Sometimes you need to access your home Mac while you’re not nearby—or maybe you have a Mac mini hooked up to an HDTV, or a Mac running as a server on your network. For all of these occasions, and many more, you can turn to OS X’s built-in screen-sharing functionality to quickly and easily connect to those machines from another Mac. Let’s run through the basics of how to set up screen sharing and start using it.
This is Macworld senior associate editor Dan Moren, and I’m here with this week’s video tip.
Sometimes you need to access your Mac when you’re nowhere near it—in the next room, or even across the country. For cases just like that, OS X features a built-in screen sharing feature that can make your life a whole lot easier.
To enable screen sharing on the host Mac, open System Preferences and click on the Sharing pane. Click the checkbox next to Screen Sharing, and a green icon will illuminate, telling you the service is now active. In this pane, you can also limit who can share your Mac’s screen to specific users or groups.
To access a Mac’s screen remotely, you have a couple of options. The simplest is to look in the Shared section of the Finder’s sidebar. This will show you a list of all the Macs you have access to. Select the one you’ve configured screen sharing on and then click on the Share Screen… button in the top right. You’ll be prompted to enter your username and password—make sure you enter the username and password for that machine. As of OS X Lion, you can also configure screen sharing to accept your Apple ID.
Your remote desktop will then appear in a window. When your mouse cursor enters the window, it becomes the cursor on the remote Mac, letting you click on buttons, drag windows, and interact with the computer just as if you were sitting in front of it.
In order to take advantage of some of Screen Sharing’s other features, you may need to choose Show Toolbar from the View menu. For example, if you don’t want to interact with the remote machine, you can click the Switch between Control and Observe mode button in the top left.
Screen sharing even lets you copy and paste between the client and host computers. To paste something on the remote machine, select it on your local Mac and copy it to your clipboard. Then, in the Screen Sharing toolbar click the Send clipboard contents to the remote clipboard button. You can then paste your selection on the remote machine. You can even perform the process in reverse, just make sure to click the Get the remote clipboard contents button instead.
Keep in mind that while you’re in Screen Sharing, most of the keyboard shortcuts you use are passed through to the remote machine. So, for example, if you hit command-Q it will quit the app in the foreground of the remote machine, not the local machine.
While Screen Sharing works seamlessly over a local network, accessing a remote machine while you’re not at home is a little trickier. You’ll either have to enable iCloud’s Back to my Mac feature or, for a more robust solution, configure dynamic DNS.
That’s this week’s Macworld video tip. Thanks for watching.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.