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How to Use Airdrop, the Easiest Way to Share Files Between Macs

David Pogue
April 30, 2014

AirDrop is one of OS X’s star attractions. It’s a breakthrough in speed, simplicity, and efficiency. There’s no setup, no password involved. It lets you copy files to someone else’s Mac up to 30 feet away, instantly and wirelessly; you don’t need an Internet connection or even a WiFi network. It works on a flight, a beach, or a sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic. It also works if you are on a WiFi network, doing other things online. 

To give someone a file, you and your lucky recipient must each open your respective AirDrop windows. Then you have a choice:

1. Drag into the AirDrop window.
Open the AirDrop window. To do that, click the AirDrop icon (at the top of the Sidebar in any Finder window), choose Go → AirDrop, or press Shift-Command-R

Note: If you don’t see AirDrop in the Sidebar, and you’re sure you’re using Lion or later, it’s because somebody turned off its checkbox in Finder → Preferences → Sidebar. Hiding the AirDrop icon in this way means you can’t use the feature at all, at least not by dragging an icon into a window. You can still use the Share button as described below.

The first window shown above appears. After a moment, it fills up with icons for everyone nearby who’s running a wireless Lion or later Mac — and has opened the AirDrop window. They don’t have to do anything else; their icons show up automatically in your AirDrop window.

Now drag a file or folder icon, or several, onto the icon of the intended recipient. When the Mac asks if you’re sure, click Send or press Return. 

The recipient now sees a message that says, “[Other guy’s Mac] wants to send you [the file’s name].” And there are three options: Save and Open, Decline, and Save

If the lucky winner clicks one of the Save buttons, then the file transfer proceeds automatically. A progress bar wraps around the other person’s icon in the AirDrop window — cute. The transfer is encrypted, so evildoers nearby have no clue what you’re transferring (or even that you’re transferring).

The file winds up in the other guy’s Downloads folder.

2. Use the Share Sheet. 
There’s another, more direct way to send a file by AirDrop. Click the icon of the file you want to send (or select several). Now choose the Share → AirDrop command.

And where is that command? Everywhere. It’s in the shortcut menu that appears when you right-click (or two-finger click) an icon. It’s at the top of every Quick Look window.

Now a miniature version of the AirDrop window appears (see below).

Once you’ve clicked the recipient’s icon, and the recipient agrees to receive (by clicking Save and Open or Save), the transfer begins, just as described above.

Excerpted with permission from David Pogue’s “OS X Mavericks: The Missing Manual” from O’Reilly Media.