How to see your Mac's documents across your network on your iPad with the Files app

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in General Discussion
Right from within the Files app on your iPhone or iPad, you can look up any folder or document on your Mac and read it. With one tap you can dig through your Mac as if it were on your iOS device, and we'll show you how to do it.




Maybe you have a headless Mac, or maybe it's just that your iMac is in the den and want to get a file from it in your kitchen. Using the Files app on iPhone or iPad, you can browse the complete contents of your Mac wherever you are on your Wi-Fi network -- and there are three different ways to do it.

You could use iCloud Drive or Dropbox, but those will cost you money on a regular basis unless you happen to have very few files on your Mac that you want access to. You could use a WebDAV server but that takes some setting up, and can be a little finicky.

The simplest and most seamless way to do it, is to get the $5.99 FileBrowser app. It isn't limited and it isn't complicated, it's just right.

But first

If you do already have iCloud or Dropbox, you might as well use them more -- except that they cost money for this. This isn't a case of just using the free versions as you are somewhat likely to have more than iCloud's 5GB and Dropbox's 2GB of documents on your Mac.

In either case, you would have to pay for more space and that can be costly, but it can also be convenient. Apple's iCloud Drive is a monthly subscription which costs from $0.99 for 50GB of space to $9.99 for 2TB. You sign up for one of these non-free tiers via System Preferences, iCloud on your Mac or iPhone. Dropbox offers 1TB from $9.99.

If you choose to pay this money to Apple, then you can tell your Mac to save everything to iCloud that's in either your Documents folder or on the Desktop. In that case, you're done - the Files app on your iOS device will just automatically see all the files in your Documents and Desktop.

With Dropbox, you have to have a specific folder that Dropbox will sync. Usually that's just called Dropbox but if you have enough storage, you can tell it to make it your Documents folder.

When you use Dropbox for this, you have to positively tell the Files app that you are. That means opening Files and setting it up. When you open Files, it shows you whatever you were last looking at so you typically have to tap the Browse button. That brings you to the Browse screen which has a Locations heading and also an Edit button.

Tap Edit and Files will show you a list of every possible location you can store documents in. It will include iCloud, local copies on your phone or apps such as DEVONthink. Each possibility will have an on/off toggle next to it. If you have Dropbox installed on your phone, tap the entry here to On and you'll step through authenticating your account.

After that, Files will always have Dropbox on its list and you can go to it as easily as you do iCloud.

Not enough

Only, Dropbox can only show you the contents of one folder. You have to organize your Mac to have everything you want in there. Similarly, iCloud will only show you the contents of, effectively, two folders. If it isn't in Documents or on your Desktop, iCloud won't show it to you in Files.

Whereas, FileBrowser will.

Connect to your Mac in the FileBrowser app on iOS
Connect to your Mac in the FileBrowser app on iOS


Install the FileBrowser app on your iPhone or iPad, and while it's downloading, prepare your Mac. Macs can share your files anywhere but they default to not doing anything of the sort. Go to System Preferences, Sharing and click to switch on File Sharing. It'll default to one folder to share, but you can select others, using the plus button underneath the Shared Folders section.

Then in FileBrowser on your iOS device, tap the Locations button and then the plus sign. It'll walk you through connecting to your Mac. So long as your iOS device and the Mac are on the same Wi-Fi network, you'll just need your Mac's username and password.

Thereafter, every time you open the FileBrowser app, you'll see your Mac's name listed under the Locations tab. Tap on it and you will have full access to every folder and file on your Mac.

Not quite good enough

That's fine if you remember to always use the FileBrowser app when you want to get something from your Mac. However, it's much handier that FileBrowser integrates with the Files app on your iOS device.

Then you can connect to your Mac via the regular iOS Files app too
Then you can connect to your Mac via the regular iOS Files app too


Just open Files, tap on Browse to get to its own Locations section. Tap Edit and now you'll find that FileBrowser is in the list of possible locations. Swipe to switch it on and then tap Edit.

