AirDrop: The Ultimate Guide

MacBook Air with AirDrop with iPod touch 7
MacBook Air with AirDrop with iPod touch 7 (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

AirDrop lets you quickly and easily transfer files between iPhones, iPads, and Macs. It uses Bluetooth LE to broadcast, discover, and negotiate connections, and point-to-point Wi-Fi to transfer data. That makes it fast, power-efficient, and secure!

When you're using AirDrop between iPhones and iPads, you can AirDrop photos, videos, contacts, Passbook passes, Voice Memos, Map locations, and any and everything else that appears on a Share sheet.

Here are a few different ways to get started using AirDrop!

How to turn on AirDrop for iPhone or iPad

AirDrop lets you choose between enabling it for just your contacts or for everyone. "Contacts" requires more work, as you and the person you want to AirDrop with both have to be logged into iCloud and be in each other's Contacts. "Everyone" is easier but means random people you don't know can send you prank AirDrops.

  1. Launch Control Center by swiping up from the bottom bezel of your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Long press on the Wi-Fi button.

  1. Tap AirDrop.
  2. Tap Contacts Only or Everyone to turn AirDrop on.

Tap AirDrop and then tap contacts only or everyone to turn on AirDrop.

How to turn on (or off) AirDrop for iPhone X, iPhone XS, or iPhone XR

  1. Launch Control Center by swiping down from the top right corner of the screen (by the battery life symbol).
  2. Long press on the Wi-Fi button.

Launch Control Center by swiping down from the top right corner of the screen and then long press on the Wi-Fi button.

  1. Tap AirDrop.
  2. Tap Contacts Only or Everyone to turn on AirDrop.

Tap AirDrop and then tap contacts only or everyone to turn on AirDrop.

How to AirDrop files from your iPhone or iPad

You can AirDrop files from any iPhone or iPad app that includes the built-in Share sheet, and you can share to anyone and any of their devices that show up in the Share sheet.

  1. Find the file you'd like to send with AirDrop (I chose a photo).
  2. Tap the Share button on the bottom right of your screen (looks like a box with an arrow coming out of the top).
  3. Tap the person or device you want to share to.

Note: If you choose Contacts Only, make sure you're logged into iCloud. Apple won't share your contacts with another device to determine if there's a match; it'll check both your iCloud accounts instead. Then, if there is a match, it'll show you your own version of the contact on your own device. That way, no data gets leaked.

If you choose Everyone, even though you are highly visible to other devices, you will always be prompted when someone is trying to share files with you through AirDrop. If you don't recognize the sender or do not want to receive the files, you can always choose not to accept them.

Files sent through AirDrop will appear in the app that typically handles those sorts of files — i.e. photos will show up in Photos.

How to block AirDrop with Screen Time for iPhone and iPad

If you want to not just turn off AirDrop but block it completely, for example on your child's iPhone or iPad, you can use restrictions — also known as parental controls.

  1. Launch Settings on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Scroll down and tap on Screen Time.
  3. Tap Turn On Screen Time. If you already have Screen Time turned on, skip to step 6.

  1. Tap Continue on the on-screen prompt.
  2. Select This is My iPhone when prompted if this is your iPhone or your child's.

  1. Tap Content & Privacy Restrictions.
  2. Tap Allowed Apps.
  3. Tap the AirDrop On/Off Switch. When the switch is gray AirDrop will be off.

You can repeat these steps to enable AirDrop again at any time.

How to troubleshoot AirDrop on iPhone and iPhone

AirDrop feels miraculous when it's working, frustrating when it's not. If you're having trouble with AirDrop on your iPhone or iPad, here are some fixes:

How to turn on (or off) AirDrop for Mac

AirDrop lets you choose between enabling it for just your contacts or for everyone. "Contacts" requires more work, as you and the person you want to AirDrop with both have to be logged into iCloud and be in each other's Contacts. "Everyone" is easier but means random people you don't know can send you prank AirDrops.

  1. Launch the Finder on your Macs.
  2. Click on AirDrop in the left navigation.
  3. Select Off to disable AirDrop, Contacts Only to enable only your contacts to AirDrop you, or Everyone to let everyone AirDrop you.

How to AirDrop from your Mac using the drag and drop

If you want to grab some files and quickly throw them into AirDrop, the fastest way to do it is using drag and drop.

  1. Launch Finder on your Mac.
  2. Find the files you want to AirDrop.
  3. Drag the files over AirDrop in the sidebar.
  4. Hover there until the Finder changes to the AirDrop window.
  5. Drop the files onto the picture of the contact you want to share them with.

How to AirDrop from your Mac using the context menu

If you prefer to control/right-click on your Mac, you can access AirDrop that way as well.

  1. Launch Finder on your Mac.
  2. Find the file you want to share.
  3. Control/right-click on the file and then choose Share from the menu.
  4. Choose AirDrop from the sub-menu.
  5. