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Network interface overview

A socket requires a NetworkInterface instance to indicate which NetworkInterface the socket should be created on. The NetworkInterface provides a network stack that implements the underlying socket operations.

NetworkInterface is also the controlling API that the application uses to specify the network configuration.

Existing network interfaces:

  • Ethernet: API for connecting to the internet over an Ethernet connection.
  • Wi-Fi: API for connecting to the internet with a Wi-Fi device.
  • Cellular: API for connecting to the internet using a cellular device.
  • Mesh networking interface: Mbed OS provides two kinds of IPv6-based mesh networks - 6LoWPAN_ND and Thread.

Network connectivity states

When you create a network interface, it starts from the disconnected state. When you call NetworkInteface::connect(), the interface stays connected until you call NetworkInterface::disconnect(). The following diagram illustrates the state changes:

Network states

The interface handles all state changes between Connecting, Local connectivity and Global route found. Calling NetworkInterface::connect() might return when either local or global connectivity states are reached. This depends on the connectivity. For example, Ethernet and Wi-Fi interfaces return when global connectivity is reached. 6LoWPAN-based mesh networks depend on the standard you're using. The LoWPANNDInterface returns from connect() call when it connects to a border router that provides a global connection. The ThreadInterface returns from connect() call when it joins a local mesh network. It may later get a global connection when it finds a border router.

When a network or route is lost or any other cause limits the connectivity, the interface may change its state back to Connecting, Local connectivity or Disconnected. In the Connecting and Local connectivity states, the interface reconnects until the application chooses to call NetworkInterface::disconnect(). Depending on the network, this reconnection might have internal backoff periods, and not all interfaces implement the reconnection logic at all. Please refer to table below for information on how different interfaces behave.

An application may check the connection status by calling nsapi_connection_status_t get_connection_status() or register a callback to monitoring status changes. The following table lists defined network states with actions that applictions should take on the state change:

State nsapi_connection_status_t Actions to do on application
Disconnected NSAPI_STATUS_DISCONNECTED Call connect(). Close socket connections, if previously was connected.
Connecting NSAPI_STATUS_CONNECTING Close and destroy all open sockets. Wait until connection is established.
Local connectivity NSAPI_STATUS_LOCAL_UP You can create sockets and communicate with local devices in the same network.
Global route found NSAPI_STATUS_GLOBAL_UP You can create sockets and communicate with all hosts.

Use the following API to register status callbacks:

Error handling and reconnection logic depends on the network interface. Please use the following table to determine what actions your application needs to do on each network type.

NetworkInterface subclass Does it reconnect automatically? Possible states
WiFiInterface Yes, when onboard network stack is used.
For external modules, it depends on the driver.
See examples below.
OdinWiFiInterface or
CellularInterface Mostly no 1.NSAPI_STATUS_DISCONNECTED
CellularInterface may also send Cellular specific states specified in CellularCommon.h
LoWPANNDInterface or
ThreadInterface or

Default network interface

In Mbed OS, targets that provide network connectivity also provide a default network interface. This can be Ethernet, Wi-Fi, mesh or cellular. Using a default interface allows you to port applications to different targets and connectivity options.

The following example uses a default interface to connect to the network:

NetworkInterface *net = NetworkInterface::get_default_instance();

if (!net) {
    printf("Error! No network inteface found.\n");
    return 0;


This example works on all IP-based connectivity options that Mbed OS supports. The Mbed OS configuration system provides configuration for the default interface at build time, so at run time, you can call connect() without any parameters.

For example, when providing a Wi-Fi SSID and password, you may use the following mbed_app.json:

    "target_overrides": {
        "*": {
            "nsapi.default-wifi-security": "WPA_WPA2",
            "nsapi.default-wifi-ssid": "\"ssid\"",
            "nsapi.default-wifi-password": "\"password\""

Please see Selecting the default network interface for information about how to supply required configuration parameters on different connections.

Targets with connectivity set the target.network-default-interface-type configuration variable appropriately, either to their only interface or the one most commonly used. For targets that provide more than one type of connectivity, you may choose the default by overriding the target.network-default-interface-type configuration variable.

