This post is part of a series that helps you set up a home network. It’ll work you through the detailed steps to get a home Wi-Fi router up and running.
When through, you’ll be able to figure out how to hook the hardware pieces together in the correct order and configure the Wi-Fi network you’d like.
On top of that, there are also a few tips on maintaining the network for best performance and security. In any case, the related ost in the box below will answer any questions you might have.
Dong’s note: This post was originally part of the piece on home networking basics. I moved it out on March 21, 2022, and added more information to better convey the series.
Home Wi-Fi router setup
Generally, a network consists of a few hardware pieces, the Internet box (a modem or a gateway), a router we’re trying to set up, and your computers. Following is how you connect them.
But first, brush up on different parts of the network and how to link them together.
A typical home network diagram
Generally, in a home network, we have the following:
- The service line: That the line coming into the house from the street. It can be a phone line (DSL), a coaxial cable (Cable), or a fiberoptic line.
- The terminal device: This is the internet receiver. It’ll be a modem for a DSL or Cable broadband or an ONT for a Fiberoptic plan.
- The Wi-Fi router: The device that you need to set up.
- Optional devices: Patch panel, switches, mesh satellites.
Let’s use the arrow (➡) to represent a network cable and square brackets () to describe optional devices. We have the following simple diagram:
Service line ➡ Terminal device ➡ Wi-Fi router ➡ [Switch] ➡ [patch panel] ➡Wired devices / [more switches] ➡ More wired devices.
A wired device can be anything that connects to a network via a network cable. Examples are a computer, a printer, Wi-Fi access points, etc.
Home Wi-Fi router setup: The hardware hookup
Connecting the hardware is when you put different devices of different roles together to form an Internet-connected local network. This step is quite simple. It’s like plugging an appliance into power and turning it on.
Other than that, watch out for what goes into what is in the right order and ports.
1. Connect to the Internet source
Plug the router’s WAN (Internet) port to an Internet source (such as your cable modem or a gateway) using a network cable.
If you use a modem (or a gateway), connect its service port to the service line.
Note: I assume that you’re using a modem (or gateway) that has already been activated. If it’s a new device entirely, you will need to call the service provider to activate it first.
2. Connect your computer to the router
Plug another network cable into your computer’s LAN port and one of the routers. Most routers have four LAN ports; you can use any of them.
If you have one of those new laptops that don’t have a network port, you can get a network dongle for just a few bucks.
If using a network cable is not possible, don’t worry. You can use the router’s default Wi-Fi information — generally found on its underside.
3. Power on
Plug all hardware devices into power and turn them on. First the modem, then the router. In that order.
And that’s it. You have finished with the hardware setup part. Connect all wired devices to the router’s LAN ports, and you’re game. For the Wi-Fi network, though, you need to do a few more things.
Home Wi-Fi router setup: The firmware customization
To configure a Wi-Fi network, you need to log in to the router’s web interface. It’s where you can make all the changes.
Below are the detailed steps that apply to most standard Wi-Fi routers.
Router management: Local web interface vs mobile app
Routers for a home Wi-Fi network come in all shapes, sizes, and costs, but as far as this post is concerned, there are only two types: Those with a web user interface and those that don’t.
The former gives you a lot of customization and settings, while the latter generally doesn’t give you much more than naming your Wi-Fi network and picking a password for it.
If you use one that requires a login account and a mobile app — such as the Google Nest Wi-Fi router or Amazon Eero — you need to install the app on a mobile device and then follow the steps on the apps.
This post focuses mostly on those that come with a local user web interface, which always offers more features and customization. In this case, a browser — Chrome, Firefox, Edge, etc. — is the only app you’d need.
1. Log in the web interface of the router
You can access a router’s (or gateway’s) interface using a web browser (such as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari) from a connected computer.
If you’re setting up a new router the first time you launch the browser, you’ll likely automatically get to the web interface, where you can follow the setup wizard.
|Vendor||Friendly URL||Default IP||Username||Password|
|AT&T Gateway||n/a||192.168.1.254||n/a||Access code printed
on the hardware unit
Access code printed
on the hardware unit
|Most Cable Modems||N/A||192.168.100.1||n/a||admin
But you can always manually log in to the router’s interface by pointing the browser to its friendly URL or default IP address. The table above lists the default login info of most routers.
Can’t find it? You can always quickly figure out its IP yourself.
Extra: That dreadful privacy/security notice
When logging into a router’s or any local device’s web interface, you’ll likely run into a privacy/security error notice where the browser suggests that the website you’re accessing is potentially not safe, like the screenshot below.
The reason is the device’s built-in web server doesn’t at the time have a mechanism to prove that it supports the now-required HTTPs protocol. For that, among other things, it needs to be signed with an external party.
