Python WiFi

RFC: New API to Unify WEXT (iwlibs) and nl80211 Interfaces in pythonwifi

Started: 20110317
Rev. 20150317-01

This document attempts to outline a new API for pythonwifi going forward from v0.5. Everything in this Request For Comment is open for discussion and change. The API described here is a starting point for such a discussion. That argument will take place on If you would like to comment on this API, please subscribe and become involved.


Sean Robinson <>


pythonwifi, in its current state, is a pure Python distribution, developed under Python 2, for controlling wireless network device configuration in Linux systems using the WEXT ioctls. The WEXT interface is the long-time access method for configuration and control of wireless devices in the Linux kernel (i.e. iwconfig and iwlist). However, WEXT has been deprecated since at least 2007 and nl80211 is the new interface that Linux kernel developers are encouraging.

pymnl is a newly written pure Python distribution to aid communicating with the Netlink system (which underlies the nl80211 protocol). pymnl does not know about nl80211, but it can be used as a foundation by pythonwifi to add nl80211 access, along with the current WEXT access.


I am proposing that pythonwifi add nl80211 and clean up the existing API so that a unified interface for WEXT and nl80211 will be possible. This means identifying those functions needed by pythonwifi users and providing those functions using the same class and method naming for the WEXT and nl80211 modules. One goal of this reorganizaion is that the module used may be swapped out for the other module without requiring much, if any, other changes to the user's source code.

A second goal is to make pythonwifi compatible with Python 2 and Python 3 in the same source.


This document tries to follow the Python community conventions, as I understand them, for terminology relating to software libraries. The overall group of files is a distribution, the distribution under consideration is named pythonwifi. A package is a subgroup of files within a distribution. The root package is the top of the hierarchy and is the base of the distribution. The pythonwifi distribution will contain two packages below the root package: nl80211 and wext.

A module is an individual file in the distribution. This file may be within the root package or any subpackages in the hierarchy.

Where pseudo-code is used to illustrate the proposed API, an informal data type is used to hint at the values to be passed into and returned from the method. As Python is not a strongly-typed language, these types are only used to indicate general data types.

The term "wireless client developers" is used to describe those programmers controlling the wireless hardware via requests to the driver from userspace. So the developers in question are requesting service from the wireless driver. This term is used to more clearly distinguish the pythonwifi target audience from device/driver developers.

For the definitions of technical terms as they are used in this document, see the glossary at the end of this document.


Distribution Layout

The new package will be named pythonwifi.nl80211. The existing pythonwifi package will be moved down to pythonwifi.wext. That is, the current file hierarchy will be changed from



pythonwifi/ pythonwifi/nl80211/ pythonwifi/wext/

This means the package(s) would be imported with:

import pythonwifi.nl80211 import pythonwifi.wext

Although, only one package should be required at one time.

Module Layout

The main module in each package will be so that importing the package will provide access to the primary class(es) to be used by wireless client developers. The module containing the most common constants used by each protocol will be named The module containing common utilities required for the protocol, but not necessarily needed by wireless client developers, will be named Each package may have additional modules which provide additional protocol support.

pythonwifi/(nl80211|wext)/ pythonwifi/(nl80211|wext)/ pythonwifi/(nl80211|wext)/

Root Package Functions and Classes

pythonwifi/ will contain utility functions useful to wireless client developers that are not directly wireless oriented (e.g. retrieve a list of NICs and wireless NICs or convert an interface name to its index). These are not required to be in classes, but a group of functions may be put into a class if it makes sense.

def get_nic_names() def get_wnic_names() def get_phy_names() XXX def get_wiphy_names() XXX def if_nametoindex(string) def mw2dbm(mwatt): """ Convert mW to dBm (float). """ pass

Package Classes

The primary classes of interest to pythonwifi users will be named Wireless and ServiceSet. These class names will be the same in the nl80211 and WEXT packages. Secondary classes for less common operations (i.e. WirelessConfig) will be in the same module.

Wireless Class

Note that the method names used below are a dramatic change from the current method names used in pythonwifi <= 0.5. One of the goals with this method renaming is to make pythonwifi more compliant with PEP 8.

The methods included in the Wireless class should be only those most likely to be useful for wireless client developers. Therefor, all methods in Wireless should operate in both the nl80211 and wext packages. See WirelessConfig for more commands.

class Wireless(object): """ Model of a wireless device. An exception may be raised if any of the following operations are attempted on a non-existant or unconfigured (i.e. ifconfig wlan0 down) device. """ def __init__(ifname=None, protocol="nl80211"): """ Create a Wireless object. ifname - string - name of wireless interface to use (e.g. wlan0) protocol - string - Which backend to use for wireless operations. Valid values are "nl80211" (default) and "wext", any other string will raise an exception. """ pass def scan(trigger=True, ssid=None, frequency=None, channel=None): """ Return a list of ServiceSet objects. These objects are built from the SSID information found in the local environment. trigger - boolean - True = ask wireless system to perform a new scan; False = use information from previous scan ssid - string - look for this specific SSID frequency - integer - scan only on this frequency (freq in MHz) channel - integer - scan only on this channel; will look up the associated frequency and use that for the scan If frequency and channel are both given, a warning is given and channel is ignored. """ return ss_list def connect(service_set): """ Connect with the specified service set. """ pass def disconnect(): """ Disconnect from currently connected service set. """ pass def get_connection(): """ Return the ServiceSet used for the current connection. Return None if no connection is in place. """ return service_set def is_connected(): """ Return state of connection. Return True if a connection is in place and False if no connection is in place. """ return connection_state

