WPA supplicant overview

wpa_supplicant, wpa_cli, and wpa_passphrase are all related to Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), which is a security protocol and security certification program developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance to secure wireless computer networks.


wpa_supplicant is a software application used to connect to and manage wireless networks on various operating systems. It is widely used in Linux-based systems and supports various encryption methods, including WPA, WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access II), and WPA3. wpa_supplicant interfaces with the Linux wireless extensions or cfg80211/nl80211 to configure the wireless card on the device to connect to the network. It handles the negotiation of the network encryption (WPA or WPA2 protocols) and can be configured using a text file (usually /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf).


wpa_cli is a command-line interface to interact with wpa_supplicant. It allows users to issue commands to wpa_supplicant, query its status, add or remove networks, change configuration parameters, and more, without having to directly edit configuration files or restart the wpa_supplicant service. It is useful for dynamic network management and troubleshooting issues with wpa_supplicant.


wpa_passphrase is a utility used to generate a WPA PSK (Pre-Shared Key) from an ASCII passphrase and SSID (Service Set Identifier). It is often used to add network configurations to the wpa_supplicant configuration file. The command takes an SSID and a passphrase as input and generates a 256-bit PSK. This PSK is then used in the wpa_supplicant configuration file for the specified network. The use of wpa_passphrase is particularly useful for securing the passphrase in the configuration file, as it stores the PSK instead of the actual passphrase.


When connecting to a Wi-Fi network, wpa_supplicant reads its configuration file (wpa_supplicant.conf) to find available networks and their settings. It then manages the wireless connection process, including scanning for available networks, authenticating with the Wi-Fi network using the specified WPA protocol, and handling the encryption key negotiation to establish a secure connection.

If a user needs to connect to a new network, they can use wpa_cli to interact with wpa_supplicant to add the network and its credentials. If the network uses WPA or WPA2 security, the user can generate a PSK using wpa_passphrase and the network’s SSID and passphrase. The generated PSK can then be added to the wpa_supplicant configuration for that network, ensuring the connection is secure.

In summary, wpa_supplicant manages the wireless connections and security protocols, wpa_cli provides a command-line interface for interacting with wpa_supplicant, and wpa_passphrase generates a secure PSK for use in the wpa_supplicant configuration. Together, these tools provide a comprehensive system for managing and securing wireless network connections on Linux-based systems.

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