Re: How does IWD handle setting MAC address?

Hi Dan,

I am in favor of address randomization even while it has
affect, but at least for background scanning it is useful.
doing this via RTNL is causing a weird layer violation and all
of potential races and issues. This needs to be done with full
awareness of cfg80211 and thus via nl80211. So iwd should do
iwd should just expose an on/off switch for WiFi Privacy.

TL;DR: the policy of which MAC address to use (and when) is
and present in NetworkManager configuration. And it's more then a
simple randomize on/off switch.

A smaller reason is, that some people have strong opinions and
important which bits of the address to scramble (and choose a
known manufacturer OUI)[1].
I personally don't agree with the importance of such
but I'd like NetworkManager to be the first choice for people
particular need -- regardless of whether this need is real or
In NM you can configure how the bits are scrambled very flexible.
while scanning[2] and while being associated[3].

More interesting is, I don't only want to have a random MAC
while scanning, but also while being associated. My permanent MAC
address should never ever be reveiled.
But a new random MAC address on each new association isn't
what you
want either, because then I get a new IP address from DHCP each
time and have
to redo captive portal login.
So, I want for each of my Wi-Fi profiles a different, stable MAC
address. Actually, for public networks like a hotel, I want to
stable MAC address for a limited amount of time. The example in
show how to do that in NM.

I have nothing against an option that says generate a new MAC
for this SSID and keep using it from that time forward.

If I understand correctly, you agree that the MAC address depends on
the profile.

It is a bit counterproductive if nl80211 doesn’t allow to specify
MAC address for association. Since powering down WiFi, changing the
address and powering back up is something that I am strictly

So if these things are what people really want, then neither NM nor
iwd should actually do the heavy lifting for it. It should be done
the wireless stack in the kernel.

Ok, whatever works best.

That said iwd should cope Ok with the MAC address changing
back if it receives the RTNL notification (RTM_NEWLINK) if it
connected.  It always updates it's copy of the address on a
RTM_NEWLINK so the race condition shouldn't be present I

I would think so too. NM change the MAC address via RTNL only
scanning, early during activation, and late during deactivation.
As the wireless daemon does/should not autoactivate the device
NM's wish and NM determines that the device is deactivated only
an event from iwd.
Hence, there shouldn't be a race of NM interfering while being
connected. The race is only while scanning and iwd should just
with that.

Alternatively/additionally, a SetMacAddress() D-Bus call would
any race and allow to leave the decision which address to user to
somebody closer to the user.

It will not be as simple as that. You need to leave iwd with the
decision making for connecting to known WiFi networks. It just
as dumb as wpa_supplicant and from a NM perspective, you should be
doing as little as you do with BlueZ or oFono.

This means iwd needs to be told what to do and not just an address.
It doesn’t matter if it is via a D-Bus call or RTNL. iwd remembers
known networks and will connect to them if they are in range, roam
automatically and also switch networks if it makes sense. That
any randomization policy would have to be executed inside iwd and
outside. As stated above, if you want different MAC addresses per
SSID, then that needs to be inside iwd.

So many things in the wpa_supplicant design led to “hacks” outside
add features and that really has to stop. It is not maintainable
the corner cases and race condition this architecture causes is

For NM, at each moment not all its connection profiles are candidate
for connecting automatically. The list of which profiles can be
autoactivated depends on NM internal state, for example
 - is the profile even configured to allow autoactivation?
 - is the user owning the connection logged in (if it's restricted
   to a user)?
 - if the profile requires secrets, is somebody previledged around
   to potentially provide them?
 - was the connection previously manually disconnected by the user 
   (which marks it as blocked from autoconnecting again)
 - did a previous connection attempt fail, e.g. no DHCP lease. If  
   it failed $configurable times, it will be blocked for a few 

With supplicant, NM intersects the list of autoconnect candidates
the list from the scan-list, and decides which to (auto) activate. As
far as supplicant is concerned, this is not happening automatically,
and there is no race.

If I understand you, the reason to let iwd automatically pick a
network, is because iwd knows better.

But in case there are multiple autoconnect candidates that could be
activated, then NM chooses the candidate which
 - has the highest autoconnect priority (configurable)
 - was used the least long ago.
Indeed, NM doesn't consider the signal strength and other Wi-Fi
properties. It's a missing feature.

