AirPort network problems: Let the assistant guide you

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 10th, 2011 • 2:43 pm

“Long after death and taxes have both been abolished, network problems will remain.” — Luis Villazon, “OS X networking explained

No kidding. There is something that I really hate about troubleshooting network problems. It’s not just the fact that there are many things beyond your control, or that you often have to wait for an indeterminate amount of time (with no indication that this is necessary) before things somehow magically fix themselves.

It is that, quite often, even after you’ve managed to fix the problem, you still don’t know what was wrong in the first place.

The other day, all of a sudden, it appeared that my AirPort Extreme base station (older “Snow” model) had ceased to work properly. I couldn’t go online through it. The base station was able to obtain an IP address from my ISP, so the connection to the outside world through the ISP’s modem was working fine. (I ended up double-checking this by connection a computer directly to the modem. It worked fine.) And I was able to print to the laser printer on my LAN without problems, so there was no apparent problem with the LAN itself either. The problem was between the two.

I tried everything that I could try. While I am not an industrial-strength expert in networking, I do know most of the things that one needs to know to be able to troubleshoot network issues, especially (but not exclusively) with Apple hardware, to the point that I am usually the one who troubleshoots small network problems for other people.

Because of this, when I run the AirPort Utility application to control and configure my AirPort devices, I always use the “Manual Setup” option.

In this particular case, using the “Manual Setup” option, I tried all that I could try on the AirPort Extreme. I of course tried to restart the base station. I tried to change the wireless channel, in case there was some new interference that I was not aware of. I tried to tweak several Internet settings, including the NAT settings, in case something had gone wrong for some reason. Each time, I restarted the base station, and it would get its IP address from the modem without problem, but it still wouldn’t let my computers go on-line.

I even tried manually power-cycling the base station, the modem, and the Ethernet hub. Nothing helped.

Finally, after half an hour of such hopelessness, I figured I would try one more thing, which was to bypass the “Manual Setup” option altogether and let the default assisted process in AirPort Utility guide me through the (re)configuration of my AirPort Extreme base station.

I dutifully went through the various screens asking me to select the options that I wanted, and completed the process by restarting the base station.

And it worked! I was back on-line and everything was peachy again. Using the “Manual Setup” option, I carefully examined the settings that the assistant had chosen for me (without changing any of them), and couldn’t find anything different from what I had just tried half a dozen times myself.

Now of course, it is possible that I missed something, a tiny detail somewhere in a secondary dialog box for advanced options. But I really cannot see what it is, or rather was. I suppose that, given the number of settings that can be adjusted, the total number of possible combinations of settings is quite high and there were some that I really didn’t try. But I still cannot help but wonder whether it was not something else, some hidden setting that had gone wrong and that, for some reason, the guided process with the assistant made right again, even though I was not able to make it right myself using the more advanced “Manual Setup” option.

I will probably never know for sure, but what I do know is that, even after many years of experience in troubleshooting my own problems and other people’s problems, networking in general and Mac OS X networking in particular, even using Apple hardware almost exclusively, is still something of a mystery to me.

Still, I figure it is good to know that, sometimes, even for more advanced users who have experience with setting up their networking hardware manually, the guided process offered by the simplified assistant user interface can actually offer a solution. It’s a frustrating one, in that, as I said, it won’t tell you what the problem was in the first place, but I think that, unless you plan on becoming a network expert, there is no point in letting that frustration get to you. For most people, networking problems are mysterious and probably will remain forever so.

Comments are closed.