Forcing a Public WiFi Login Page to Load

WiFi (and internet access) is so endemic that we often think of it as an essential utility rather than a useful add-on and it’s got to such a point that just about every restaurant offers some kind of service. Whilst inherently less secure that private WiFi, they can be great to jump on to in order to download some Netflix shows or update some apps. The default action once you’ve connected to a service is to load a default login page in order register and verify your credentials. However problems arise when the default page doesn’t load. This has happened to me for three reasons:

  • Puffin Browser: it’s a great mobile browser that is fast because it saves data. It does this by pre-loading the page at a server then sending you compressed versions. By default, this means that the Puffin server is trying to access the login page, but obviously can’t because it’s not on the network! The solution is to use a “normal” browser such as Chrome, Brave, or Firefox.

  • Alternate DNS: if you’ve changed your DNS to try to speed things up and have a little more security then this might be the cause of your problem. The login page will be unique to the WiFi network, so asking OpenDNS or GoogleDNS to do a DNS lookup will fail. The solution is to remove this setting and then use the DNS provided by the WiFi, which will allow your browser to load the login page.

  • Browser Cache: if you’ve visited a website before then it’s possible the DNS lookup will have been cached. You try to go to the site again, it bypasses the login page and then can’t load the remote site. The solution is to avoid using cached data and then force a new page to load. The simplest solution to the first part is to start a new incognito page which is sand-boxed and can’t access an cache information. Loading a new page ideally requires an http connection (not https as this won’t allow redirection to a login page for security reasons). These are much rarer than you might expect, however ICAAN’s is a great option.

The third one crops up more often than you might expect, so it’s good to have this fix in the bag!

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