User:SwifT/Complete Handbook/Preparing the network

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Why you need it ...

Not everyone requires a working Internet connection, but if you can it is best if you do - this part of the book only covers installations with a working Internet connection because it is highly advantageous. Not only can you immediately install the latest versions of all the Gentoo packages, it also allows you to go on the Internet to seek help and support, or to chat while your system is installing Gentoo.

In this chapter we cover one specific network type: Ethernet. An Ethernet network connection is often referred to as the wired network, using a RJ-45 network plug. Wireless networking, also known as WiFi or IEEE 802.11x, is also supported from the Gentoo installation CDs but not covered in this chapter (you will find more information about it further in this book).

Recognizing the hardware


You first need to configure your system to support your network card. Chances are that the card is already found and supported - to verify this, use the ip link subcommand. This tool will tell you what interfaces are available on your system. Interfaces are where Linux can assign IP address information to. It can represent a networking device but doesn't have to: there are interfaces for the local system (localhost, which doesn't need a network card), network tunnels, bridges, etc.

root #ip link

The above command will display statistics about each interface found on your system. The interfaces that start with eth are the ones that interest us the most. Those interfaces represent the network cards. If you have one network card, it will probably be called eth0. If you have two, they would be called eth0 and eth1, etc.

If you have several network cards, you can't tell right now what interface represents what network card. There are several ways to find this out, but the easiest method is to assume that eth0 is the one you are interested in - and if it turns out your network doesn't work, try switching the cable :)

Now, if you have seen eth-interfaces then your hardware is found and supported and you can continue with the next section. Otherwise you need to find out what chipset your network card uses and load the necessary hardware support.

Manual hardware discovery

With lspci you can get an overview of all PCI devices found on your system. The interesting part of this tool is that it shows the function of the device and the brand and type, making it excellent to discover what you have under the hood of your system.

We are interested in the Ethernet controller or Network controller, so we filter out the output of the lspci command using the grep tool, only giving us those lines that have 'Ethernet controller' or 'Network controller' in it:

root #lspci | grep 'Ethernet controller'

Substitute with 'Network controller' if this doesn't give satisfying results:

root #lspci | grep 'Ethernet controller'
0000:06:00.0 Ethernet controller: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL-8169 
  Gigabit Ethernet (rev 10)

With this information, you can start searching for the kernel module that offers support for your Ethernet card. In the above example, the module is r8169.ko. Although there is a quite efficient way to find out what kernel module exists for what chipset (search through the Linux kernel menu configuration information) we can't use this from the Gentoo installation CD as you don't have this configuration information available yet.

You are not left in the dark though. You can try digging through all the available kernel modules that support network cards, hoping to find any reference of the chipset you have. An easy method is to 'dump' a list of all kernel modules and filter out those that contain a good identifier in their name.

For instance, the above example could lead to the discovery of the r8169.ko module using the following method:

root #find /lib/modules | grep -i '8169'

The -i tells the grep tool to behave case insensitive. Okay, it doesn't matter for the example since we're asking grep to filter out a number - which isn't affected by case sensitivity - but this is quite important for different filters.

You can try out various terms that occur in the chipset name as well, either as separate jobs, or by providing grep with an entire list of terms you want to filter on. This can be accomplished by adding the -E option and handing it a list, separated by '|' signs and contained within '(' and ')'. The -E tells grep to interpret the filter as a regular expression:

root #find /lib/modules | grep -iE '(8169|realtek|rtl)'

Once you have found a possible kernel module for your network card, you can try to load it in memory using modprobe. This tool will search for the module, query for possible depending modules (some modules require another module to be loaded first) and then load the module in memory. For instance, for the r8169.ko module:

root #modprobe r8169

Notice that we have dropped the ".ko" suffix!

If this command didn't fail out, try ip link again to see if you have a working interface. If not, keep trying...

DHCP or static IP address?

Setting the IP address information

Now we need to configure the interface to obtain an IP address, a unique address that identifies your system in the network (Internet Protocol address). In most environments, this can be obtained automatically using DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol). This protocol allows interfaces to send out a request for an IP address on the network and receive IP address and routing information from the DHCP server (which is often found in home routers or in enterprise environments as a stand-alone service).

TCP, the other part of the TCP/IP combo, stands for Transfer Control Protocol and is responsible for the applicable communication between two systems. It has no recollection of system addresses (that's the IP's job) but uses ports instead to distinguish one communication session from another.

