In Ubuntu 11.04 I used InSSIDer to scan the available APs and sort them by signal strength.

Unfortunately the program seems to be broken in Ubuntu 11.10, and

iwlist wlan0 scan

doesn't return anything meaningful.

What options do I have to scan for available Wireless Access Point, possibly with a GUI?

  • 1
    Ubuntu release? Hardware? Environment? "anything meaningful"? Should I have to install 11.04 and InSSIDer to find out what behaviour you're looking for? What does "seems to be broken" really mean? Please help us help you by including information in your questions. "Options"? Try Network Manager. You should find its icon in the top row.
    – waltinator
    Commented Nov 6, 2011 at 23:13
  • If you read it more carefully everything is already there. I use ubuntu 11.10, and inssider doesn't launch at all. I use intel wifi. I want to list all the available networks, sorted by strength.
    – Mascarpone
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 16:21
  • 3
    sudo iwlist wlan0 scanning | egrep 'Cell |Encryption|Quality|Last beacon|ESSID' should help.
    – waltinator
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 19:30

7 Answers 7


sudo iwlist wlan0 scanning | egrep 'Cell |Encryption|Quality|Last beacon|ESSID' should help.

It's the combination of sudo (run as root, do privileged operations), iwlist wlan0 scanning (produce some output on STDOUT), the pipe symbol "|" (connecting STDOUT of the command(s) to the left to the STDIN of the process on the right), and an egrep command with a "single quoted" (to prevent the shell from interpreting the "|" characters) Regular Expression to filter STDIN. See man bash, man sudo, man iwlist, man egrep, and man re_format for details.

ALWAYS do man whatever (as above) BEFORE you execute a command string from someone else. Self-education is much safer than blind trust.

  • 2
    Could you please include an explanation of that command?
    – N.N.
    Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 21:31
  • 2
    Could you please include the explanation in your question instead so that others can find it easier and benefit from it. Reason I asked for an explanation is to make your answer as complete as possible.
    – N.N.
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 7:13
  • You might, optionally, want to add that it's very easy to search in man pages using /. Many new Linux users are scared of the size of man pages and their inability to find the correct information quickly.
    – user93692
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 12:12
  • This command doesn't need explanation. The question isn't about pipes or manpages. Some prerequisite knowledge must be assumed, otherwise most answers on this site will have to start with instructions for opening a terminal.
    – ki9
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 2:01

Using iw

I don't have nm-tool installed so I use iw.

This command sorts access points by signal strength, strongest first:

sudo iw wlan0 scan | grep -Po '(signal|SSID):\K.*' | sed 's/ $/ [unknown SSID]/' | paste -d ' ' - - | cut -c2- | sort -gr

Each command explained:

iw wlan0 scan

Scan for access points reachable via interface wlan0.

grep -Po '(signal|SSID):\K.*'

Grep gets the text after "signal:" or "SSID:". See this answer to learn more about the used options and \K.

Reduces the output of iw wlan0 scan to something like this:

 -77.00 dBm
 -69.00 dBm
 -71.00 dBm

Note that the access point with signal strength -69 dBm doesn't broadcast an SSID, the output of grep is a single space on that line.

sed 's/ $/ [unknown SSID]/'

To make the fact that the SSID is unknown explicit, we replace the single space with [unknown SSID]. The output of sed is:

 -77.00 dBm
 -69.00 dBm
 [unknown SSID]
 -71.00 dBm

paste -d ' ' - -

With paste we join two consecutive lines with a space in between. This produces:

 -77.00 dBm nameOfAccessPoint1
 -69.00 dBm [unknown SSID]
 -71.00 dBm nameOfAccessPoint2

cut -c2- | sort -gr

With cut -c2- we remove the leading space and sort orders the lines by dBm, smallest numerical value first. Which means the access points are sorted by signal strength, strongest first.

-69.00 dBm [unknown SSID]
-71.00 dBm nameOfAccessPoint2
-77.00 dBm nameOfAccessPoint1


Here's another way to get access points sorted by signal strength. Mind that this command does not take care of access points with an empty SSID:

sudo iw wlan0 scan | egrep "signal:|SSID:" | sed -e "s/\tsignal: //" -e "s/\tSSID: //" | awk '{ORS = (NR % 2 == 0)? "\n" : " "; print}' | sort -gr

Each command explained:

iw wlan0 scan

Scan for access points reachable via interface wlan0.

egrep "signal:|SSID:"

Get the lines with signal strength and the SSIDs from iw's output. The output looks like this now:

        signal: -77.00 dBm
        SSID: nameOfAccessPoint1
        signal: -71.00 dBm
        SSID: nameOfAccessPoint2

sed -e "s/\tsignal: //" -e "s/\tSSID: //"

