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Linux NetworkManager a Solid Tool with New Features

What is NetworkManager?

April 23, 2010

Applications like Firefox and OpenOffice.org get all the glory. They're highly visible as cornerstone applications of the free desktop. But what about the background apps that do the grunt work and sit silently in the background, ignored unless we run into a bug? One of the vital, yet unsung, applications Linux users depend on is NetworkManager.

What is NetworkManager?

NetworkManager comprises several pieces, a service that's used to manage a system's network connections and report their condition to applications that are D-BUS aware, and client applications that allow the user to manage network connections. NetworkManager was developed to simplify working with network connections and to help desktop and other applications become network aware.

Most users never have to worry about the backend services of NetworkManager and only work with the GUI applets that manages network connections. For GNOME and Xfce users this means the nm-applet utility, and for KDE users the KNetworkManager applet.

Many Linux users don't remember, or realize, the tremendous pain that came with managing network connections in the early days of Linux. Especially for laptop users who needed to connect to two or more networks. Though early iterations of NetworkManager were slightly less than painless to use (earning it the moniker "NetworkMangler" in some circles), it has evolved into a solid tool that makes managing connections virtually pain-free.

For example, I remember two years ago getting my Verizon Wireless EV-DO card and plugging it in to openSUSE 11.0. NetworkManager required no setup at all. It recognized the card, it appeared in the drop-down menu in the GNOME toolbar, and the only action required was to click "connect." This was hands-down the simplest way to configure the card that I'd encountered.

But there's always improvement to be had, and NetworkManager has continued to move forward. The upcoming 0.8.1 release, which can already be found in Fedora 13, comes with tons of improvements and new features.

New in 0.8.1

The latest NetworkManager series includes quite a few new features, most of which revolves around support for additional networking devices. Mobile users will be particularly happy with this release. 0.8.1 adds support for ModemManager to increase support for mobile broadband devices like GSM, UMTS, and CDMA cards. Using ModemManager also means new features, such as signal strength display and ability to choose between 2G/3G modes. Last, but certainly not least, it also means that you can turn off roaming to avoid any extra connection fees.

0.8.1 also has support for using Bluetooth to get online with support for the Personal Area Networking (PAN) and older Bluetooth Dial-up Networking (DUN) protocols. A list of all, or at least most, supported devices can be found on the wiki.

If you're one of the few users who connects via IPv6 (which they swear really will be relevant to everybody soon, really!), you'll be pleased to know that NetworkManager now supports IPv6 autoconf and static IPs. The 0.8.1 release will also bring IPv6 DHCP support as well.

Most of the changes to the most recent releases have been in the form of adding support for devices or rounding out protocol support, but 0.8.1 also sports a nice new client interface as well.

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