WirelessConfig Class

The WirelessConfig class is a subclass of Wireless that aims to contain more of the information and commands available under each protocol. Because each protocol provides a slightly different set of information and commands, the methods in WirelessConfig are not guaranteed to be the same in number, content, or function.

Many of the methods herein are for reading or assigning various options on the wireless network device. These methods are not necessary for only connecting to an access point, but are given for those wireless client developers that may want to accomplish other tasks with their clients.

WirelessConfig Common Methods

The methods listed here are those which will be in both packages' WirelessConfig. Package-specific methods are given after this section and are in addition to the API detailed here.

class WirelessConfig(Wireless): def get_ssid(): """ Return the SSID currently assigned to the device. Returns None if no SSID has been assigned to the wireless device. """ return string def set_ssid(ssid): """ Set the device's SSID to ssid. ssid - string - desired SSID or "off" Changing the SSID while connected may break the connection. """ pass def get_bssid(): """ Return the BSSID currently assigned to the device as a string of six colon-separated octets (e.g. 00:01:02:AA:BC:EF). Returns None if no SSID has been assigned to the wireless device. """ return string def set_bssid(bssid): """ Set the BSSID to bssid. bssid - string - the deisred BSSID Changing the BSSID while connected may break the connection. """ pass def get_frequency(): """ Return the frequency (in MHz, e.g. 2462) current assigned to the device. """ return frequency def set_frequency(frequency): """ Set the frequency. frequency - integer - the wireless device's frequency (in MHz). Raises an exception if the frequency is not supported. """ pass def get_channel_info(): """ Return a list of tuples with channel number and frequency pairs. NOTE: This method returns a different value that the obsolete Wireless.getChannelInfo(). """ return channel_info def get_channel(): """ Return the channel currently assigned to the device. """ return channel def set_channel(channel): """ Set the frequency by looking up the given channel. channel - integer - the channel number for the frequency desired Raises an exception if the channel cannot be found or the matched frequency is not supported. """ pass def get_available_modes(): """ Return a list of the modes available on this device (i.e. IBSS, managed, monitor, etc.). """ return mode_list def get_mode(): """ Return the current mode (i.e. IBSS, managed, monitor, etc.) in string form. """ return mode def set_mode(mode): """ Set the mode. mode - string - the card mode Raises an exception if the mode is not supported. """ pass del get_encryption(): return XXX def set_encryption(XXX) pass def get_available_keys(): """ Return a list of the encryption keys in the device. Return an empty list if no keys are present in the device. """ return key_list def get_key(index=0): """ Return an encryption key from the device. Return None if no key is present in the device. index - integer - Up to four keys (0-3) can be stored on the device. get_key() defaults to returning the first key (at index 0), but other keys can be selected by choosing a different index. Raises an exception if not 0 <= index <= 3. XXX - more detail required What format for the key? """ return key def add_key(index, key): """ Set an encryption key on the device. May overwrite a key already in that index position. index - integer - The position in which to place the key, see get_key() for more information. key - the encryption key to add Raises an exception if not 0 <= index <= 3. XXX - more detail required What format for the key? """ pass def set_key(index, key=None): """ Set, and optionally add, the encryption key to use. index - integer - The position of the key, see get_key() for more information. key - (optional) the encryption key to add Raises an exception if not 0 <= index <= 3. XXX - more detail required What format for the key? """ pass
nl80211 WirelessConfig
class WirelessConfig(pythonwifi.base.WirelessConfig): def authenticate(ssid, bssid, frequency=None, channel=None, auth_type=XXX, ie=XXX): """ Request the device Authenticate to the given BSS. ssid - string - a byte string from 1 to 32 bytes long which is the name of the BSS bssid - string - colon-separated string of six octets (e.g. '00:01:02:FC:A0:23') frequency - integer - the radio frequency to use (in MHz) channel - integer - look up the frequency for this channel and use that frequency for authentication. auth_type - XXX ie - XXX If frequency and channel are both given, a warning is given and channel is ignored. NOTE: It may be better to just hand this off to wpa_supplicant, where it is likely already done correctly. """ pass def deauthenticate(): """ Request the device Deauthenticate from the BSS to which it is currently authenticated. """ pass def associate(ssid=string, bssid=hex_string, frequency=float, channel=integer, auth_type=XXX, ie=XXX) """ Request the device Associate with the given BSS. ssid - string - a byte string from 1 to 32 bytes long which is the name of the BSS bssid - string - colon-separated string of six octets (e.g. '00:01:02:FC:A0:23') frequency - integer - the radio frequency to use (in MHz) channel - integer - look up the frequency for this channel and use that frequency for authentication. auth_type - XXX ie - XXX If frequency and channel are both given, a warning is given and channel is ignored. """ pass def disassociate(): """ Request the device Disassociate from the BSS to which it is currently associated. """ pass def get_mesh_path(): """ """ return XXX def set_mesh_path(XXX) """ """ pass def get_mesh_config(): """ """ return XXX def set_mesh_config(XXX) """ """ pass def mesh_join(XXX) """ """ pass def mesh_leave() """ """ pass def get_reg_domain() """ """ return XXX def set_reg_domain(XXX) """ """ pass def get_bitrates() """ """ return XXX def set_bitrates(XXX) """ """ pass def set_tx_bitrate_mask(XXX) """ """ pass def get_tx_power(): """ Return the transmit power (in mBm). """ return power def limit_tx_power(limit) """ Limit the transmit power by limit mBm. """ pass def set_tx_power(power) """ Fix the transmit power at power mBm. """ pass def get_power_save(): """ Return the current state of power save; True for power save on and False for power save off. """ return power_save def set_power_save(power_save): """ Set the power save state for the device. power_save - boolean - True to turn on power save and False to turn it off. """ pass
wext WirelessConfig
class WirelessConfig(pythonwifi.base.WirelessConfig): def get_ap_addr(): """ Return the MAC address of the WAP to which the device is connected. """ return addr def set_ap_addr(addr): """ Set the MAC address of the WAP to which the device will connect. """ pass def get_bitrate(self): """ Return the current bit rate (in kibibytes per second) on the device. """ return bitrate def get_bitrates(self): """ Return a list of the bit rates (in kibibytes per second) supported on the device. """ return [bitrate] def get_tx_power(self): """ Return the transmit power (in dBm). """ return tx_power def set_tx_power(power) """ Set the transmit power (in dBm). power - float - the transmit power in dBm """ pass def get_power_management(self): """ Return the power management settings. """ return XXX def set_power_management(XXX) """ Set the power management options. """ pass def commit(self): """ Commit pending changes to the device. Not all wireless cards require this step, however it is included for those that do need it. """ pass