We reduce egrep's output to this:

-77.00 dBm
-71.00 dBm

awk '{ORS = (NR % 2 == 0)? "\n" : " "; print}'

Bring the signal strength and the SSID on the same line. More specifically, when the line number (NR) is even, i.e., we are on a line showing an access point, the output record separator (ORS) should be a line break. Otherwise, we are on the line containing signal strength, so we join the line by making ORS a simple space.

sort -gr

If we sort this output by numerical value (-g) and reverse it (-r), we end up with a list of signal strengths and access points, showing the access point with the strongest signal on top:

-71.00 dBm nameOfAccessPoint2
-77.00 dBm nameOfAccessPoint1

Beware: Some access points can have an extended capability:

    Extended capabilities:
             * SSID List

This means grepping "SSID:" instead of "SSID" helps avoiding this extra output which would make the command fail otherwise.

  • 1
    Piping grep to sed to awk, don't you just love Linux! Very nice comprehensive answer. I know I'm not supposed to write a complimentary comment but this really deserves one, you even included intermediate output.
    – user93692
    Commented Jan 13, 2017 at 12:16
nm-tool | grep "Freq.*Strength" | sed -ne "s|\(.*Strength \([0-9]\+\).*\)|\2}\1|p" | sort -n -r
  1. Use output of nm-tool to get list of Wireless Access Points
  2. Filter to get access points only
  3. Use sed to append signal level in front of each line
  4. sort output as numbers in reverse order (largest first)

nm-tool is part of "network-manager" package that is obviously installed in a typical Ubuntu system.

  • Thanks! This command helpfully provides a concise and complete summary of all the APs in range. The iwlist command seems to change dynamically from run to run based on current wifi activity; it also seems to fail when too many wifi APs are reporting at once.
    – Phil Hord
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 19:16
  • 1
    answer is good for 2013. now, nm-tool was long replaced by nmcli
    – gcb
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 4:58

You can also use nmcli, I found it myself a few months back and it's the easiest one I've used so far.

nmcli device wifi

Example output:

IN-USE  BSSID              SSID                             MODE   CHAN  RATE        SIGNAL  BARS  SECURITY  
        18:7B:CB:42:EF:8E  FRITZ!Box 7530 MS                Infra  11    260 Mbit/s  100     ▂▄▆█  WPA2      
*       D1:12:C8:87:D7:F1  FRITZ!Box 7530 MS                Infra  6     130 Mbit/s  75      ▂▄▆_  WPA2      
        DD:72:2D:64:04:C9  example network                  Infra  11    130 Mbit/s  65      ▂▄▆_  WPA1 WPA2 
        2C:A1:F2:9E:97:2E  FRITZ!Box 7530 MS                Infra  11    130 Mbit/s  57      ▂▄▆_  WPA2      
        11:22:F5:89:71:9C  some_other_network               Infra  6     130 Mbit/s  55      ▂▄__  WPA2      

If you can install software on your machine, I would recommend wavemon.

To install it run:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install wavemon

To run it:

sudo wavemon

Then press F3 for the scan window. You should see something similar to this:

wavemon scan window


With wpa_cli

Using wpa_cli , which is part of wpa_supplicant, you can get information about local Wi-Fi networks:

sudo wpa_cli scan && sudo wpa_cli scan_results

Example output:

Selected interface 'wlp3s0'
bssid / frequency / signal level / flags / ssid
23:99:21:91:89:34   2462    -50 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP][WPS][ESS]   SSID_8
42:5d:25:a2:f5:7a   2462    -59 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP][WPS][ESS]   SSID_7
21:99:94:b1:89:3b   5180    -54 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP][WPS][ESS]   SSID_6
52:7d:2d:96:f4:d9   5500    -67 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP][WPS][ESS]   SSID_5
54:7d:3d:a6:f4:c0   2412    -52 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP][WPS][ESS]   SSID_4
9d:34:16:a0:04:81   2437    -53 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP][WPS][ESS]   SSID_3
e9:40:e2:b3:58:dd   2412    -64 [WPA-PSK-CCMP+TKIP][WPA2-PSK-CCMP+TKIP][ESS]    SSID_2
4a:5d:25:72:f5:79   5580    -72 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP][WPS][ESS]   SSID_1
iwinfo wlan0 scan

wlan0 is you wireless interface

the result like below list ...

Cell 06 - Address: F0:B4:29:50:76:0C
          ESSID: "Xiaomi_760B"
          Mode: Master  Channel: 1
          Signal: -38 dBm  Quality: 70/70
          Encryption: mixed WPA/WPA2 PSK (TKIP, CCMP) 

the command will return encryption info

system : openwrt 15.05


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