That's it. From now on, you can open Files and go straight to the complete contents of your Mac.

Leaving the house

Once you've set up FileBrowser to be part of Files like this, you forget about it. You just know that everything you could ever need is right there in the Files app on your iPhone. That is, until you leave home or wherever your Mac is and you go to use Files again.

If you want to see these files across the Internet, the makers recommend that you create a free account on a service called ZeroTier. It's claimed to be a high-security VPN kind of network that securely lets you connect devices together.

When you create a network on ZeroTier, you install apps on your Mac and iPhone, then you add those devices to that network. You let them each connect to this same ZeroTier network, and the result is that you can open FileBrowser or Files and access all your Mac's folders and documents from anywhere in the world.

It just gets fiddly. FileBrowser's online instructions are very good, though the illustrative screenshots are seemingly a little out of date. Then ZeroTier's process is clear enough too. If that all works, this is a great solution.

If it doesn't, though, you end up getting really into the weeds. We consistently hit a Port Error problem which many other users have found, especially after recently upgrading macOS. Unfortunately, none of the many solutions those users have worked for us.

That said

We're only out a whole six bucks on this. And if we haven't yet got Files access to our Mac from anywhere, we have it on our office Wi-Fi network allowing us to pull files to the iPad on demand, rather than pushing them to the iPad from the Mac, and that is proving to be plenty useful.

Right now if we just want to get a file or read something on the Mac and we're not in front of it, we'll use FileBrowser. If we want to do something more, we'll use Screens to remote control the Mac.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,617member
    I am impressed you found some work around for this, even though it has hairs on it and is limited.

    it does point out my absolute biggest frustration with iOS on my iPad Pro: inability to access file systems at work.  Inability to access the MS Server network is its biggest limitation. My current work around is Citrix and then launch an MS office application or the program manager. It is horrible to use with a touch interface of course. Terribly laggy and to be avoided.  It’s just easier to carry a laptop as well.
  • Reply 2 of 22
    fumifumi Posts: 12member
    Does your Mac need to be awake for this to work and can it access files over cellular networks rather than just wifi?

    Kind Regards
  • Reply 3 of 22
    ...indeed the seemingly simplest thing - moving files back and forth from mac to iDevice (such as pdf) - has seemingly been crippled after iTunes 12.6.x... And so why does Apple make things more difficult for customers...? If Apple purports to be an advocate of user privacy why do all roads seem to lead to iCloud on their servers, or others...? Even the USB lightening adapter seems 'broken' suggesting 'too much power' for almost all my USB 2/3/3.1 thumb drives: https://www.apple.com/shop/reviews/MD821AM/A/lightning-to-usb-camera-adapter?page=0&rf=1
    edited February 25
  • Reply 4 of 22
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,617member
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
  • Reply 5 of 22
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,208member
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    What about other file services? From Apple's support page, "The Files app lets you add your third-party cloud services—like Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, Adobe Creative Cloud, Google Drive, and more." iCloud is integrated by default, but the other services will work.

    My biggest complaint with files on the iPad is that iOS doesn't seem to have any permanent local storage space on the iPad. even if you download a file to the device, iOS will delete it whenever it deems appropriate. This has left me high and dry on more than one occasion and basically eliminated the iPad from consideration as a laptop 
    replacement. 
  • Reply 6 of 22
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,617member
    Yes. Ironically, I have access to Dropbox and one drive if I have office 365 running.  The difference is of course the perennial hate IT departments traditionally have for all things not MS, and operatives really hate those cool dudes who are Apple users, know how to talk to girls and get the hot chick in accounts.

