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Oct
17

Top 4 Linux network managers

Posted by Gavin Thomas

Fundamental utilities and long-time favourites all go head-to-head as we pick the network manager that offers the complete package

ifconfig

Part of your command line toolset, ifconfig can be used from your CLI or terminal emulator and is the bedrock of network management – many other network managing tools roll this up as part of the package, while some people prefer to use it direct. Check the docs for instructions on the options available

Ifconfig
Ifconfig

Ease-of-use

As a command line tool, ease of use is very subjective. Learning it from scratch is much more difficult than figuring out how the individual elements work in a graphical tool. Having said that, once you know exactly what you’re doing, it can be fast and very useful.

Functions

There are plenty of functions hidden away in ifconfig for various connection settings such as MTUs and tunnelling along with the basic features needed to get a wired or wireless network setup. There’s no proxy control going on though that you can append to settings, meaning you’ll need an external program for that.

Customisation

Being a command line tool it’s dangerously customisable in that any function can be done literally however you want – it will just break the connection much more easily than you’d be able to do with the graphical tools in this test. This also means you’re more able to bring in external data to input into your fields, which the other tools don’t allow.

Privacy

IP tunnelling is about the only thing you can do in terms of privacy without bringing in external proxy or Tor tools. Tor is a lot more powerful than the tools you could get for ifconfig, but some extra form of privacy control would still be a great addition if the tool were ever to be updated.

Overall

5/10

Ifconfig is a simple command line tool that does the job it was designed for and quite well at that. If you’re running a command line interface it’s still an excellent way to configure your network.

GNOME Network

A simple app you’ll find in many Ubuntu spins, and one that’s been around for absolutely years, the GNOME Network app is a simplified network connections manager that’s very much in line with GNOME design. It’s also one that most people will have used at some point.

GNOME Network
GNOME Network

Ease-of-use

As a GNOME app, Network is easy to navigate and laid out very plainly and simply within a single window. All the major options are available from here with more advanced settings available through a clearly labelled button. It’s classic GNOME design but instead of taking away features, it instead just makes everything a little easier to get to.

Functions

There is a decent selection of features available throughout Network, with advanced setup for the various networks you’ve set up. There’s also an airplane mode, similar to that in a mobile phone, and another example that GNOME is thinking more in terms of portable computing these days.

Customisation

Both wired and wireless have pretty great customisation controls, allowing you full control over addresses for both IPv4 and v6 along with various security controls and even the ability to turn the wireless communications into a hotspot. It’s about the same as you’d get from something like ifconfig but it’s presented a lot better.

Privacy

As well as the aforementioned airplane mode that is quite good for just cutting off all access, there are simple proxy controls that can be applied system-wide to give you a little more security over the internet. They’re nothing on Tor but they do a lot more than your standard connections.

Overall

8/10

Network is one of the few GNOME apps that we really like, as the simplification process has made it easier to use and not dumbed down the entire application. If you’re using it by default, you’ve got a great app.

Network Tools

Again pre-installed in many Ubuntu spins, Network Tools is the more advanced counterpart to GNOME Network. Offering all sorts of functionality, it’s often the first port of call for those who are looking to undertake more involved network detection tasks or identify problems.

Network Tools
Network Tools

Ease-of-use

While slightly more intimidating for newcomers, the main tab in Network Tools has just about everything you need for normal network management, although it does rely on default system wireless managing where it can. The more advanced features are plainly labelled, too.

Functions

There are a huge amount of different networking functions not only for connecting and seeing what’s around but also for looking around your network for any problems. It manages a lot more than just your local network adapters; it can manage your entire network if that’s a thing you’d want it to do.

Customisation

It’s great for a lot of the sniffing and routing tools but for the actual network connection it’s a little lacking. It’s nice that you can do really customised network detection functions but we’re concentrating a little more on actually making the connection to the network in this test.

Privacy

Apart from figuring out the vulnerabilities in your network, there’s no way to actually make your connection private from within the app itself. No proxy, no tunnelling and certainly no Tor tools either. It’s a little ironic that you can figure out the problems with your network and then can’t really fix them on your computer.

Overall

6/10

Network Tools is very good for specific uses but for actually managing network connections it falls a bit shy. It’s not really its fault, though, and it’s great if you need a proper and quick look through your network.

Wicd

Something of a rising star, Wicd has been turning up as the default network manager in more and more Linux distros of late. It boasts a number of interesting features, too, including few dependencies and separate profiles for each network connection.

Wicd
Wicd

Ease-of-use

Putting everything important up front, Wicd makes connecting to any wireless network easy while also having great controls for wired networks as well. Any configuration menus are tied to the individual connections as well, and some quick options to disconnect everything and turn Wi-Fi off are readily available.

Functions

As well as the functions within the individual connections’ preferences, there are some advanced settings available via the interface to get a little bit more out of the network, from selecting what external programs to use when making changes to switching the drivers as well.

Customisation

Almost every part of the networking is in some way configurable – from the IP settings and network ID down to the way the drivers and low- level systems connect and interact. This lets you really get the optimal connection settings for just about any situation and goes a lot deeper than the other apps in this test.

Privacy

For all the editing and customising you can do for the individual connections and adapters, there are no proxy tools and an almost hidden-away tunnelling option. Wicd is probably something you’d be using in conjunction with Tor, if you want to have a bit more privacy.

Overall

9/10

Of a limited selection of managers, Wicd is clearly the best of the bunch. Its popularity is well earned in this case it’s great to see it popping up more and more in distros as the default manager.

And the winner is…

Wicd

It really was a tough one, with the battle ultimately coming down to GNOME Network and Wicd, but in the end it was Wicd’s wide array of deeply customisable features and smart design that gave it the edge. While GNOME Network is a better-looking and better-functioning GNOME app than most, the minimal design isn’t for everyone – especially those who are looking to go into more detail on certain aspects of their network and connections. With Wicd, having all of the tools and information readily available doesn’t translate into the kind of complexity you get with Network Tools. Instead, it’s just as easy to use as GNOME Network but with way more for you to actually play with.

Feature-wise, we particularly like the separate connection profiles – a real boon if you find yourself switching between connections that require different settings quite often. More than that, though, it’s the fact that all of the advanced options are hugely configurable. If you find yourself needing to step beyond the usual day-to-day use of a network manager, it’s likely you won’t have
to go for a secondary tool as you would with something like GNOME Network. Unless, of course, you’re concerned about the lack of privacy features – our only real gripe with this otherwise excellent network manager.

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    • Albin

      I agree with choosing Wicd – the best feature being that it identifies both signal strength and channel number to help the user select and set up the modem for the channel with the least competition. Makes a real difference to move to a channel without other strong nearby broadcasts.

    • Hans van den Bogert

      stop telling people to use ifconfig, use the ip-family commands
      http://serverfault.com/questions/458628/should-i-quit-using-ifconfig

    • As an alternative, there is a command line tool vswm (Very Simple Wireless Manager). https://github.com/dmelo/vswm