Nine Ways of Moving Data From One Mac to Another

When you want to copy a file from one Mac to another Mac, the best way to go about it varies widely depending on circumstances—and your go-to- method may not be the best choice, depending on the size of the files and the location of the Macs. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.

  1. Email

It is easy to attach a file to an email message, but most email providers limit the attachment size (such as 20MB in iCloud or 25MB in Gmail). Plus, attachments take up significant space in your email account. Thus, email is a good option for sharing small files with other people, but there are better ways of moving files among your own Macs.

  1. Messages

For relatively small files (less than 100MB), dropping a file in an iMessage conversation (blue bubble) in Messages works well. But since files sent in Messages consume iCloud and local storage space unless deleted, this approach is best reserved for occasional use.

  1. AirDrop

To copy a file to another Mac in the same room, AirDrop is the most convenient solution. Make sure that it is turned on in Control Center on both Macs and that the discovery options are correctly set. While Bluetooth and Wi-Fi must be on, the Macs do not need to be connected to any network or to iCloud. AirDrop has no file size limits—but it is not the fastest approach and can have issues with multi-gigabyte files or with older Macs.

To transfer a file, select AirDrop in a Finder window sidebar (if necessary, enable it in Finder > Settings > Sidebar) and drop the file on the icon for the other Mac. Or, Control-click the file, choose Share, click AirDrop, and select the desired Mac. Received files appear in the Downloads folder.

  1. File Sharing

Regularly copying files between Macs on the same network is best done with network file sharing. It’s fussy to set up, but once you have configured everything (and made aliases or sidebar items for quick access), file sharing is easy and fast.

To get started, one Mac must be set as the file server in Settings > General > Sharing > File Sharing. Then click the info icon to add shared folders, designate users, and set access privileges. (In macOS 14 Sonoma, the temporary “Allow full disk access for all users” option for the server Mac may simplify things.) To connect to the server Mac, in the Finder, choose Go > Network, and click the Connect As button to log in if necessary.

  1. Network server or NAS device

If you need to copy files between several Macs on a network, it may be helpful to use a dedicated server or NAS (network-attached storage) device as an intermediary. Or, if your network is fast, you can access the files directly on the server or NAS, instead of copying files locally.

  1. Target Disk Mode

Occasionally, the fastest option for moving huge files around is Target Disk Mode over a Thunderbolt connection between two Macs—most appropriate for transferring many gigabytes of files. The setup differs between Intel-based Macs and Macs with Apple silicon. But once one Mac is in Target Disk Mode, it appears in the Finder of the connected Mac as an external drive, and you can drag files to and from it.

  1. External storage

Copying files to external storage—whether an SSD, hard drive, or USB flash drive—and then copying them off to another Mac remains a speedy and easy option.

  1. Cloud storage service

Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud Drive can all work well for moving files (under a few hundred megabytes) between Macs. They are particularly convenient for sharing among your Macs, and it is usually easy to copy a link to a file to share it—though sharing permissions may first need to be set.

  1. File sending service

The best way to send a large file via email, Messages, or another messaging service is to use a link. This is easy to do if the file is already in a cloud storage service, and some email apps and services automatically create links for attachments over a certain size. Otherwise, try a file sending service such as Files to Friends or WeTransfer, which will email links to files (up to 1-2GB in size) for free. Though many other services exist, they only allow smaller files for free.

While copying files from one Mac to another is conceptually straightforward, not all approaches work equally well in all situations. We hope you can use this list as a guide for determining which ways of moving files are most appropriate for your needs.