This is similar to when you get a brand-new vehicle — you can’t prove that it’s legit the normal way since it has no license plate or registration. But you know that it’s safe to get in and drive, and if you choose to only use it within your property — like a ranch — you might not even need to register it.
The point is it’s generally safe to ignore this notice and proceed to the interface when using your device. Be concerned with this warning only when you use a third party’s website, especially one that asks you to enter sensitive information like a credit card number or a username/password.
Different browsers have slightly different warnings and ways to bypass, but they all require clicking a few extra times. Pay a bit of attention, and you’ll find out.
Once you’ve logged in for the first time, most new routers require you to create a unique username or password during the initial setup before you can access its full interface and the Internet.
After that, the rest is rather self-explanatory. Though different networking vendors tend to have different interfaces, they all share similar sections, including Wi-Fi (or Wireless), WAN, LAN, Admin, etc.
Most importantly, all of them have a password for the interface that you need to change right away from the default value.
2. Change the router admin password
This password keeps your network safe from hackers.
Pick a strong password that’s hard to guess. You’ll need to use this password only when you want to access the interface. Make sure this password is different from the Wi-Fi password.
Tips on Wi-Fi passwords
When it comes to passwords, it’s always about keeping it a secret that matters. Don’t associate complexity with security.
The goal is to make your password hard to guess but easy for you to remember and use. Your password shouldn’t be so complex that you’d have difficulty using it.
A Wi-Fi password that includes letters, numbers, and special characters, can be a pain to use, especially when you need to enter it into an IoT device. Consider a digit-only password.
Here’s one of many ways to make a digit-only password random and easy to remember:
Pick a long sentence and use each word’s letter count to form the password.
That’d be 414833545652438 if you use the previous sentence — use your own.
3. Customize your Wi-Fi network
A Wi-Fi network includes a Wi-Fi name and a password. Like any proper name, the Wi-Fi network’s name is public. Everyone will see it. That said, pick one to your liking.
The password, on the other hand, needs to be a secret. Choose a hard-to-guess one but easy to type in, especially on a small screen like a printer. Generally, a string of random numbers (and letters) will do. Again, make sure this password is different from the router’s admin password above.
Use the most common encryption method — currently WPA2 or WPA3 — for the password. Note that some existing Wi-Fi clients won’t work with the newest WPA3. You might want to avoid using that or use it in the mixed WPA2/WPA3 mode.
Most routers have more than one band. They are Dual-Band, Tri-Band, or even Quad-band routers.
In this case, you can use SmartConnect, where the router lumps all bands together in a single Wi-Fi network (SSID). Or you can manually create an SSID for each band, which can help if you have a lot of devices of mixed Wi-Fi standards.
4. Initialize the Internet connection
Depending on the router, you can do this on the Internet or WAN or Setup part of the interface. For most Internet connections, you can leave it at Auto and let the router detect the setting by itself.
Some Internet plans, especially those with static WAN IP addresses, will require you to type in the settings correctly. In this case, you need to enter the information, including the IP address, the subnet masks, and the default gateway provided by the consult your provider.
You can also change the DNS of the Internet connection to what you like, as I described in this post on DNS.
Other than that, you can play with different interface parts to figure out additional features and settings of the router. Running into problems? Knowing how to reset a router will help. That brings us to the next part on maintaining a home Wi-Fi router.
Home Wi-Fi Router maintenance
A router works non-stop for days or even months on end — it might run into problems once in a while. So, knowing when to restart and how to reset it will come in handy.
Schedule a periodical restart
Like a computer, a reboot helps the router refresh and work better. While most routers can work 24/7, it’s a good idea to give it a restart once or twice a month.
Many routers have a reboot scheduler within their interface that you can use. In this case, set the route to restart itself every week or two. Pick the time of the restart that won’t affect any user.
Alternatively, you can also restart or repower the router manually. Unplug the hardware from the power, wait for ten seconds or so, and plug it back in. Then give it a few minutes to be ready again.
Router firmware update
Firmware is the operating system of your home Wi-Fi router, and you should use the latest available. New firmware helps improve performance security and often brings in new features.
Generally, if a router has a mobile app, you can use the app for the firmware update. Generally, the firmware update is a common function of any router’s mobile app.
If a router has the auto-update function, you might want to turn that on. In this case, make sure you set the update time appropriately since the route will restart itself.
A firmware update takes up to 10 minutes to complete, so pick the time accordingly. Generally, a router only has new firmware every couple of months, if at all.
Alternatively, you can also update a rotuer’s firmware manually via the steps blow.
Steps to perform a router firmware update
- Look for the latest firmware. The easiest way is to Google the router’s model and “firmware,” such as “Asus RT-AX68U firmware”. Most of the time, the first result is the place where you can find the latest firmware.
- Download the firmware. In most cases, the firmware is inside a zip file. You need to open this file and drag the firmware out to a location you know, such as the desktop, on your computer.
- Login to the router’s web interface and navigate to the firmware update section. The chart below shows how to find this section in the interface of popular routers. Note that in this section, you will also be able to configure the auto-update (if available) or perform the router’s self-update process. Some router will give you a notification as soon as you log into its interface if there’s a new firmware available.
- Proceed to upload the new firmware.
- Confirm the update and wait for the process to complete.
|Vendors||Reset location in the web interface||Auto Update available||Self Update within the interface|
|Asus||Administration (left menu) ->
Firmware (tab) ->
Click on “Check” (button) for self-update
or “Upload” (link) for manual update
|D-Link||Management (top menu) ->
Update (submenu) ->
System (toggle tab) ->
click on “Check for New Firmware” for self update
or “Select File” for manual update.
|Linksys||Connectivity (left menu) ->
Basic (tab) ->
Under “Firmware Update” ->
click on the “Check for Updates” button for self-update
or turn on the “Automatic” check box.
|Netgear|| Advanced (tab)->
Administration (left menu) ->
Firmware Update (submenu) ->
Online Update (tab for self update) or
Manual Update (tab) for manual update.
|Synology||Control Panel (icon) ->
System (left menu) ->
Update & Restore (tab) ->
click on “Manual Update” for manual update
or on “Update Setting” to configure auto update.
Note that the update process takes about 5 minutes and can’t be interrupted. Consequently, if you unplug your router during this process, you might damage it. Also, during this firmware update, you have no access to the Internet or your local network.
Resetting a router is the last-resort action that brings the router to the default factory settings. A reset the router settings so it can be dangerous if done by accident.
That said, don’t mistake reset for a restart as mentioned above — a lot of folks call a restart a reset. Technically, a restart is a soft reset, and a reset is a hard reset. But take away “soft” and “hard,”, and now you can confuse the two. The point is don’t.
When to do a router reset
Again, you’ll lose all the settings after a router reset. So don’t do this for fun. You only do that when finding yourself in one of the following situations:
- You lost the admin password to access its web interface, as mentioned above. A reset will restore that to the known default value.
- You want to re-setup your home network from scratch or suspect that someone has hacked your router.
- The router has issues that a restart doesn’t solve.
- You no longer need it (before you give it away).
There are two ways to reset a router: using the reset button or via the web interface. You can reset a router as many times as you like. It doesn’t physically harm the hardware.
Router reset via the reset button
Every router has a reset button, often on its underside. You need a pointy object for this job. Here are the steps:
- Locate its reset button. This button is usually recessed to prevent users from pressing on it by accident.
- Plug the router into power, wait a few minutes minute for it to boot up fully. Now use a pin (or a pointy object) to press and hold the reset button for about 10 seconds. You’ll note that the router will restart — its LED status light will recycle. And that’s it.
If you want to make sure the router has reset, wait for a minute or two for the router to fully boot up again to see the Wi-Fi network is gone and the default Wi-Fi network is now available.
With some old routers — those of Wi-Fi 4 and older — you might want to try the 30-30-30 reset method to ensure the router is fully reset. Here’s how:
- With the router fully powered on, press and hold the reset button for 30 seconds.
- Without releasing the reset button, unplug the power and keep holding the reset button for another 30 seconds.
- Plug the power back in and keep holding the reset button for another 30 seconds.
In all, you press and hold the reset button for 90 consecutive seconds in this method.
Router backup and reset via the web interface
You can also reset a router via its user interface — if you still have access to it. In this case, you also can back up its settings before the reset.
- Log in to the web interface, as mentioned above.
- Navigate to the reset function. The table below shows how you can find the Reset function within the web interface of popular routers. Generally, you can see this function in the Administration or System section of the interface.
- Here you can backup the settings in case you want to restore the router’s current condition after a reset.
- Click on the button (or link) to proceed with a reset. The process will take a few seconds to complete.
|Vendors||Reset location in the web interface|
|Asus||Administration (left menu) -> Restore/Save/Upload Setting (tab) -> Restore (button)|
|D-Link||Management (top menu) -> System Admin (submenu) -> System (toggle tab) -> Restore (button)|
|Linksys||Troubleshooting (left menu) -> Diagnostics (tab) ->Reset (link)|
|Netgear||Advanced (tab)-> Administration (left menu) -> Backup Settings (submenu) -> Erase (button)|
|Synology||Control Panel (icon) -> System (left menu) -> Update & Restore (tab) -> Restore factory default settings (button)|
The key to being fluent in maintaining a home network is getting a router with a local web interface. While getting one with a mobile app makes things easy, it keeps you clueless about how things work. That’s not to mention the potential privacy risks.
As a matter of fact, figuring out how to access a router’s web interface is the hardest part. After that, if you’ve successfully worked with one router, you can figure out others relatively fast since all home routers share a common set of network settings and features.