Of all the problems you can have with your WiFi connection, not being able to get your laptop or phone online may be one of the most frustrating. You have a functioning gadget and a healthy wireless source—it should be a match made in technological heaven.
Well, uh, making a connection isn’t as easy as it seems.
And this is exactly why there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. We’ll walk you through some possible answers, but know that the farther you scroll on this page, the more likely it is that your problem requires a professional fix or a call to your internet service provider.
Check (and double-check) your credentials
You swear you’re typing the password correctly and you’re about to smash the router against the wall when you realize you had the caps lock on. As obvious as this may sound, unexpectedly incorrect login details is a common cause of WiFi struggles. Taking a breath and checking the accuracy of your credentials can save you many frustrating minutes of typing and retyping a wrong password.
First, make sure you’re reading every character correctly—this is especially important when someone shares a password with you on a handwritten note. When you’re typing, tap or click on the eye icon to the right of the password field to see what you’re typing in real time. Most interfaces have this feature, but you should avoid it if you’re in a crowded, public space, as someone may be peeking over your shoulder.
Second, remember credentials are case sensitive, so alternate between upper- and lowercase diligently.
Third, be aware of your keyboard. Start by checking your caps lock is off—most laptops and mechanical keyboards will turn a light on to notify you of this potential problem. If yours doesn’t, look for prompts on the screen or check by typing something in a visible field (like an address bar).
If you use your keyboard to type with more than one alphabet, make sure it’s set to your default, as you might be hitting the wrong keys without even knowing it.
Make sure you’re within range
WiFi coverage may vary for a lot of different reasons—from how strong of a signal the router is emitting, to the thickness of your home’s walls. It doesn’t help if, in an attempt to disguise its unaesthetic nature, the router’s owner placed the gadget in a deep corner or covered it with books or other trinkets.
Moving closer to the router and making sure its antennae are up and unobstructed can help you get a connection more easily.
Turn your device’s WiFi mode on
Again, it might sound obvious, but any gadget you’re connecting to a WiFi network has to actively seek that connection. This will only happen when its WiFi mode is on.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, you’ll want to access the Control Center menu—open it by swiping down from the upper right corner of your screen. There, tap the WiFi icon (it looks like three curved waves stacked on top of each other) to turn it on. On Mac computers, you’ll find the same icon to the left of the clock, in the upper right corner of your screen. On Android phones and tablets, you can swipe down with two fingers from the top of your screen. Depending on the make of your device, you’ll see a three-wave WiFi icon, or you’ll see an option called Internet. Tap on it and turn on the toggle switch next to WiFi. On a PC, you’ll see a tilted three-wave WiFi icon when you click on the upward arrow next to the clock in the bottom right corner of your screen. Click on it to turn it on.
Check if the router is online
Sometimes you manage to get on the WiFi, but you still can’t get online. This is probably because the router is offline and it’s emitting an empty signal. There’s an easy way to know if this is the case—checking the lights on your router.
Most of these gadgets have a series of lights that mean different things. The one you’re looking for has a symbol that looks like an antenna with waves coming off of it. If the light under this symbol is any other color than green, or if it blinks steadily, it means the router is not receiving an internet signal.
To solve this, you can try the classic method of turning it off and turning it back on. When you do, make sure you wait 10 seconds before you turn it on again—this is commonly the time it takes for routers to prompt a reboot instead of picking up exactly where they left off. When you turn the router back on, give it a minute to restart and keep your eye on the same light you saw before. If the red light turns green or if the steady blinking becomes an irregular twinkling, that means the router is now online.
If that doesn’t cut it, then there could be a problem with your internet service provider. Check your ISP’s social media to see if they have mentioned any outages in your neighborhood, or maybe any programmed work you may have missed. Calling their customer service will also provide some answers—albeit probably after a lot of waiting.
Turn your device off and on again
Sometimes the problem is neither the router, the thickness of walls, or the internet service provider. Sometimes, the problem is you, and by that, I mean your gadget. It’s OK, it happens. A fast way to solve this problem is by rebooting your device, and when you do, make sure to do it properly—go to your phone’s, tablet’s, computer’s, or gadget’s menu, and either turn it off or choose Restart.
When your device comes back to life, make sure you give it a minute until the reboot is complete and things are back on track. Try connecting to the WiFi again.
Update your operating system
If rebooting didn’t work, you could be facing a bug. If you have been putting off a system update, this is exactly the right time to finally install it.
Start by plugging in your device. If you have an iPhone or iPad go to the Settings app, tap General, and then Software Update. Your device will tell you whether it’s up to date or if there’s a patch waiting for you. On macOS, go to System Preferences, and then Software Update. Your computer will automatically search for anything new and will let you know if there’s one ready for you to download and install.
[Related: Stop putting off your device updates]
If you’re an Android user, the specific path will depend on the make of your device, but you’ll generally find this option by going to Settings, System, and then System Update. The screen will present the results from the last time it searched for new software to install. If you want to check again, tap on the Check for update button at the bottom right corner of your screen. Finally, on a device running Windows, go to Settings and then Windows Update. As in the previous examples, there you’ll be able to see if there are patches ready for you to install or if your system is up to date.
There are myriad reasons why your gadget is not connecting to WiFi. These are the most common, but sometimes, there could be others—there are also hardware issues (where your device’s antenna got damaged somehow, for example), and routers with a capped number of simultaneous connections. Still, more often than not, if you go through this checklist, you’ll be able to get back online.