Ask LH: How Can I Transfer Files Directly Between Macs?

Ask LH: How Can I Transfer Files Directly Between Macs?

Dear Lifehacker, Is it possible to transfer files directly and securely between my two Macs without using software and/or going via a storage server like Dropbox? Thanks, Johnny H Filetransfer

Dear JHF,

There are a couple of obvious ways that you could handle file transfers directly between Macs without additional apps or the use of cloud services.

The easiest way to manage this would be to enable file sharing (within System Preferences>Sharing) on a wireless network with specified users able to access the folder or files you want only. If you’re particularly worried on the security front, you can enable encryption of those files.

That does still leave both Macs on a wireless network, probably Internet-connected, which might not be secure enough for your tastes. You could always opt for the same sharing idea using a physical ethernet cable. This doesn’t need to be a crossover cable per se, although you haven’t specified which particular Macs you’re using. Newer and thinner Macbooks don’t come with inbuilt Ethernet ports, so you’d need to drop some extra cash on USB Ethernet adaptors. Apple’s instructions for file sharing across two Macs can be found here.

Failing that, there’s always the sneakernet method using an external drive or burnt CD/DVD to consider. If anyone has other recommendations, let’s hear them in the comments.


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    • Any modernish mac can perform Airdrop, yes this lifehacker question was answered by someone who googled the question and found some 8 year old forum response.

  • Depending on the functionality required, you could use target disc mode. Especially useful if it’s a one-time data transfer (moving from old to new machine, etc). You’ll need either a thunderbolt or firewire cable depending on the age of the machines in question.

  • USB drive?

    No scp or equivalent in Mac OS? (I’ve never used OSX if you couldn’t tell)

    • I use scp almost daily in OS X. Since scp, rsync, and ssh are all available and handily perform all manner of copying and machine access in a secure fashion, I likely wouldn’t use any of the other options.

      As a side note, you can also use ssh tunneling with Screenshare, and then securely login via screenshare and drag and drop to copy files etc, without exposing any of your activity, provided your copies of OSX are recent enough and compatible with each other. A sort of mini VPN solution. Run the following in a terminal to create the ssh tunnel:

      ssh -L 5000:localhost:5900 @

      This will open port 5000 on your machine and tie that to the “localhost” port 5900 on as resolved by . With that, in Finder, type “Cmd-K” and in the box type “vnc://localhost:5000”, and you should shortly see the ScreenShare login prompt. Note that you’ll need a reasonably decent network connection between the machines, or expect extremely slow response.

  • note that the above should read

    ssh -L 5000:localhost:5900 [yourusername]@[yourtargetmachineaddress]

    This will open port 5000 on your machine and tie that to the “localhost” port 5900 on as resolved by yourtargetmachineaddress.

  • Would the solutions above also apply to the same concept between 2 macs not on the same network i.e. different cities? So you drop a file onto a folder on 1 mac and it will sync/transfer (securely & directly) to a designated folder on the other mac?

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