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Automatic Wireless Network Connections in Windows XP

Wi-Fi Internet / network configuration

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How Does Automatic Wireless Network Configuration Work?

By default, Windows XP attempts to connect to wireless networks in the following order:
  1. Available networks that are in the Preferred network list (in order of listing)
  2. Preferred networks not in the Available list (in order of listing)
  3. Other networks depending on Advanced settings chosen
In Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2), each network (even Preferred networks) can be configured individually to bypass automatic configuration. To enable or disable automatic configuration on a per-network basis, respectively check or uncheck the "Connect when this network is within range" checkbox within that network's Connection properties.

Windows XP periodically checks for new available networks. If it finds a new network listed higher in the Preferred set that is enabled for auto-configuration, Windows XP will automatically disconnect you from the lesser-preferred network and re-connect you to the more preferred one.

Advanced Automatic Wireless Configuration

By default, Windows XP enables its automatic wireless configuration support. Many people mistakenly assume this means your laptop will automatically to any wireless network it finds. That is untrue. By default, Windows XP only auto-connects to Preferred networks.

The Advanced button on the Wireless Networks tab of Wireless Network Connection properties controls the default behavior of Windows XP automatic connections. One option on the Advanced window, "Automatically connect to non-preferred networks," allows Windows XP to auto-connect to any network on the Available list, not just Preferred ones. This option is disabled by default.

Other options under Advanced settings control whether auto-connect applies to infrastructure mode, ad hoc mode, or both types of networks. This option can be changed independently from the option to connect to non-Preferred networks.

Is Automatic Wireless Network Configuration Safe to Use?

Yes! The Windows XP wireless network configuration system limits automatic connections by default to Preferred networks. Windows XP will not automatically connect to non-Preferred networks such as public hotspots, for example, unless you specifically configure it to do so. You can also enable / disable auto-connection support for individual Preferred networks as described earlier.

In summary, the automatic wireless Internet / network connection feature of Windows XP allows you to roam between Wi-Fi networks at home, school, work or public places with a minimum of hassle and worry.

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