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Using an iPhone as a USB hotspot on Linux

February 16, 2017

Another incredibly boring post title solely for the purposes of making this easy to find in search engines. Please excuse. 

So, last night, I was digging through the Steam library for a short game to play, and Thomas Was Alone jumped out at me. I’m not normally a fan of arty indie darlings, so presumably it came as part of a bundle, but it had great reviews and howlongtobeat pegged it as a 3 hour tour, so I figured I’d give it a go. It also has a Linux version, so it was an excuse to boot up my Ubuntu box and let it run system updates and so on. Normally it only gets turned on when I have a mass of video encoding to do, so it tends to get a lot of updates all at once. 

Anyway, not to go too much into Thomas Was Alone, though it is surprisingly brilliant, I had been playing it for about an hour when Comcast decided that I didn’t need internet anymore. This was obviously an affront that needed immediate attention, as it meant that my cheevos were not instantly being uploaded to Steam servers for all to gaze upon and wonder. 

(As in, “I wonder what this guy is DOING with his life?”)

Also it made the router start blinking an amber light at me, which is about a 4/10 as far as annoyances go, right up there with the register tape running out just as you finally get to the front of the queue at the grocers so you’re sitting there while the checker fights with the horrid little printer. 

I may be over-dramatizing this. 

So I decided to use my phone as a hotspot so that I’d be back on the net, which was fine in theory… but naturally didn’t go quite so smoothly.  

Normally I use my phone hotspot when I’m out and about with a laptop or tablet that doesn’t have a built-in cellular modem, so I just switch the hotspot on, find my phone in the list of wifi sources nearby and go. It’s as plug and play as anything. 

The Linux box didn’t have a wifi card, or a Bluetooth adapter, but I was pretty sure that I could just plug in a USB cord and go. There are even how-to docs for this on Apple’s site, though they naturally only give instructions for Windows and macOS. 

For a moment, this actually seemed to work – I had a second Ethernet connection in the Network menu and it was even called Apple iPhone. It just steadfastly refused to actually work as a network adapter.

I will leave my actual troubleshooting steps aside, as you’ve already put up with way too much long-winded rambling to get to this point. The magic solution was to disable both wifi and Bluetooth interfaces on the phone, then turn the hotspot off and on again, and suddenly the Linux box could connect to it and make use of the phone’s internet connection. Life was back to normal. (And Comcast even eventually came back on, a couple of hours later.)

So, super rare use case to be sure. I couldn’t find any help online when I was looking for it, though, so I thought I’d put this up on the off chance that it is helpful to someone else at some point. 

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