which worked here on Debian as well (Jessie).
    The procedure was very similar if not equal to the one you posted here.
    However, I have an issue with trying to surf the internet through a mobile client connected to my hostapd server.
    I confirm that the dhcp server (dhcpd) works fine, in that my mobile client gets an IP address in the range specified in dhcpd.conf.
    The problem is that afterwards the IP assignment, I’m still unable to use the wifi connection and surf the internet, e.g. with Android’s browser or any other app.

    I initially thought it might be a nameserver problem, which means domains not being resolved into IP addresses. I then tried and typed the IP address of a website into the mobile client’s browser. The result is the same, with no ability to surf the internet.

    It might still be a DNS problem, but I don’t know any other way to check and confirm it.

    My dhcpd configuration is as follows:

    ddns-update-style none;
    ignore client-updates;
    option local-wpad code 252 = text;
    log-facility local7;
    subnet 10.15.0.0 netmask 255.255.255.0 {
    interface “wlan0″;
    # default gateway, the AP itself, wlan0
    option routers 10.15.0.1;
    # netmask
    option subnet-mask 255.255.255.0;
    # broadcast addr
    option broadcast-address 10.15.0.255;
    option domain-name-servers 10.15.0.1, 8.8.8.8;
    option time-offset 0;
    range 10.15.0.3 10.15.0.13;
    default-lease-time 1209600;
    max-lease-time 1814400;
    }

    While my very basic hostapd configuration is:

    interface=wlan0
    driver=nl80211
    ssid=test
    channel=1

    Then, we have the iptables forwarding rules, as follows, keeping in mind that my AP is on wlan0 and I have a working network connection on eth0:

    # Flushing…
    iptables –flush
    iptables –delete-chain
    iptables –table nat –delete-chain
    iptables –table nat -F
    iptables –table nat -X
    # Keep existing connections
    iptables -A INPUT -m state –state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT
    # NAT forwarding
    iptables –table nat –append POSTROUTING –out-interface eth0 -j MASQUERADE
    iptables –append FORWARD –in-interface wlan0 -j ACCEPT
    # Uncomment if facing problems while sharing PPPoE
    #iptables -I FORWARD -p tcp –tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN -j TCPMSS –clamp-mss-to-pmtu

    Issuing ‘iptables –list’ yields:

    ~# iptables –list
    Chain INPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target prot opt source destination
    ACCEPT all — anywhere anywhere state RELATED,ESTABLISHED

    Chain FORWARD (policy ACCEPT)
    target prot opt source destination
    ACCEPT all — anywhere anywhere

    Chain OUTPUT (policy ACCEPT)
    target prot opt source destination

    And I have even tried with the exact iptables rules as in your post, but same results. Mobile clients gets its IP address, but can’t surf the internet.

    Any ideas? :)

    Reply
      1. whoeza

        …IT WORKS!! :)
        I can see Apache’s default homepage!! I suppose you now have some awareness about the issue I’m facing..?

      2. whoeza

        Solved. My issue was that I was trying to both create a bridge between the interfaces AND trying to setup a NAT.
        However, as stated in the Archlinux [link below] (that works on Debian Jessie as well), this are two different methods to achieve this same purpose, with some little differences.
        (Bridging the NICs makes them appear as if they were in the same network; while NAT serves to create a virtual network, AFAIK.)
        Thank you for this article!
        Archlinux guide:
        “Software access point” https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Software_Access_Point

    1. John

      Hi Whoeza,

      I have the same problem as you do. DHCP allocates an IP to my Android phone, but I cannot access the Internet (can access local pages). You solved the problem later on. Can you please give me step by step instructions on how you were able to solve this issue?

      Thanks!

      Reply
      1. Whoeza

        Hello John,
        as you can read from my posts, my problem seemed to go away after I reverted the bridge configuration between eth0 and wlan0 interfaces that I was setting up together with the NAT. If this is your case, I can try and write a very basic step by step version of what I did. A shorter way of telling it, by the way, simply would be that I removed the bridge configuration from /etc/network/interfaces, the place where I was writing it!
        If this is not your problem, you might wanna get more specific about it, going into more details.

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  3. Mike W

    Great tut! I was wondering however, how would you add in a third nic(eth0) so that everything that connects through it is on the same network segment at the hostap WifiAP? I have wlan1 that bring in the internet, wlan0 that runs the AP, and eth0 that connects eathernet devices. Im running a media server.

    Reply
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  5. Sagar Belure

    So, apparently, there is a bug with hostapd on Ubuntu 14.04.

    https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/wpa/+bug/1289047

    Which gives error for using driver nl80211.

    There is a workaround till this gets fixed, which could be included in the script:
    Here is my modified script, that works for me:

    #!/bin/bash
    #[1/2]A HACK / Workaround for bug with hostapd on Ubuntu 14.04 https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/wpa/+bug/1289047
    # Workaround as follows:
    nmcli nm wifi off
    rfkill unblock wlan
    
    #Initial wifi interface configuration
    #ifconfig $1 up 10.0.0.1 netmask 255.255.255.0
    ifconfig $1 192.168.35.1/24 up
    sleep 2
    ###########Start DHCP, comment out / add relevant section##########
    #Thanks to Panji
    #Doesn't try to run dhcpd when already running
    if [ "$(ps -e | grep dhcpd)" == "" ]; then
    dhcpd $1 &
    fi
    ###########
    #Enable NAT
    iptables --flush
    iptables --table nat --flush
    iptables --delete-chain
    iptables --table nat --delete-chain
    iptables --table nat --append POSTROUTING --out-interface $2 -j MASQUERADE
    iptables --append FORWARD --in-interface $1 -j ACCEPT
     
    #Thanks to lorenzo
    #Uncomment the line below if facing problems while sharing PPPoE, see lorenzo's comment for more details
    #iptables -I FORWARD -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN -j TCPMSS --clamp-mss-to-pmtu
     
    sysctl -w net.ipv4.ip_forward=1
    
    #start hostapd
    hostapd /etc/hostapd/hostapd.conf 1>/dev/null
    
    #[2/2] Restarting dhcp server & hostapd
    service isc-dhcp-server restart
    service hostapd restart
    killall dhcpd
    
    Reply
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