ServiceSet Class

Wireless.scan() in pythonwifi <= 0.5 returns an Iwscan object, which is too implementation specific. In wext and nl80211 the result of a scan will be a list of ServiceSet objects.

The attributes included in the ServiceSet class should be all those returned by the underlying protocol plus any meta-data likely to be helpful to wireless client developers. The amount of information in a ServiceSet depends on the amount of detail asked. That is, a scan will return some information about a service set which will be placed in a ServiceSet object, but querying the SSID may place more information in the ServiceSet object.

ServiceSet will be a subclass of the Python dict built-in class. The nl80211 and wext packages will each implement a custom constructor to make object creation from the underlying system's data easier. wext's ServiceSet will accept an Iwscanresult, while nl80211's ServiceSet will accept a pymnl MessageList. Each package will also implement a binary() method to return a representation of the object which can be used with wext or nl80211.

class ServiceSet(dict): @classmethod def from_data_str(cls, data_str): """ Create a new ServiceSet object from the binary data string returned from a scan. """ self = cls() for (key, value_) in data_str: self[key] = value_ return self def binary(self): """ Return a binary representation of the ServiceSet which can be used by the Python WiFi backend (i.e. wext or nl80211). """ return data_str

Because ServiceSet is a subclass of dict, attribute access is dict access, e.g.

>>> access_point = ServiceSet(Iwscanresult) >>> for (key, val) in access_point.items(): ... print(key, val) ... essid WinterPalace ap 00:11:22:33:44:55 mode managed etc. >>> print('signal', access_point['signal']) signal 67


Basic Service Set (BSS) is two or more stations coordinating their communications, upon which a network can be formed. This group of stations uses a BSSID to identify their common effort.

Basic Service Set IDentifier (BSSID) is a 48-bit number used to uniquely identify a BSS. This value is usually the hardware address of the radio in the device supervising the BSS and is often represented as a string of six colon-separated octets.

Extended Service Set (ESS) is a geographically distributed collection of multiple BSS that are linked together and presented to stations as a single BSS.

Service Set (SS) is a non-standard term used in pythonwifi generically referring to a BSS or ESS. This is advertised to clients via the SSID.

Service Set IDentifier (SSID) is the (generally) human-readable string by which a service set can be identified. It is included in a BSS and may be repeatedly used in the several BSS composing an ESS. The SSID is from one (1) to thirty-two (32) octets in length.

Station is a radio-containing device which is designed to communicate wirelessly with other stations. Specifically, this wireless communication is of the format detailed by the IEEE 802.11 standards.

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Last Update: March 17, 2015