Level: Basic to intermediate
In this post we will look at three general scenarios and the best associated method for sharing files between Macs over a local network: AirDrop, Guest, and User Account sharing. You may want to review or refer to my last post, “Mac sharing Part 1: How to get connected.”


For users of MacOS X 10.7 (Lion) and later a quick option to replace the ubiquitous USB stick / flash / thumb / external hard drive has been provided. AirDrop is a Wi-Fi ad-hoc service, which means that as long as Wi-Fi is turned on for the Macs doing the sharing, you can share files without setting up a network or file-sharing at all. The limitation is that AirDrop is an attended service: it requires that its window be open and a user be present to click the Save button on the other side.

  1. Open the AirDrop window (⌘⇧R) on the receiving Mac. Do the same or look for the send button in an App’s window on the sending Mac.
  2. Drop a file onto the receiving Mac’s circular icon in the window and click Send.
  3. The user on the receiving Mac may choose to Decline, Save or Save and Open the item. It will land in their Downloads folder.

✪ Enable AirDrop on “unsupported” hardware

AirDrop only works “out-of-the-box” on certain newer Macs, but there is a work-around to enable it on older Macs running Lion or later and even over Ethernet. First check to see if AirDrop is enabled. Is AirDrop in the Go menu in the Finder? Yes? AirDrop is enabled.

  1. No? Highlight and copy (⌘C) the following text:
    defaults write com.apple.NetworkBrowser BrowseAllInterfaces 1
  2. Type ⌘-spacebar (Spotlight menu) and start typing Terminal. Hit Enter to launch it.
  3. Paste (⌘V) in the text you copied and hit Enter. Quit (⌘Q) Terminal.
  4. Log out by typing ⌘⇧Q (cmd-shift-Q) and then log in again.

Done ✓ AirDrop is now enabled on your Mac.

Unattended: Guest and User account folder sharing

As with a USB flash drive, AirDrop requires physical attendance at the target Mac. To share files with an unattended Mac, folder sharing is required. Having networked the Macs, set them up for sharing, and decided on what type of access we wanted to grant in the last post, let’s look at how folders can be accessed.

Guest sharing

If you don’t know the password of the other Mac it may be possible to connect and share as a Guest. This scenario is best for sharing files between BYOD and individual / personal workstation Macs in an office. Files are shared in a very selective and private manner between specific default Public or custom-designated folders.

✪ View the other Mac’s Public Folder

Access the other Mac from the sidebar, Network window (⌘⇧k) or Mac root (for already-mounted volumes) and open their Public Folder (if it is shared).

You can only see and copy items from the other user’s Public Folder. You can drop, but not see, items in their Drop Box* folder. Use their Drop Box folder for files you only want to share with that particular user. Drag and drop items into it.

* Not to be confused with the Dropbox.com cloud service

✪ View your own Public Folder

On your side, your own Public Folder is found within your User, aka, Home folder (⌘⇧h in the Finder). Use it to share files publicly with anyone.

Within your Public Folder is your Drop Box folder where you can retrieve files that have been specifically shared with you by another user.

User Account sharing

User Account Sharing gives you full access to folders on another Mac and can be tweaked to be more selective via the Sharing and Users & Groups System Preferences panel. If you own both Macs you can use your Apple ID to share files. You can also use your login credentials, or if another user has provided you with their login credentials you can use those to gain full access to their Mac, provided sharing is set up.

User Account Sharing is useful for turning a Mac into a dedicated or workstation server; or for collaborative projects requiring common access to folders. In the case of the latter, you may want to consider cloud sharing services such as DropBox, Google Drive, and SugarSync for their specific application of invitation-only, remotely-shared, dedicated folders.

✪ Connect using credentials

  1. Locate the other Mac via Sidebar or ⌘⇧k and select it. Click “Connect As…” in the other Mac’s window.
  2. Enter the full username or short name (the name on the User aka Home folder) and the password for the other Mac. If you will be connecting again in the future, click “Remember this password..”
  3. You can access all the files, including most system files by opening the root drive folder, though you will probably only want to access the User folder (note that if you access both, they will be mounted as separate network volumes with the user folder only accessible through its own network volume).

You now have open access to the other Mac.

We’ll wrap up this post with two very handy tips.

✪ Use Column View

The first tip is to use Column View (⌘3) in the Finder to get an overview of and browse shared devices on the network. Column view is excellent way to tunnel-down into a network while helping to clear up possible confusion about whose folders you are currently viewing.

✪ Collaborative ProjectFolder Shortcut

The second tip may be regarded as an important time-saving technique: create shortcuts to common and frequently accessed folders on other devices. This will save a lot of time locating devices and finding folders on them.

Either drag the item into your sidebar, or to a location on your own Mac while holding both ⌘command and ⌥ option (alt) keys to create an alias, aka shortcut (as opposed to copying it). A curved arrow appears on the item being “aliased”.

Next time, we’ll look specifically at Windows file-sharing tips.