The minimalist guide to Back to My Mac

Possibly the most useful feature you’ve never used

Apple, OS X, Mac OS X, iCloud, Back to my Mac, How to
Credit: AppleMust

Back to My Mac is an iCloud feature that becomes incredibly useful when you are working remotely from your office and need to get something done, or to help troubleshoot somebody else’s machine. The feature lets you connect to your Mac, AirPort Disk or Time Capsule using the Internet or another Mac.

What it does:

When you connect to your home Mac from a remote Mac you can copy files (and pretty much do anything you like to those files between both machines. You can also see a live version of the screen on the Mac you are accessing from the Mac you use, and can also control it as if you were using the computer. This extends to running apps on the office/home even though you do not have these installed on the Mac you use to access Back to My Mac. Finally you can change Settings on your AirPort Disk or Time Capsule with AirPort Utility 6.3 or later. (AirPort Base Stations shuld be running firmware version 7.6.1 or later to support Back to My Mac).

When is it useful

Back To My Mac is useful to anyone needing files they don’t have with them who don’t want to use public file sharing services (confidential files, financial data, etc). It’s also useful to those who need to access a certain application they don’t have installed on their current Mac. Students make use of this to access hefty collections of research data remotely. If you use the feature what do you use it for?

Beware

Back To My Mac is a really useful way to use a Mac you don’t have with you, though you may sometimes have problems using the feature depending on the way the networks you are using to get online are set up. (This Apple Support article may be of use if you have problems). One common obstacle to using the feature is that many corporate firewalls may not allow remote connections, or may forbid part of what you want to do: “For example, when you're at home, you might not be able to connect to your Mac at work. But when you're at work, you might be able to connect to your Mac at home,” Apple explains.

Activation

Enabling the feature is rather simple.

  1. Open System Preferences>iCloud and enable Back to My Mac (tick to on).
  2. Enable Screen Sharing, File Sharing or both in System Preferences>Sharing.

Once this is done the Mac you are sharing should appear as an icon in the sidebar of the Finder window on your notebook next time you go online. This should appear as a Shared volume, though you must be logged into both Macs using the same Apple ID.

You must also ensure that you have set your remote Mac to Wake on Demand or never to enter Sleep mode in System Preferences>Energy Saver.

Using the features

To share the screen

To access and control the other Mac, select the Mac in Finder and choose Share Screen. You may be asked for the account login details for the Mac you are attempting to access.

Access files

In the same way, select the appropriate icon (for the shared Mac, AirPort Disk or Time Capsule volume), choose Connect As and enter your password. The contents of the remote Mac will be presented as a list of volumes and shared folders on the Mac you are attempting to access. It may take a little exploring to find the files you need, but once you manage to track them down you can double-click to access them, or to launch applications remotely.

Configuration

You can now configure your AirPort network remotely using AirPort Utility. If your remotely sited devices are correctly setup (as above) then they should appear as compatible devices in the Utility.

One more thing

Useful as it is Back to My Mac requires both Macs are logged into the same Apple ID. However, if you want to share screens (for example to help troubleshoot a problem) use this guide.

Security

There are security considerations when using a service like this, so be sure you employ strong – and different -- passwords at every stage of the process, unless you want your Mac at home to become an open book. Specifically this means ensuring your Apple ID, User, AirPort and Time Capsule all use different passwords (from each other) and that you choose alphanumeric passwords that also use grammatical and other special symbols for best results.

Do you use Back To My Mac? If so, please let us know what you use it for in comments below.

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