Applications may also ask for a specific type of connection, as the following table shows:

Method What connectivity is returned Requirements
*WiFiInterface::get_default_instance() Wi-Fi interface Requires security parameters (mode, SSID, password).
*EthInterface::get_default_instance() Wired Ethernet interface, not Wi-Fi none
*MeshInterface::get_default_instance() Returns either LoWPANNDInterface or ThreadInterface, depending on which is set to default Target provides a driver or macro DEVICE_802_15_4_PHY is enabled.
*CellularInterface::get_default_instance() Return cellular connectivity Requires network parameters (pin, APN, username, password).
*NetworkInterface::get_default_instance() One of the above, depending on target.network-default-interface-type.

Note that the calls for a specific interface type do not preconfigure credentials such as SSID because an interface-type-specific application is expected to configure these in code. NULL is returned if no interface of that type is available.

Calls for a NetworkInterface request one of the interface types depending on target.default-network-interface-type, and preconfigure the credentials. If credentials can't be preconfigured (for example, because nsapi.default-wifi-ssid isn't set), the call returns NULL rather than an unconfigured interface.

An application may check the type of interface returned by NetworkInterface::get_default_instance() using "dynamic downcast" methods:

// net set from NetworkInterface::get_default_instance() as above
WiFiInterface *wifi = net->wifiInterface();
if (wifi) {
    printf("This is a Wi-Fi board.")
    // call WiFi-specific methods

Notes on portable applications

When you expect an application to be portable between different network interfaces, please use the following guidelines:

  1. Use only NetworkInterface::get_default_instance() for getting the interface.
  2. Register the network status handler, and implement reconnection logic.

Please see the previous section, Default network interface, on how to use the portable API for the network interface.

For network status changes, the API is specified in Network status section. Being portable means that your application only communicates after NSAPI_STATUS_GLOBAL_UP is received and tries to reconnect the network if NSAPI_STATUS_DISCONNECTED is received without calling NetworkInterface::disconnect().

Using multiple network interfaces

In Mbed OS, applications usually use one network interface at a time, and most APIs are designed this way. With few limitations, applications are able to operate more than one NetworkInterface. In Mbed OS, there are two built-in IP stacks and many external IP stacks provided by modules. Please refer to the Architecture:IP networking section for an explanation of how different stacks are integrated into Mbed OS.

When you use two network interfaces and both are operating on different IP stacks, the interfaces can work independently because there is no common data path, for example an application that uses an on-board Ethernet interface and any of the external Wi-Fi modules.

When you use two network interfaces and both use the same IP stacks, there are limitations.

We have modified the LwIP routing core to support multiple active interfaces, but when more than one interface is active in LwIP, only one is the default. All the outgoing traffic flows through it.

If you need to force the traffic to only one of the interfaces, you need to use Socket::setsockopt(NSAPI_SOCKET, NSAPI_BIND_TO_DEVICE, <interface name>, <interface name length>) to bind the socket into one interface. You can fetch the interface name from the NetworkInterface::get_interface_name() call.

Another, more common, case is where only one of the interface is active at a time. In this case, there is no need for Socket::setsockopt() if another interface is brought down because there is only one route option. This works with LwIP but is not verified with Nanostack because it is used only on specific use cases, such as mesh routing.

Asynchronous operation

NetworkInterface::connect() and NetworkInterface::disconnect() are blocking by default. When an application prefers asynchronous operation, it can set the interface into nonblocking mode by calling NetworkInterface::set_blocking(false). This has to be done for each interface separately.

When an interface operates in asynchronous mode, the return values of connect() and disconnect() have slightly different meanings. Calling connect() starts the asynchronous operation, which puts the device in the GLOBAL_UP state. Calling disconnect() puts the target in the DISCONNECTED state. Return code in asynchronous mode does not reflect the connection status. The most common return codes in asynchronous mode is NSAPI_ERROR_OK, which means that operation just started. Please refer to the Doxygen documentation of NetworkInterface::connect() and NetworkInterface::disconnect() for return values of these functions.

To check whether the interface is connected, the application needs to register the status callback for the interface. Please refer to the Network status API for information on how to do so.

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