Family Sharing, a feature for Apple users that was introduced in 2014 alongside iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite, allows you to share apps, music, movies, books and more with all members of your family.

In this article we show how to set up Family Sharing on all your Apple devices. (Our Complete guide to Family Sharing has everything you need to know about using the feature once you're set up.) We'll be working in iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, but the procedure is largely the same for other compatible OS platforms.

Benefits of Family Sharing

Once you've set up Family Sharing, you no longer have to buy items individually. When one person in the family buys an app, book or content from the iTunes Store, it's immediately available to all other members of the family to download for free.

(Usually. App developers and content makers need to activate Family Sharing for their digital media. If they don't, you won't be able to share it. But in our experience, most do.)

The family unit can contain up to six people, and you all pay on the same credit card, so the system is ideal for families that want to combine their purchases.

Another advantage is that you can set limits for younger family members, so when a child asks to buy an app (or other item from the iTunes or App Store) an alert appears on an adult's phone. If you have this option activated, the youngster won't be able to make the purchase until and unless the family administrator agrees to it.

There are other benefits to turning on Family Sharing. It integrates with other Apple services, such as iCloud and Find My Friends. With Family Sharing set up you get a group calendar and reminders lists for your family, so you can organise events together.

Find My Friends can be used to share the location of your family members, making it easier than ever to meet up. And you can all contribute to a shared family photo album, with the photos appearing up to date on everybody's device. Read next: How to use System Preferences on Mac

How to set up Family Sharing on an iPad or iPhone

The easiest way to set up Family Sharing is on an iPad or iPhone. (But you can set up on a Mac - we look at this later in the article.)

Open the Settings app. At the top you'll see your name and picture, if you've uploaded one. Tap this to see your Apple ID settings. Now tap on 'Set Up Family Sharing...' (If you've already got the service set up this will just say Family Sharing.)

How to set up Family Sharing on iPhone

You'll now see a series of windows that you can breeze through pretty quickly, but if you're interested, they briefly describe the features you'll be able to use with Family Sharing, and contain a few warnings about what exactly you're letting yourself in for - the things you'll be paying for, primarily. Tap Get Started on the first screen, and then Continue on the second and third ones.

How to set up Family Sharing on iPhone

How to set up Family Sharing on iPhone

How to set up Family Sharing on iPhone

The fourth screen, with the title 'Payment method', is very important. This shows the final four digits of the credit/debit card associated with the Apple ID you're using.

This is the card that will be debited whenever someone who's part of the family group buys an app, a song, a film or another piece of digital content from Apple. Make sure it's the right one before tapping Continue a third time.

How to set up Family Sharing on iPhone: Payment Method

As well as sharing apps and other digital content, Family Sharing allows you to share location data with your family. On the next screen you decide whether your own location data will be shared with other family members; when they each accept your invitation to join the family, they will in turn choose whether to share their location data. (At this point you may wish to give firm instructions as to which option they should choose!)

Select Share Location or Not Now.

How to set up Family Sharing on iPhone: Share location

And that's it: your family unit is set up. But for the time being it's a family of one. Now you need to add further family members.

Add family members on iOS

From the Apple ID screen in Settings, tap Family Sharing (the option that was Set Up Family Sharing before), then Add Family Member. You can then add type in the email address of your family member. If they're in your contacts list, just start typing their name and tap the right person when they are auto-suggested.

Tap Next.

How to set up Family Sharing: Add family members

You'll need to verify that you are indeed the organiser of the group by entering the security code for the group's credit card.

How to set up Family Sharing: Add family members

The 'Ask to Buy' screen allows you to stipulate whether the family member will need to get permission from you whenever they buy an app or piece of digital content. For the kids permission will probably be appropriate; for your spouse, less so.

Tap Next.

How to set up Family Sharing: Add family members

Now decide how you wish to bring the family member into the fold - either sending an invitation or creating a password that they can enter right away. (Our experience suggests that the invitation only takes about 20 seconds to arrive, so is a convenient option too, but if you're away from internet access it might not be suitable.)

How to set up Family Sharing: Add family members

And that's pretty much it. The family member gets their invitation (or enters their password), accepts (or declines), then simply selects whether to share location data. And you're ready to go with Family Sharing.

How to set up Family Sharing on an iPad or iPhone

How to set up Family Sharing on a Mac

You can also set up Family Sharing via a Mac - again, it's pretty simple, but the only complication is that the Mac needs to be running Yosemite or later. Here's how to set up Family Sharing for all the members of your family on a Mac, as performed on macOS Sierra (but it's pretty much the same on earlier versions).

  1. Open System Preferences > iCloud. Tap Sign In and enter your Apple ID and Password.
  2. Click on Set Up Family.
  3. Click on Continue and Continue again.
  4. A window will show the account that you will use to share purchases from. Double-check that it is your main Apple ID account, and click Continue.
  5. The Purchases Initiated By Your Family window will show which card is being used for payments. Click Continue.
  6. Click the tick box next to 'I Agree To The iTunes Store terms and conditions' and click Agree.
  7. If you want to use Find My Friends to locate your family, tick the Share Your Location option and Continue (otherwise click Not Now and Continue).

Family Sharing is now set up on your Mac. The next step is to add members to it.

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Add family members on macOS

Now that you've set up Family Sharing on your Mac, it's time to add a family member. Here's how to add people to your family:

  1. Open System Preferences > iCloud and click on Manage Family.
  2. Click the plus sign at the bottom left to add a new member of the family.
  3. Enter the email address for the family member and click Continue. (Alternatively, you can just type in their name, if they're in your contacts, and select the correct person when suggested. Or even their Game Center nickname.)
  4. Decide if the new member will require approval to make purchases.
  5. Confirm you are the family organiser by entering the three-digit CVV security code from the payment card associated with your account. Click Continue.
  6. Decide how the new member will be invited - either via an emailed invitation or by entering a password right now.
  7. Enter your Apple ID password and click Continue.

Who pays for content in Family Sharing?

It's important to note that the person who sets up Family Sharing is the Organiser. This is the person in charge, and they pay for all purchases. So if you set up Family Sharing for your partner and family members, your card is charged for all purchases.

There is also no way for other family members to pay for Family Sharing content. Only the person who originally set up the group can pay (or the card they entered - which could be for a joint account). Other family members can leave Family Sharing if they want to pay for an app, or music, but they can only do so twice a year. So make sure you are happy to be paying for all content in Family Sharing when you set it up.

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The Family Sharing Organizer window