If you have more than one Mac, perhaps one in the office and one at home, you may find yourself needing to access something you were doing on one Mac on the other. Alternatively you may need to access files and apps on your Mac via your iPad. There are a few different ways in which you can get remote access to your Mac, either from another Mac, from your iPad, iPhone, or even a Windows machine.
Another scenario is when you are called upon to help a family member or friend fix a problem with their Mac. If they live half way across the country there’s no need to pay them a visit, you can access their Mac and control it and troubleshoot the issue from your living-room.
Wondering how to access Mac remotely from Windows, iPhone or iPad? Looking for a way to remotely control another Mac? Or just want remote access your Mac from an iPad, we have the answers below.
Until relatively recently Apple offered a tool called Back to My Mac that could be used to access your Mac remotely. Back to my Mac was introduced in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard in 2007 and with it Mac users could access files and folders on their Mac in the office from a Mac at home, and vice versa. Alternatively, they could screen share - accessing the office Mac from the Mac at home and using it just as if they were sitting in front of it.
However, Apple discontinued Back to my Mac when Mojave launched in 2018.
This doesn’t mean that you can no longer access your Mac remotely. Back to my Mac has never been the only method of gaining Remote Access to your Mac. You can access screen sharing settings in System Preferences, you can use Apple Remote Desktop software, or you can just store all your files in iCloud Drive so that everything is available on any of your Apple products.
And, if you haven’t installed Mojave, you can still use Back to my Mac.
There are are also various apps for Remotely Accessing your Mac. We’ll look at the various solutions below.
How to use Cloud Drive
You can access all your files on all your devices if you store them in iCloud Drive and you can do this automatically if you agree to have your Desktop & Documents Folder stored in iCloud.
- Open System Preferences.
- Click on iCloud.
- Click on Options beside iCloud Drive. Here you’ll see a list everything you can store in iCloud. Apps such as Pages and Numbers can be set to store associated documents in iCloud for example.
- Make sure the box beside Desktop & Documents Folder is ticked (checked).
- Also, note the box at the bottom of the window that offers to Optimise Mac Storage. If you tick this box then, assuming you have adequate space, the contents of your iCloud Drive will be stored on the Mac, but as you run out of space on your Mac some older documents will only be stored in iCloud.
- Now all you need to do is make sure that everything you are working on is either saved to your Desktop, your Documents folder, or in the case of Apple apps (e.g. Pages), saved to the folder associated with that app.
With your Desktop & Documents Folder stored in iCloud everything you need should be accessible from any Mac or iOS device that you have logged on to with your Apple ID. In fact, you could log on to iCloud on any computer - including a Windows PC - and access your iCloud Drive via the web browser.
iCloud Drive is a great way to sync all your Apple devices so that you can access everything you need wherever you are. It also means you can save space on your Mac as everything can be stored in the cloud. However, there are a few disadvantages.
First up, using iCloud Drive inevitably means paying Apple. Apple gives you 5GB of storage for free, but that figure will be eaten up in seconds. So you will need to for more storage, the minimum being 79p or 99c a month. Although before you know it you’ll probably be increasing that to 200GB for £2.49/$2.99, or 2TB for £6.99/$9.99 a month (but at least you can share this figure with your family). Find out more about how much iCloud costs here.
Another issue is that we often find things can get a bit out of sync. Especially if you leave documents open on one Mac while you work on them on another Mac. We often find that we confuse iCloud with two versions of the same document. We find that we avoid working on the wrong version if we open a file from the Finder rather than using Recent Documents within an app.
You should also note that your iCloud Drive can’t be backed up. This probably isn’t a problem as Apple’s servers are unlikely to go down, but should you lose access to your Apple ID account you might end up facing a bit of a crisis if you can’t recover your files.
How to use Mac Screen Sharing
Another option is to use screen sharing. This way you can control another Mac remotely. Opening files and folders, closing files and windows, you can even use apps that are only installed on the remote Mac.
This is a particularly handy solution when you are trying to help someone fix a problem with their Mac. With Screen Sharing enabled one Mac’s screen can be viewed on another Mac with that user having control of the other Mac, which has to beat trying to explain to your dad how to change settings in System Preferences.
So, here’s how set up and use Screen Sharing.
