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Away from home? Here's how to access your Mac remotely

Topher Kessler | Oct. 28, 2014
There will undoubtedly be times when you are away from your Mac but need to access a file or two on it. While the advent of services like iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box.com, OneDrive, and MediaFire have made accessing your files easier, most of them require you to organize your files in specific synchronized folders on your Mac. They also have the drawback of storing your files on third-party servers, which might not be the most desirable place for personal or sensitive information.

There will undoubtedly be times when you are away from your Mac but need to access a file or two on it. While the advent of services like iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box.com, OneDrive, and MediaFire have made accessing your files easier, most of them require you to organize your files in specific synchronized folders on your Mac. They also have the drawback of storing your files on third-party servers, which might not be the most desirable place for personal or sensitive information.

If you would like to remotely access files that are stored on your Mac, there are several ways to do it. But before doing so you will need a way to access your Mac from wherever you are on the Internet. There are a number of "dynamic DNS" services that can do this, but perhaps the most convenient (and arguably best) option is to use Apple's Back to My Mac service.

Setting up Back to My Mac

Configuring Back to My Mac isn't difficult. Just follow these steps:

  • Create an Apple ID if you don't have one.
  • Log into iCloud in the iCloud system preferences.
  • Enable the "Back to My Mac" service.

At this point, any Mac you have similarly configured with iCloud should be able to access the one you set up with Back to My Mac. Keep in mind that Back to My Mac requires that the remote Mac be connected to the Internet. Also, it should be configured to wake on demand so that when it's asleep, it can act on a Back to My Mac request. To help ensure that this happens, launch System Preferences, choose the Energy Saver preference, and enable the Wake for Network Access option.

Another issue you might run into is if your network has a firewall configured that prevents Back to My Mac access. If you can set up Back to My Mac but cannot seem to connect from a remote location, you might need to check your router's settings to ensure UPnP, or NAT-PMP services are enabled. In addition, check or reset your router's firewall (toggle it off, and test the connection), and also update your router's firmware to its latest version. It's a good idea to test such a connection from a local coffee shop before needing to use Back to My Mac for mission critical work.

When Back to My Mac is set up, you have several options for connecting to your remote Mac — opening programs and files directly on it, copying files to and from it, and controlling it remotely from the command line. Here's how they shake out.

Share another Mac's screen

The most intuitive way to access and manage your remote Mac is Screen Sharing, which streams the desktop view from your remote computer to the Mac you're currently using. While the performance of this service depends on the speed of your broadband connection, you can use this to work as if you were sitting in front of your Mac.

 

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