Level: Switcher / Basic to intermediate
This series of posts aims to quickly get new Mac OS X users up to speed with the various straightforward methods of sharing files, resources, and screens over a simple network with other Macs and Windows PCs.
For very temporary, quick file-sharing, a USB flash / thumb, external hard drive or SSD is ideal. This guide picks up at the point where a portable drive is not practical due to non-availability, size limitations, or where common local access or very frequent usage is required.
Beyond the basics
Outside of a typical home or small business, networking very quickly becomes highly convoluted and specific. Google is your friend, and some excellent guides exist such as CNET's very comprehensive Networking Explained, Wikipedia, Apple's Networking, and Use Ethernet to connect to a network or the Internet. More advanced network usage and scenarios are available on Tech Republic.
For advanced Mac networking a version of Mac OS X called OS X Server is available. It used to be the case that if you were asking yourself why you needed OS X Server, then you probably didn't — such was its specialty. But for the most part that has changed: Over the years the price of OS X Server has dropped from $1000 to a mere $20 and you'll even come across guides debating its use in the home. Read more about OS X Server on Tech Republic.
Setting up sharing on a Mac-to-Mac network
The most typical methods of networking are via a router (Wi-Fi or Ethernet) or plugged into a local Ethernet network at work.
Connecting via Wi-Fi may be as simple as choosing your router name in the menu bar, and entering the router key or password (sometimes the Wi-Fi password is printed on the bottom of a home router).
If you are connected to the Internet on both of the Macs that will be sharing files, then chances are they will be able to connect to each other.
✪ Don't have a router or network switch handy?
Two Macs (or a Mac and Windows PC) may also be connected directly to each other via an Ethernet cable to quickly network and share. It is also possible to create a Wi-Fi network without a router - useful since new MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs require a Thunderbolt adaptor for Ethernet.
✪ To see if you are connected to a network:
Go to the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar:
If you are using Wi-Fi there should be a check-mark ✓ next to your router name.
To see if you are connected via Ethernet, or if you'd like to see more info about your network such as your IP address, choose Open Network Preferences in the Wi-Fi menu bar item...
You should either have a green light next to Wi-Fi (aka Airport) or Ethernet; or in the case of two Macs connected via an Ethernet cable, a green or amber light with "Self-Assigned IP".
Does the other Mac also show connectivity? If so it means we have a network.
To arrive at the point where the minimum requirements for file sharing are met, at least one device must be sharing a folder. It may already be doing that. Can you see the name of your other Mac in the Finder *Sidebar? If so, then it is sharing something.
If you don't see anything in the Sidebar then the other Mac may still be on the network, but not yet sharing anything, so let's take this opportunity to look at two types of sharing access.
* Make sure SHARED is shown by hovering over the label.
Guest Sharing vs User Account Sharing
Set the type of sharing depending on the amount of access you wish to provide.
If the requirement to share some files is only very temporary, or if there is no need to see all the files and folders of the other Mac, then Guest Sharing is the best method. If connected to a guest, by default a special Public Folder is the only folder shared.
User Account Sharing
If the Mac owner doesn't mind all their files being accessible on the local network, then User Account Sharing is the method to use. This method is also particularly useful if a Mac is being used as a dedicated local server for everyone to connect to.
In a mixed BYOD work environment, device access may be customized (sharing on, guest or off) as required.
✪ Turn Guest Sharing on or off
- Click the Padlock and enter your Mac password
- Click Guest User in the Sidebar
- Check or uncheck "Allow guests to connect to shared folders"
✪ Turn file sharing on or off
- Click Show All at the top right of the System Preference pane to get back to the main System Preferences panel
- Click Sharing to switch to that panel
- Toggle File Sharing on or off by clicking the checkbox ☑
✪ Share the Public Folder
- Unless you removed it from File Sharing, your Public Folder should be shared. If not, click plus + and navigate to your home folder. Add the folder named "Public".
Decide what to show in Finder's Sidebar Preferences.
- Switch to the Finder
- Type ⌘, (command comma). Finder Preferences opens.
- Click on the Sidebar tab at the top
- Check or Uncheck Connected servers
✪ View the Network Window
You can see what's connected by typing ⌘⇧k
(cmd-shift-k) while in the Finder. This opens the Network window, and shows all devices on the network and currently sharing.✪ Connect using IP Address
In rare cases, if you can't seem to get your other Mac to show...
- Go to Network Preferences on the second Mac and take note of its IP Address
- On the first Mac, type ⌘k in the Finder
- Type in afp:// followed by the IP Address. Hit Enter.
If you have a Windows PC and know the IP Address, you can use smb:// followed by the IP Address to connect to it. This will be covered in more detail later in the series.
Once a device is visible, you can open it and connect to its shared folders. More on that subject will be covered in the next part, when we look at some usage scenarios.
Simon Barnett is a freelance tech consultant / support specialist, creative publisher, and Mac software (registered dev programme) and web developer in Cape Town, South Africa. In addition, he has had several years experience in designing and training courses in computer and software usage to beginners and professionals. He freelances as iSimon. Apples and Macs have been his primary platform since 1982.