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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.

Remote Login

Another approach to managing your Mac remotely is arguably for power users, where you enable the Remote Login service and use the secure shell (SSH) in a Terminal window to login and run commands and scripts on your Mac.

Remote Macs with Screen Sharing and File Sharing enabled will appear in the Finder sidebar. If you enable only Remote Login, the remote Mac won't appear. But you can access it via the Terminal app. To do this, launch Terminal (/Applications/Utilities), and then press Shift-Command-K (or select New Remote Connection from the Shell menu). This produces a New Remote Connection window. Within this window select the Secure Shell service and you should see any enabled Macs in the Server column. From here you can select and connect to these Macs to log into them.

Other services

The services I mentioned so far are automatically detectable; however, there may be additional services that you have on your Mac that are not detectable in these ways. These can include custom FTP software, web servers, license managers, or other server software you have configured. If you have such software enabled, you can still connect to it using Back to My Mac by assembling a URL that points you to your Mac from anywhere on the Internet.

To do this, enter the following command in Terminal to list a hierarchy of domains for your iCloud account:

dns-sd -E

When entered, you will see an output similar to the following (the NUMBER will be a unique ID for your iCloud account):

local icloud.com - > btmm - - > members - - - > NUMBER

With this information, you can assemble the URL for directly accessing your remote Mac, provided you have the computer name for it (your Mac's computer name is the name entered at the top of the Sharing system preferences). For these purposes, we are going to use the Bonjour name, which uses only lowercase letters, strips out all punctuation, and replaces spaces with dashes. So, for example, if I have "Topher's MacBook Pro" as my computer name, then the bonjour name will be "tophers-macbook-pro" (we are leaving out the .local suffix here).

With this, the URL scheme for accessing the remote Mac is the following:

computer-name.NUMBER.members.btmm.icloud.com

In this context, if my account number is "12345678," to access my MacBook Pro I would use the following:

tophers-macbook-pro.12345678.members.btmm.icloud.com

I can now specify this for various connectivity services that are not supported directly in the Finder — such as SSH and SFTP — and even third-party servers and services I have configured on the system. For example, if I have the OS X CUPS web interface enabled on a remote Mac, I can connect to it to configure my printers by specifying port 631 in a URL similar to the following:

 

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