How to force a public Wi-Fi network login

You open your laptop in an airport, at a coffee shop, or perhaps in your hotel or conference room. You sit down to work, select the correct Wi-Fi network, and … nothing. Your Wi-Fi icon may show it’s connected, but your browser says You are not connected to the internet no matter how hard you try. That popover login screen just never loads.force 

We’ve all been there. As a remote team that has spent a lot of time working from coworking spaces and coffee shops, we’ve wasted far more time than we’d like to admit trying to get online.

There’s no magic button to connect to coffee shop, hotel, and airport Wi-Fi, but these tricks get us connected most of the time.

The best option: Connect to a secure network

The typical problem with public Wi-Fi is the login screen not showing up. That’s only a problem only with open, public, unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

If you connect to an open network at your friend’s house, say, typically you won’t need a password and can just start browsing the internet directly. With a coffee shop or airport Wi-Fi, though, often you need to create an account or enter a code from a receipt before browsing the full internet. You have to do that on a custom login screen, and that’s what often just won’t load.

The best solution is also the most secure one: opt for only encrypted Wi-Fi connections. Typically shown with a padlock beside their name in your Wi-Fi menu, encrypted networks ask for a password in a standard dialog like the one above. Once you’ve entered the password, you’ll typically never need to do it again on that device as your computer will remember it.

Secure Wi-Fi connections are always easier to log in to, but they also add a security benefit. On a public Wi-Fi network, by default, anything you enter on an unsecured, non-HTTPS site could be viewed by anyone else on the network. Encrypted networks with WPA2 passwords are far harder to attack and thus your data is likely safer.

Some networks offer both an encrypted and public network option, and you could log in to either one. If so, choose the encrypted network.

No encrypted network available? These tips should help you get that pesky open network login screen to load.

1. Turn off alternative 3rd party DNS servers

You might speed up your internet with a different DNS server—but not when connecting to public Wi-Fi.

If there’s one other tip to remember, it’s this—the trick that usually gets login pages to load: turn off your alternate DNS server.

DNS servers, or domain name servers, match domain names such as zapier.com to its server’s IP address—which makes it much easier to visit websites than typing in 52.0.36.104.

If you don’t know where to change your DNS settings,

you’re likely fine; your computer by default automatically picks up a DNS server from the Wi-Fi router, which is what the public Wi-Fi expects you to use automatically.

And that’s good, at least with public Wi-Fi:

your login page is more likely to load, and you won’t need these tips.

If you’ve ever added Google DNS,

OpenDNS, or any other alternative DNS to your network settings, though, that may be your problem.

Many public Wi-Fi networks use their DNS server to

tell your computer which login page to open—which doesn’t work when you’re using an alternative DNS server.

To fix that, just open your DNS settings and remove any alternate DNS servers. Here’s how:

Mac: Open System Preferences, select Network, Advanced, and then click the DNS tab. Select any DNS servers listed, and then tap the - button to remove them and apply your changes.

Windows: Right-click your network icon in the system tray and select Open Internet and Network Settings, then click Network and Sharing Center.

 Click your connection name (typically Wi-Fi), select Properties, then click Internet Protocol Version 4 and select Properties again. There select Option an IP address automatically to use the default DNS servers.

iOS: Open Settings, tap Wi-Fi, and tap the i button beside your network name. Select Configure DNS and tap Automatic.

Android: Open Settings, tap Advanced, then tap Private DNS. Choose Automatic.

With that done, turn off your Wi-Fi then turn it back on—and the login screen should open.

If not, you might need to clear the DNS cache on your computer. Here’s how:

Windows: Open Command Prompt, and enter ipconfig /flushdns

Mac: Open Terminal, and enter sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder

2. Try to open the router’s default page

Still not connected? It’s time to try to force your browser to open the login page.

An easy trick is to load the router’s default page. Try entering 192.168.1.1127.1.1.11.1.1.1, or http://localhost in your browser address bar, and you might get the default login page to load (or you might see a router settings login page—in which case, don’t try to log in unless you’re at home).

If that doesn’t work, open your network settings again, and note your computer’s IP address as in the screenshot above. Try entering that IP address in your browser, replacing the last number with 1. Or, check the TCP/IP tab in your Network settings for the router’s IP address if that doesn’t work.

Or, if you’re trying to connect to a company’s public Wi-Fi network—

perhaps Gogo internet on a flight or your cell carrier’s Wi-Fi network in a mall—try opening that company’s website.

Most public Wi-Fi networks let you browse their company site without logging in, and they often have a link to their Wi-Fi login page. For instance, on a Delta flight, I opened delta.com and was able to view info about the trip and finally get the Wi-Fi login page to load.

3. Open a non-HTTPS site in incognito

The problem could be that your browser cache is still trying to use the DNS info it knows to access sites, instead of loading the Wi-Fi login page.

And sometimes you can break it out of that loop by visiting something new.

You could clear your browser cache, but that’s annoying, and you’d have to log back in to everything. Instead, open an Incognito window in your browser, which loads with a clean slate. Then try visiting a non-HTTPS site; example.com is a great option as it’s non-secured and maintained by ICANN.

Another good option is to manually visit the site your device tries to open in the background when connecting to new Wi-Fi network.

You may have noticed your device loading captive.apple.com when connecting to Wi-Fi; you could go to that site directly to force your browser to test the connection. Here are the default pages, each of which works on any platform:

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