How is iwd choosing automatically? Choosing based on signal strength
and encryption parameters would be a nice feature, but what about
Wi-Fi related factors.
How will iwd allow NM to contribute to that decision?

Note that choosing based solely on signal strength can be problematic. 
It works great if you are somewhere that has only one AP you've
connected to before.  But the moment you have multiple different SSIDs
that you've connected to before, it starts to have issues.

An example case was the old Red Hat (or was it Mozilla, I forget, they
were right down the street from each other) office in Mountain View,
which was just upstairs from a Starbucks.  Depending on where you were
in the office, Starbuck's APs could be stronger than the office ones. 
These days even "public" APs have strong encryption with automatic
login (HotSpot 2.0, EAP-SIM, etc) too.


Looking at the iwd code, it appears to:

1) only autoconnect to networks that have been successful at least once
(see comment in network.c::network_rankmod())

2) BSSs are ranked according to factors in
scan.c::scan_bss_compute_rank() which is heavily biased towards signal
strength.  After that, better encryption, 5G, and low utilization (read
from an IE) is preferred.

3) then the BSS is added to its network object; network objects are
tracked in a list and the most recently connected networks since IWD
has been running are first; the rest are in reverse-order-seen (see

4) when generating the autoconnect list, the BSS's rank from #2 is
multiplied by a "rankmod" number (<=1) that depends on where the BSS's
network is in the list from #3 (device.c::process_bss()).  So BSSs that
were previously connected to have a lower rank, and BSSs that haven't
been connected to yet this IWD run could be even lower.

However, since the BSSs have ranks themselves, this modifier appears to
allow situations where IWD would switch from SSID A to SSID B, even if
A was still visible, when there is a much-stronger SSID B AP.  I could
be wrong of course.  But this would break expectations around how NM
currently works, where it holds on to the current SSID until the
connection is broken.

Perhaps this is desirable, maybe it allows the dual-channel AP
situation where for example you are on 5GHz SSID A and move to another
room, so A becomes low signal, but the 2.4GHz SSID B is now much
stronger so IWD reconnects to that one.  However, this could result in
an IP address change depending on how your AP works, which would break
existing connections.  Which is one reason NM doesn't normally switch
between SSIDs.

I'm sure Marcel will correct anything I've gotten wrong above.

a lot of these can be changed or fine-tuned while we are making iwd better. However the big point is that iwd 
knowns about the known networks and stores them. So we need to work with basic premise of this. Same as BlueZ 
knowns its PAN devices and oFono knows its SIM cards and APNs. That really has to be the assumption first and 

And yes, I know wpa_supplicant dealt everybody a bad hand and told you to deal with it. However we need to 
change this mantra towards something clean and modern. Especially since there are so many WiFi extensions 
that will allow you to make decision that wpa_supplicant will never give you access to. So lets figure out 
what is needed and tune around that.

For the IP address part, I will assume that iwd will actually start doing DHCP itself soon. That is just 
needed if you look at some of the features that tell you about IP address during association or the 
brain-dead things like P2P. We are toying with this, but I almost certain this will go in this direction. 
Similar on how cellular modems actually do it. The IP address is a property of the WiFi daemon and not the 
daemon that manages the network connections.

When it comes to signal strength and cases that you get bumped off the SSID, then that is what can happen. It 
is especially sad if the AP will not use neighbor cell reporting to allow you to jump onto the next AP. But 
that is life and it really all depends on the speed of DHCP to get you back onto your network, but that feeds 
into my comment above where DHCP has to become part of the WiFi daemon.

The other part is that iwd really has all the information to know your network. It knows when it saw them 
last, connected last and eventually even what your surrounding SSIDs were. For example even you can not 
connect to your home neighbors encrypted WiFi, the pure existent of it around you, means you might want to 
connect to your home SSID and preferably _quickly_ (last known channel) for it and connect. This is knowledge 
and use of this knowledge that really only works with iwd and fiddling any of this through wpa_supplicant is 
crazy. And some hardware has actually offload capabilities for background scanning around the concept of 
neighboring SSIDs.

Please keep in mind that iwd is far away from having all the features we envisioned. It is getting there and 
NM really needs to move towards trusting iwd. It is the only way we can improve the WiFi experience in 
desktop Linux.



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