- Start by opening up the Screen Sharing app. (Find it by pressing Command + Space and then start typing Screen Sharing).
- Enter the Apple ID of the person who’s screen you want to access in the box beside Connect To: If you have entered their details in your Contacts app then when you start typing their name it may appear in Blue text, in which case click on that contact.
- You will see a message that your computer is waiting for a response from that user while that user will see a notification that asks them if they want to share their screen.
- All they need to do is click on Accept.
- Next they can choose whether they allow you to: Control my screen or just Observe my screen. If they choose Control my screen you will then have access.
Expect there to be some lag. This probably isn’t a method you would stand for long periods of time.
You and the user who’s screen you are accessing will also be able to hear each other.
If you want a slightly less laggy way to share screen, and you are both on the same network, you can adjust your setting for Sharing in System Preferences and connect to the other screen.
- On the Mac who’s screen you want to access remotely, open System Preferences.
- Click Sharing.
- Select Screen Sharing.
- Now on the Mac you want to use to access the screen from press Command + Space and start typing Screen Sharing to open that app.
- Enter the phrase that you will find below the Computer Name section of the Sharing System Preferences page. Likely to include your Mac’s name.local.
A window will open with the other screen showing. You can close apps, move windows and more.
How to use Apple Remote Desktop
Another way to access another Mac is using Apple Remote Desktop. This lets you run apps and access files on another Mac.
Apple Remote Desktop makes it possible to install and configure apps, helping remote users and creating detailed reports, it’s ideal for education use too. It costs £74.99/$79.99, and you can download it from the Mac App Store here.
We won’t go into a lot of detail about setting up Remote Desktop as if you are just looking for a means to access your second Mac remotely then it would probably be over kill. But if you do want to learn more about using Remote Desktop Apple has a detailed guide here.
How to use Google Chrome Remote Desktop
This is another option, and it’s also free.
Chrome Remote Desktop enables you to remotely access your Mac from a Chrome web browser on any computer. You can also access it via your iPad and iPhone if you install the Chrome Remote app.
You’ll need to have a Google account. You will also need Google's Chrome web browser.
To set up Chrome Remote Desktop on your Mac follow these steps:
- Open Google Chrome.
- Find Chrome Remote Desktop on the Chrome Webstore.
- Click Add to Chrome.
- Install Chrome Remote Desktop software to your Mac.
- Now, log into the corresponding Remote app on an iPad or another Mac.
We have a more detailed guide to setting up Google Chrome Remote Desktop here.
How to use Back to my Mac
Back to my Mac was an iCloud in macOS (or Mac OS X) prior to Mojave that allowed you to access your other Macs remotely.
You can still use if if you are running a version of Mac OS X from Lion to High Sierra.
You’ll also require a router that supports Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) or NAT Port Mapping (NAT-PMP). Some ISPs enable this out of the box. Others don’t. Often the best solution is to call or email your ISP’s support people, or hit Google. (Activating UPnP or NAT-PMP isn’t vital but without it connections will be significantly slower. When screen sharing in particular this can be frustrating.)
You will need a 300 Kbps (or faster) bi-directional (up/down) Internet connection. Also, your firewall needs to allow remote connections - it’s possible your Mac at work may be protected by a Firewall, which could stop you accessing it from home.
Both Macs will need to be logged into the same iCloud account, and have Back to My Mac activated within the iCloud pane of System Preferences.
On the Mac in the home or office that you want to access remotely enable File Sharing and/or Screen Sharing in the Sharing pane of System Preferences.
You may also need to enable Wake For Network Access in the Energy Saver pane, but if you use iCloud’s Find My Mac then this will already be activated.
You’ll also need to enable file and/or screen sharing in System Preferences
Notably, there’s no need to configure any of the above on the Mac you’re using to access the remote computer. This simply needs to have Back to My Mac enabled. Upon opening Finder you’ll then find the remote computer listed under the Shared heading at the left of the window.
Selecting it will automatically connect as a guest for file sharing, but clicking the Connect As button at the top right of the Finder window will let you enter your login details to get full access (and remember you need to type the login details of the REMOTE Mac, not the one you’re currently using!).
To initiate a screen sharing session, again click the Share Screen button and enter the remote Mac’s username and password.