    Back on topic though, access to a seperate cloud service is not the desired outcome here. If you are accessing a wide range of files in a wide range of directories on a secure corporate server, you want to keep them there. And be able to access them in a secure way remotely.  I can do this on my laptop. It’s torture on the iPad.
    edited February 25 jony0
  • Reply 7 of 22
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,114member
    Bu-bu-but iOS doesn’t have a real file system!  Surely that’s why the iPad will never beat a ‘real’ PC - that’s what I heard from the haters on this blog so it must be true.  How can you be doing this?

    Thanks William, looking forward to a follow-up piece on adding peripherals as drives and replacing simplistic folder management with structured tagging (a revelation for me).
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 22
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,114member
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    It appears your IT Dept are anti-user especially if they allow other services.  Get rid of them, they’re a threat to your business.

    entropys said:
    I am impressed you found some work around for this, even though it has hairs on it and is limited.

    it does point out my absolute biggest frustration with iOS on my iPad Pro: inability to access file systems at work.  Inability to access the MS Server network is its biggest limitation. My current work around is Citrix and then launch an MS office application or the program manager. It is horrible to use with a touch interface of course. Terribly laggy and to be avoided.  It’s just easier to carry a laptop as well.
    I never understood why Apple support WebDAV &not  SMB but I guess that requires extra steps for remote access.

    We’re on SharePoint365/OneDrive so no problem just open the document directly in the app. Network file systems should stay back on the 80s where they belong.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 22
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,114member

    MplsP said:
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    My biggest complaint with files on the iPad is that iOS doesn't seem to have any permanent local storage space on the iPad. even if you download a file to the device, iOS will delete it whenever it deems appropriate. This has left me high and dry on more than one occasion and basically eliminated the iPad from consideration as a laptop replacement. 
    I occasionally save to “On my iPad” (if I don’t want data to be backed up, accessible across my devices or to share with others) but I’ve never noticed anything deleted without my instruction. Elsewhere it’s been offloaded to iCloud but not from the device.

    My main critique is lack of whole folder localisation and collaboration/sharing with contact groups.
  • Reply 10 of 22
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,208member
    mcdave said:

    MplsP said:
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    My biggest complaint with files on the iPad is that iOS doesn't seem to have any permanent local storage space on the iPad. even if you download a file to the device, iOS will delete it whenever it deems appropriate. This has left me high and dry on more than one occasion and basically eliminated the iPad from consideration as a laptop replacement. 
    I occasionally save to “On my iPad” (if I don’t want data to be backed up, accessible across my devices or to share with others) but I’ve never noticed anything deleted without my instruction. Elsewhere it’s been offloaded to iCloud but not from the device.

    My main critique is lack of whole folder localisation and collaboration/sharing with contact groups.
    The worst time for me was about a year ago I was flying somewhere and specifically made sure I had downloaded all the files I wanted to work on before boarding the plane. After takeoff I opened up my iPad to work on said files only to find that they were gone. My iPad has 512GB of memory; there was no shortage of memory that necessitated dumping the files. Beyond that, having to plan ahead to make sure the files you want are loaded into a specific folder so they don't get deleted is an incredibly miserable way to have to use an OS.  
    entropysapres587
  • Reply 11 of 22
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,617member
    mcdave said:
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    It appears your IT Dept are anti-user especially if they allow other services.  Get rid of them, they’re a threat to your business.

    entropys said:
    I am impressed you found some work around for this, even though it has hairs on it and is limited.

    it does point out my absolute biggest frustration with iOS on my iPad Pro: inability to access file systems at work.  Inability to access the MS Server network is its biggest limitation. My current work around is Citrix and then launch an MS office application or the program manager. It is horrible to use with a touch interface of course. Terribly laggy and to be avoided.  It’s just easier to carry a laptop as well.
    I never understood why Apple support WebDAV &not  SMB but I guess that requires extra steps for remote access.

    We’re on SharePoint365/OneDrive so no problem just open the document directly in the app. Network file systems should stay back on the 80s where they belong.
    Not at my workplace.  That will not happen. If anything, it will move to a more rigid file management tracking system. 
  • Reply 12 of 22
    I maybe somewhat naive...but I given up on third-party apps. I just don't trust them.

