Monday, September 04, 2006

Reconfiguring an Airport Express to WDS and switching from home to travel configuration

My Airport Express (why, oh why, couldn't Apple make the USB port powered?!) went traveling with me. When it came home I had to restore it to its usual duty -- extending my base station. It took me a while to remember how to do this [note: see two updates below, including use of the Configuration (profiles). Basically you:
1. try a hard reset first. If that doesn't work do a factory reset (MacWorld ref article on resets - since I wrote this I've found the factory reset more useful).
  • To perform a hard reset, push and hold the reset button for 10 full seconds with the AE powered the whole time.
  • Release the button, and AirPort Express will reset.
  • For the factory reset, unplug first. Press and hold the reset button and, while holding it, plug in the AirPort Express (this is a pain in the butt to do). KEEP HOLDING. It takes at least 30 seconds after plugging in before it resets.
2. Use Airport Admin utility to configure the Airport Extreme Base Station, not the Airport Express! This is the counterintuitive part: AirPort Extreme and Express: Using WDS to create a network from multiple base stations.
Here's the catch. My AEBS recognized the ethernet ID of the Airport Express and "assumed" it was already configured -- so it wouldn't run the auto-configuration (don't try to do this manually, it's ugly). I had to remove the AExp entry from the WDS client list, then add it back in again. That ran the setup routine. Don't forget to set a password on the AExp.

Then I used the Admin tool to configure the AExp to a more recognizable name.

Way too hard.

Update 10/12/06: The good news is that you can save the configuration prior to travel from the admin utility, then reload it on return. The bad news is that if you change the password on a WDS WLAN access point (the main Airport Extreme), you break everything. You need to connect individually with each of the stranded access points using the old password, then remove the password, then add them back in as above. Really, Apple's Airport Express was really only half-baked.

Update 9/5/09

When I bought my 802.11n Time Capsule I didn't think I'd use my Airport Express except as an AirTunes connection. After all, the Time Capsule is supposed to have great range.

Cough. That's great range for 802.11n, but most of my devices are b/g. Also, I was disappointed with the AirTunes behavior of the Airport Express (Aexp) in passive client mode, I wanted to see if returning to WDS would restore the performance it had with my old flying saucer base station.

This time I used AirPort utility 5.4.2, and things were a bit different -- also quirky and buggy. (see also)

It took several tries to get it working. As before you certainly need to do this in automatic mode -- doing it in manual mode never seems to work.

I had to do a factory reset, then walk through automatic setup, and choose the extend network option. I had to work through these bugs:
  1. On initial configuration I kept getting asked for an Airport Express password -- even though I'd done a factory reset. I had to disconnect my iMac from the wired LAN (and thus the Time Capsule), so it was purely an Airport client, before this went away. This is pure weird and I can't explain what intuition led me to the workaround.
  2. To configure the Aexp you need to switch to it's network. That means you're not on the base station network any more. There's a place where you're supposed to see the name the base station network. When I did this - nothing showed up (tried in two accounts). That is, nothing showed up until I typed in my network name. That produced an error message, but when the screen refreshed the wireless networks appeared.
Pretty buggy stuff!

Update 11/8/09: A reader commented that I ought to try using "profiles" to switch, instead of going through the reset dance. If you change to Manual Setup, the current version of "Airport Utility" allows one to save a configuration to an external file, and to load in a file based configuration (requires your admin password). The files are given the extension .baseconfig.

I've saved two configurations - one for home and one for use with my parents. I've saved them to the laptop I usually travel with and to a thumb drive.

Here's what I did to switch back to WDS on returning home:
  1. Plug in Airport Express (AExp). It doesn't need to be connected to the net.
  2. Connect to the AExp wireless network so you can talk to it.
  3. Open Airport Utility. It took a while for it to find my AExp. Maybe it hadn't finished restarting?
  4. Set Airport Utility to Manual setup
  5. You can "Open" the external configuration file to view it, but to switch you need to use import.
  6. Restart AExp. Worked for me.
Remember that to do this you will also need your admin password. I carry mine in an encrypted iPhone database, but you could also store it in an encrypted Disk Utility sparsefile image on your laptop or thumb drive.


kai said...

What you can do with the AirPort Express is actually save different profiles for it, so you can have one for WDS at home and another for On the Road...

John said...

Hmm. Well, I kind of new that, but of course I didn't DO it :-). Great tip, thanks.