If you have a DHCP service on your network, you need to run a DHCP client for your interface. With Gentoo, you have dhcpcd at your disposal. Other clients exists as well though, such as dhclient} and pump. To automatically obtain an IP address for the eth0 interface, run dhcpcd eth0 after which you can continue with testing the network.

root #dhcpcd eth0

If your network card was automatically detected by Gentoo and your network supports DHCP, you'll probably receive a warning telling you that an instance of dhcpcd is already running. That's okay, it means that the installation already had the network configured for you.

If you need to configure your network using a static IP address, you have to know:

  • Which IP address you can use.
  • What IP address your gateway listens to.
  • What part of the IP address is reserved for the network identification.

A gateway is a system that acts as the connection between your network and the outside world. If you have a PC that shares an Internet connection (which often uses NAT - Network Address Translation) it is most likely that its IP address is your gateway IP address.

The network part of the IP address is what separates your IP address from an outside IP address. For instance, if your IP address is and all IP addresses in your network are in the range of to, then the network part of the IP address are the first three numbers. This is identified by a netmask

To configure your interface with a static IP address you can use the ip tool which we have already seen when we tried to discover what interfaces were available on your system.

The ip tool requires you to pass it the interface, the IP address and the CIDR netmask of the network. Suppose that is your IP address and your netmask which translates into 24 bits in CIDR:

root #ip address add dev eth0
root #ip link set up dev eth0

Next we need to configure the system to pass on requests for the Internet to the gateway. With the ip route command you can set up the default gateway, which is the default location where requests that are for an unknown network are passed to. Assuming that is the gateway IP address:

root #ip route add default via

We are almost there. You should be able to get on the Internet... if you knew all the IP addresses of all the servers by heart. To be able to use hostnames as well, you need to tell the system where the name servers are: systems that can translate hostnames to IP addresses. Your Internet Service Provider or network administrator should be able to tell you what the IP addresses for the name servers are.

You need to place these IP addresses in the /etc/resolv.conf file which sole purpose is to configure anything related to name configuration, including where the name servers are located.

To edit this file, you can use nano, a simple text editor for the command line. Other editors that might be available are vi and emacs. nano however is certainly available, so we will use nano as an example. Assuming that the name servers are and

root #nano /etc/resolv.conf
## (Change the content of the file to contain the name servers:)

Now that's done, you should test your network connectivity.

Testing the network

With the ping tool you can send small requests to servers around the Internet (but also on your network) and ask them to reply back. This makes ping a perfect tool to check if a system is reachable. We'll use this tool to verify the network connectivity.

First, we will try to reach a Google web server. We'll send it three requests - if they come back, your network (and Internet connection) is working great and you can continue with the next chapter.

root #ping -c 3

If you are not able to ping this system by name, you should try to ping an Internet server by its IP address. In the following example, we send three requests to, which is an IP address for a Google server. However, IP addresses might change so it is easier if you first verify that this IP address is really functional on a different system which has a working Internet connection.

root #ping -c 3

If this works, then the problem is with the name resolving. Verify that your /etc/resolv.conf contains the correct IP addresses for the name servers. Those IP addresses should be reachable (you can ping those as well to verify). Also verify that /etc/nsswitch.conf has a line that starts with hosts and contains dns as a keyword. This file tells your system where to look for various resources, such as name resolving information. The dns keyword tells the system that /etc/resolv.conf's name servers should be used. The files keyword tells the system that /etc/hosts contains a few IP addresses with hostnames which should be used as well.

root #grep -E '^hosts' /etc/nsswitch.conf
hosts:       files dns

Suppose that wasn't reachable as well, you might have an issue with the gateway being misconfigured. Verify if your gateway is set correctly by running ip route show default: the gateway IP address is the one mentioned right next to the via keyword:

root #ip route show default

If the gateway IP address seems correct, try to ping it to see if you can reach it. If you can, then the gateway itself is either blocking your Internet connections (perhaps a firewall issue) or the system isn't the gateway at all but just another host on your network.

If you can't reach the gateway IP address but you are confident that the IP address is correct and doesn't have a firewall that is dropping all your requests (including the ping requests), then your interface is malfunctioning. Make sure the network cable is plugged in and the cable is meant for the connection type you are using (the straight versus crossed UTP cable debacle).