Back to My Mac offers a really simple way to access files and share the screen of a remote Mac
By keeping Back to My Mac enabled, the remote Mac will automatically show-up in Finder at all times. If the remote Mac is connected to an AirPort Express, or use a Time Capsule, or if there’s an Apple TV on the network, then it can go into sleep mode and will be woken on demand when you connect. If none of the above hardware is present the remote Mac should be left always running. An app like Caffeine, activated before you leave the office/home, will stop the Mac entering sleep mode.
To set up Back To My Mac, follow these instructions (pre Mojave)
- Open System Preferences
- Choose iCloud
- Sign in if required
- Choose Back to My Mac
- Go through the set up options if required
To access your Mac remotely from an other Mac using Back to my Mac:
- Open the Finder.
- Click on Finder > Preferences.
- Click the Sidebar option.
- In the shared section select Back to My Mac.
- Now when you open the Finder you should see shared computers in the sidebar.
- Select the computer you want to connect to and click Connect As.
- Alternatively select the Mac and choose Share Screen.
Other options for Remote Access and Screen Sharing
There are some other options you could try. We've included a few legacy methods that may or may not work for you depending on your operating system.
Third party apps
This is a virtual network computing (VNC) solution available for macOS and iOS developed by Edovia. It will let you control any computer from anywhere in the world as if you were sitting in front of it, according to the developer. It costs $35.99 for Mac and $19.99/£19.99 for iOS. There is a free trial.
More info here.
This remote desktop software allows real-time support and access to files, networks and programs. Prices start at £31.90 a month.
More info here.
The no software method
Software-based options aren't really of use if the Mac in question refuses to start or is having hardware-related issues.
If you are attempting ot solve a relative's Mac problems then you could suggest that they grab their iPhone or iPad, assuming they have one and FaceTime you. Then all they need to do is switch to the rear camera and hold it up to the screen while you guide them what to do.
Remote access a Mac using port forwarding
If you’re technically inclined you can ignore Back to My Mac in order to create a DIY solution. The key benefit is that Windows and Linux computers can remotely access the Mac too.
The file and screen sharing technologies used by Yosemite (SMB3 and VNC) and are secure enough for use across the Internet, although you should ensure your username and password are non-obvious.
All you need do is enable port forwarding to the Mac for incoming SMB and VNC services on your Internet router. How this is done varies depending on the router and again you may need to Google. Some routers are compatible with dynamic DNS services, which means you can use the same hostname without worrying about a changing IP address.
Once port forwarding is setup, to open a file sharing connection to the remote Mac from a Windows computer, open the Start menu and in the Search field type two backslashes, followed by the Internet address or dynamic DNS hostname of the router (e.g. \\keirmac.dyndns.com). With a Linux desktop environment, choose to connect to a server and enter smb:// followed by the address (e.g. smb://keirmac.dyndns.com). For screen sharing, use a VNC client on Windows or Linux and simply type the address when prompted.
Enable SSH to connect to a Mac command line
Macs come with Secure Shell (SSH) built-in to enable you to connect remotely to the command-line. Enabling SSH is as simple as putting a tick alongside Remote Login within the Sharing pane of System Preferences on the home or office Mac. Again, to access the remote Mac across the Internet you’ll need to enable SSH port forwarding on the router.
To connect, open a Terminal window (it’s in the Utilities folder within Applications in Finder), then type ssh followed by the username for the remote Mac, followed by @ and then the address. An example might be ssh [email protected] When connecting for the first time you’ll be prompted to accept the remote Mac’s key file, and then prompted to enter the remote Mac’s password.
To logout, tap Ctrl+D and then close the Terminal window. The above instructions work on Linux computers too, while on a Windows computer you can connect via PuTTY.
Activating Remote Login also switches-on Secure File Transfer (SFTP), which provides another method of remotely accessing files that virtually any computer can use. Unfortunately, while Macs can share files via SFTP, you can’t use Finder to connect to an SFTP file share. Instead you must use a client app like Filezilla, for which there’s also a version for Windows and Linux. From a Mac or Linux command-line you can also use the sftp command (e.g. sftp [email protected]).
Also worth investigating is SSH tunnelling. This is outside the boundaries of this guide but Googling will reveal instructions. SSH Tunnel Manager makes setup easy on the remote Mac.