    I've gone all in with iCloud (50 gigs) and dropped dropbox. Similarly, I dropped DashLane/OnePassword and am all in with KeyChain (very un-Apple-like interface, BTW).

    I only use Apple Notes, Calendar, Mail, Podcasts, Safari, Messages, Pages, Maps, Preview, Photos, Contacts and iTunes.

    Oh and DuckDuckGo. No Google, Facebook, twitter or Amazon.

    Best.
    mcdavebloggerblogwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 22
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,988member
    entropys said:
    mcdave said:
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    It appears your IT Dept are anti-user especially if they allow other services.  Get rid of them, they’re a threat to your business.

    entropys said:
    I am impressed you found some work around for this, even though it has hairs on it and is limited.

    it does point out my absolute biggest frustration with iOS on my iPad Pro: inability to access file systems at work.  Inability to access the MS Server network is its biggest limitation. My current work around is Citrix and then launch an MS office application or the program manager. It is horrible to use with a touch interface of course. Terribly laggy and to be avoided.  It’s just easier to carry a laptop as well.
    I never understood why Apple support WebDAV &not  SMB but I guess that requires extra steps for remote access.

    We’re on SharePoint365/OneDrive so no problem just open the document directly in the app. Network file systems should stay back on the 80s where they belong.
    Not at my workplace.  That will not happen. If anything, it will move to a more rigid file management tracking system. 
    Why are people blaming Apple something they have absolutely no control over? Not allowing access to information systems and data repositories that are not managed by, either directly or indirectly, corporate IT information security controls and policies is your employer’s decision. I hate to remind you that your personal inconvenience doesn’t matter one little bit. Companies often have very strict legal requirements around data retention (e.g., Title 21 CFR Part 11 in some regulated industries) and information security. If you are allowed to commingle your personal information and data with your employer’s information and data on a personal or corporate owned device you and/or your employer are already walking on very thin ice and proceeding at great risk. 
    edited February 26 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 22
    Any idea how secure this is? It has access to the Mac file system. Does it "phone home"?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 22
    I know it's not a facebook app, but nowadays I'm not sure it's the best design choice to brand your app icon with a huge "FB"... I absolutely know what the facebook icon looks like but it still made me pause for a moment.  Not the best thing when you're asking for access to my entire file system to create vague associations with the biggest criminal on the block. lol
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 22
    I know it's not a facebook app, but nowadays I'm not sure it's the best design choice to brand your app icon with a huge "FB"... I absolutely know what the facebook icon looks like but it still made me pause for a moment.  Not the best thing when you're asking for access to my entire file system to create vague associations with the biggest criminal on the block. lol
    That's exactly what I thought but along the lines of 'pretty brave having FB as your logo'.  Maybe Facebook will get a court order for them to change the logo that in actual fact will be doing FileBrowser a favor.
    leighc-sfowatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 22
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,617member
    dewme said:
    entropys said:
    mcdave said:
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    It appears your IT Dept are anti-user especially if they allow other services.  Get rid of them, they’re a threat to your business.

    entropys said:
    I am impressed you found some work around for this, even though it has hairs on it and is limited.

    it does point out my absolute biggest frustration with iOS on my iPad Pro: inability to access file systems at work.  Inability to access the MS Server network is its biggest limitation. My current work around is Citrix and then launch an MS office application or the program manager. It is horrible to use with a touch interface of course. Terribly laggy and to be avoided.  It’s just easier to carry a laptop as well.
    I never understood why Apple support WebDAV &not  SMB but I guess that requires extra steps for remote access.

