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Rate adaptation is the determination of the optimal data transmission rate most appropriate for current wireless channel conditions. It consists of assessing channel conditions and accordingly adjusting the rate. Rate adaptation is fairly challenging due to wild channel conditions fluctuations. In the last decade, rate adaptation for IEEE 802.11 networks has been extensively investigated. This paper presents a comprehensive and detailed study of the advances of rate adaptation schemes proposed for IEEE 802.11 networks, and summarizes their characteristics. We also categorize these rate adaptation schemes based on their support of loss differentiation and their methods to sense the channel conditions. Then, this paper compares the performance of three representative schemes through simulations. Finally, open issues for rate adaptation are raised.