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Listing information on all active interfaces on MacOS part 1: getting the active interface names

Posted by jpluimers on 2021/07/29

Listing Listing information on all active interfaces on MacOS is a process involving multiple pieces, which then can be combined together.

Listing all active interfaces try 1

This involves both the -l (list with optional criteria) and -u parameter (the up criterion) as per excerpts from the [] ifconfig(8) [osx man page] / [WayBack] ifconfig Man Page – macOS –

     ifconfig -- configure network interface parameters

     ifconfig -l [-d] [-u] [address_family]

     The ifconfig utility is used to assign an address to a network interface and/or configure network interface parameters.

     The following options are available:


             Specify the address family which affects interpretation of the remaining parameters.  Since an interface can receive transmissions
             in differing protocols with different naming schemes, specifying the address family is recommended.  The address or protocol fami-
             lies currently supported are ``inet'', ``inet6'', and ``link''.  The default is ``inet''.  ``ether'' and ``lladdr'' are synonyms
             for ``link''.


     The -l flag may be used to list all available interfaces on the system, with no other additional information.  Use of this flag is mutually
     exclusive with all other flags and commands, except for -d (only list interfaces that are down) and -u (only list interfaces that are up).


ifconfig -l -u

Each interface on one line:

ifconfig -l -u | xargs -n1 echo

The problem is that on my system, it also lists bridges as active, whereas they are not:

# ifconfig -l -u | xargs -n1 echo

# ifconfig bridge0
    ether 6a:00:02:9a:23:f0 
        id 0:0:0:0:0:0 priority 0 hellotime 0 fwddelay 0
        maxage 0 holdcnt 0 proto stp maxaddr 100 timeout 1200
        root id 0:0:0:0:0:0 priority 0 ifcost 0 port 0
        ipfilter disabled flags 0x2
    member: en1 flags=3<LEARNING,DISCOVER>
            ifmaxaddr 0 port 5 priority 0 path cost 0
    member: en2 flags=3<LEARNING,DISCOVER>
            ifmaxaddr 0 port 6 priority 0 path cost 0
    Address cache:
    nd6 options=201<PERFORMNUD,DAD>
    status: inactive

So this is where the MacOS and BSD documentation is inaccurate.

Interface types

The above interfaces are many more than just ethernet or WiFi interfaces; there is a list at [WayBack] macos – What are en0, en1, p2p, and so on, that are displayed after executing ifconfig? – Stack Overflow by [WayBackmcint:

In arbitrary order of my familarity / widespread relevance:

lo0 is loopback.

en0 at one point “ethernet”, now is WiFi (and I have no idea what extra en1 or en2 are used for).

fw0 is the FireWire network interface.

stf0 is an IPv6 to IPv4 tunnel interface to support the transition from IPv4 to the IPv6 standard.

gif0 is a more generic tunneling interface [46]-to-[46].

awdl0 is Apple Wireless Direct Link

p2p0 is related to AWDL features. Either as an old version, or virtual interface with different semantics than awdl.

many VPNs will add additional devices, often “utun#” or “utap#” following TUN/TAP (L3/L2)virtual networking devices.

More on AWDL at [WayBack] ios – What is AWDL (Apple Wireless Direct Link) and how does it work? – Stack Overflow.

Listing all active interfaces try 2

Active interfaces show status: active instead of inactive, so I hoped the more elaborate examples at [WayBack] ifconfig (darwin i.e.Mac OS X version would help. They didn’t in this particular case (but are great for many other insights).

This lists the details of all “UP” interfaces using xargs and two ifconfig invocations:

ifconfig -l -u | xargs -n1 ifconfig

If these, only some are active:

ifconfig -l -u | xargs -n1 ifconfig | grep 'status: active'

On my system, there were three active:

# ifconfig -l -u | xargs -n1 ifconfig | grep 'status: active'
    status: active
    status: active
    status: active

So now I want to list only the interface name if it is active, which involves a more complex xargs statement for which what I learned in UUOC apparently is/was a thing: useless use of cat was useful:

ifconfig -l -u | xargs -n1 -I_nic_ sh -c 'ifconfig _nic_ | grep "status: active" && echo "_nic_"'

This can actually be simplified to this using grep -q:

ifconfig -l -u | xargs -n1 -I_nic_ sh -c 'ifconfig _nic_ | grep -q "status: active" && echo "_nic_"'

Or via [WayBack] command line – How to use ifconfig to show active interface only – Unix & Linux Stack Exchange, if you want some bash magic;

for i in $(ifconfig -l -u); do if ifconfig $i | grep -q "status: active" ; then echo $i; fi; done

For my system, this shows:

# for i in $(ifconfig -l -u); do if ifconfig $i | grep -q "status: active" ; then echo $i; fi; done

To be continued

Tomorrow, I will show how to get DHCP/BOOTP information from the above NIC interfaces.


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