If you've got 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.
Another scenario is when you're called upon to help a family member or friend fix a problem with their Mac. If they live halfway across the country there's no need to pay them a visit: you can access their computer remotely, control it and troubleshoot the issue from your living room.
There are a few different ways in which you can get remote access, either from another Mac, from your iPad, iPhone, or even a Windows PC.
Apple historically had a program that handled remote access, called Back to my Mac, but this was discontinued when Mojave launched in 2018. That being said, if you're running a system that hasn't moved up to Mojave or its successors yet, then you'll still be able to use the software.
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're trying to help someone fix a problem with their Mac. With Screen Sharing enabled one Mac's screen can be viewed by the other, with the remote user having control. This has to beat trying to explain to your dad how to change settings in System Preferences.
So, here's how to 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 whose screen you want to access remotely, open System Preferences.
- Click Sharing.
- Select Screen Sharing.
- Now on the Mac you want 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 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 (such as 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).
Another issue is that it's possible for things to get a bit out of sync, especially if you leave documents open on one Mac while you work on them on another. This can mean 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 Remote Login
Another feature built into macOS is the setting for Remote Login. When enabled this allows users to access your Mac via SSH and SFTP. If you're not sure what those things are, then you'll probably want to leave this method well alone.
To enable the feature go to System Preferences > Sharing and tick the box for Remote Login that you'll find in the Service box on the left hand of the screen. Under the Remote Login pane to the right of the box you'll see a message appear under the now green button, which gives you the address your remote friend requires to access your device.
Now, on the remote computer your colleague needs to open a Terminal window and enter the SSH command followed by the details you've given them. This should create the connection.
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 in a separate article.
Use your iPad as a second screen with Sidecar
If you need to remotely access your Mac from only a very short distance away (say less than 10 feet) then the new Sidecar feature in macOS Catalina will allow your iPad to become an extra display or control surface.
It's easy to set up and you can find out all you need to know in How to use your iPad as a second screen on Mac.
How to use Apple Remote Desktop
Another way to access another Mac is using Apple Remote Desktop, although this app is mainly aimed at enterprise clients as it allows the management of multiple computers.
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.
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 overkill. But if you do want to learn more about using Remote Desktop, Apple has a detailed guide.
Back to my Mac was an app 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
Screens 4 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.
This remote desktop software allows real-time support and access to files, networks and programs. Prices start at £31.90 a month.
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're attempting to 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.