    We’re on SharePoint365/OneDrive so no problem just open the document directly in the app. Network file systems should stay back on the 80s where they belong.
    Not at my workplace.  That will not happen. If anything, it will move to a more rigid file management tracking system. 
    Why are people blaming Apple something they have absolutely no control over? Not allowing access to information systems and data repositories that are not managed by, either directly or indirectly, corporate IT information security controls and policies is your employer’s decision. I hate to remind you that your personal inconvenience doesn’t matter one little bit. Companies often have very strict legal requirements around data retention (e.g., Title 21 CFR Part 11 in some regulated industries) and information security. If you are allowed to commingle your personal information and data with your employer’s information and data on a personal or corporate owned device you and/or your employer are already walking on very thin ice and proceeding at great risk. 
    Yes that is the point. Corporate IT systems that take their file data seriously will not let you put them on third party cloud services. I can securely access internal directories on a laptop remotely. I can’t do it on a iPad except through Citrix. Enabling an ipad’s files app to read ms servers The same way a laptop does with decent security settings would allow this too.
    edited February 26
  • Reply 18 of 22
    fumi said:
    Does your Mac need to be awake for this to work and can it access files over cellular networks rather than just wifi?

    Kind Regards
    I use filebrowser to access my home shares when I'm using cellular.  I've got it set up to use sftp for access to my machine (I also use a non standard port for this as well for security but filesbrowser supports this.).  This allows be to download videos remotely and add the to VLC for local playing without having to set anything else up:

    Once its installed, I can use it to look at folders/directories on my home machine,look for a video I want to play; select the 'export' option from the buttons and allow it to download.
    When downloaded, up pops the 'Where to save' option, and I save to a the local 'VLC' folder and it then appears in VLC. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 22
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,339administrator
    Any idea how secure this is? It has access to the Mac file system. Does it "phone home"?
    The FileBrowser app has access to a SMB share, and not the Mac file system directly. It will only see what you allow it to see, based on the files you share in that SMB share. It does not appear to phone home.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 22
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,114member
    entropys said:
    dewme said:
    entropys said:
    mcdave said:
    entropys said:
    It is certainly getting to the point that apples moves in file management are anti user. Work will not allow access to iCloud. Full stop.
    Apple is just lucky surface pros aren’t a full competitor in the tablet space.
    It appears your IT Dept are anti-user especially if they allow other services.  Get rid of them, they’re a threat to your business.

    entropys said:
    I am impressed you found some work around for this, even though it has hairs on it and is limited.

    it does point out my absolute biggest frustration with iOS on my iPad Pro: inability to access file systems at work.  Inability to access the MS Server network is its biggest limitation. My current work around is Citrix and then launch an MS office application or the program manager. It is horrible to use with a touch interface of course. Terribly laggy and to be avoided.  It’s just easier to carry a laptop as well.
    I never understood why Apple support WebDAV &not  SMB but I guess that requires extra steps for remote access.

    We’re on SharePoint365/OneDrive so no problem just open the document directly in the app. Network file systems should stay back on the 80s where they belong.
    Not at my workplace.  That will not happen. If anything, it will move to a more rigid file management tracking system. 
    Why are people blaming Apple something they have absolutely no control over? Not allowing access to information systems and data repositories that are not managed by, either directly or indirectly, corporate IT information security controls and policies is your employer’s decision. I hate to remind you that your personal inconvenience doesn’t matter one little bit. Companies often have very strict legal requirements around data retention (e.g., Title 21 CFR Part 11 in some regulated industries) and information security. If you are allowed to commingle your personal information and data with your employer’s information and data on a personal or corporate owned device you and/or your employer are already walking on very thin ice and proceeding at great risk. 
    Yes that is the point. Corporate IT systems that take their file data seriously will not let you put them on third party cloud services. I can securely access internal directories on a laptop remotely. I can’t do it on a iPad except through Citrix. Enabling an ipad’s files app to read ms servers The same way a laptop does with decent security settings would allow this too.
    You mentioned you use O365/OneDrive before, no SharePoint integration? Ours works well.  Maybe nominate your data for better off-premise device access I’m sure there are some Surface users who would benefit too.
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