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Resolving Windows network-connection problems

Troubleshooting networking issues in Windows 10 can be a maddening process. When your PC refuses to make a connection to the Web, Windows' built-in diagnostics tools can help.

But when troubleshooting, it's also useful to have some understanding of how Windows networking works. Firewalls, network adapters, and various properties and settings all play a part in whether you have a fully functioning Ethernet or wireless connection.

This topic can be deep and complex, but here are some basic diagnostic steps that you should try first.

Looking at the networking ecosystem

No Wi-Fi connection? Isolate the problem. Let's start with a review of some of the more obvious troubleshooting steps. First, determine whether it's a local problem (inside your home) or it's the external connection to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Check the status lights on your modem/router. They should indicate whether the box has a functioning connection to your ISP and the Web.

If the status lights aren't all "green," try resetting the modem — typically by powering it off and on. If that doesn't help, you might have to call your ISP.

On the other hand, if the outside connection appears to be working, try connecting to the Web via another device such as your smartphone, tablet, or another PC. If you have an Ethernet connection available, see whether it'll link to websites.

Assuming that's all good, you've narrowed it down to a Wi-Fi issue. Try using a different wireless network, if one is available. Another option is to reset the link between PC and router. Click the network icon on the Windows taskbar/notification area and right-click your existing network. Select Forget (see Figure 1). That should remove the connection's possibly problematic profile. Next, reconnect to the network, enter your password, and see whether the connection now works.

Figure 1. The Forget option deletes saved network profiles.

Tip: If you've connected to numerous public and private networks, you've probably acquired a long list of now obsolete network profiles. To clean them up, click Settings/Network & Internet/Wi-Fi. Next, click the Manage known networks link. Select any no-longer-needed profiles and click Forget.

Still no connection? Use the network troubleshooter. Windows has numerous built-in troubleshooting tools. For connection problems, right-click the network icon (the small globe) in the notification area and select the Troubleshoot problems option. The Windows Network Diagnostics box will open and let you know it's looking for connection issues.

When the troubleshooter finishes, you'll have various options, depending on the diagnostic results. You might receive a suggestion to "Apply this fix" (see Figure 2) or another to "Skip this step." In most cases, you want to let Windows proceed with its "fix."

But if the given description of the problem seems off-base, you can also tell the troubleshooter to "Continue trying to fix the problem." In some instances, the troubleshooter will be unable to identify or fix the issue — in which case, it's time to explore other options.

Figure 2. The Windows Network Diagnostics troubleshooter might provide a quick repair for networking issues.

Check your networks settings. It's possible something is amiss with your connection settings. Right-click the network icon in the notification area again. But this time, select "Open Network & Internet settings." That launches the "Network status" window and displays your network-connections conditions.

Next, scroll down the window and click the View your network properties link. In the Properties screen, look for the name of the failing connection — e.g., "Wi-Fi." There, you should find information on the status of the connection plus the IP addresses for your router (gateway) and DNS servers (see Figure 3). Clicking the Copy button lets you quickly paste the information into a text file for later reference, should you need to continue diagnosing the connection problem.

Figure 3. The View your network properties window provides a quick summary of your networking connections.

Returning to "Network & Internet," select Wi-Fi and click the Manage known networks link. Next, select the problem network and click the Properties button. You can now review the default settings for this network (see Figure 4). In most cases, your home network should have "Connect automatically when in range" turned on. For troubleshooting purposes, "Random hardware addresses" and "Metered connection" should be off.

Figure 4. The properties window for specific networks provides a few basic settings.

Review your network adapter settings. At this point, you're starting to get into the weeds of network-connection diagnostics.

Back at Network & Internet/Status, click Change adapter options. In the next screen, right-click the target network (e.g., Wi-Fi); a popup menu will offer a few options. Select "Diagnose" to run a troubleshooter directly on the network adapter. Again, you can try applying any suggested fixes.

Next, select Properties from the menu to review the various adapter settings and attributes. Select the "Internet Protocol Version 4" entry and click Properties. By default, "Obtain an IP address automatically" and "Obtain DNS server address automatically" should be enabled (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Normally, your adapter should be set to obtain IP and DNS server addresses automatically.

Finally, if all else fails, you can try a network reset. Close any open adapter-settings windows and return to Network & Internet/Status. Click the Network Reset link. The next screen warns that this option will remove and reinstall all your network adapters and return network components to their default settings. Your system will also restart.

To proceed, click the Reset now button. (see Figure 6). Click Yes to confirm.

 

Figure 6. A last-resort option for connection issues is to reset your PC's networking components.

Once your system has restarted, sign into Windows and check your network connection again. If it's still not working, it's likely not a Windows problem. At that point, you'll probably need some expert help.

That's it for this month. Just a quick reminder to please share your tips or tech experiences with the rest of the Sangat. Just email me and tell me your story, and keep sending me your suggestions for column topics, along with your own favorite smartphone app recommendations and reviews so I can share them here with the rest of the Sangat.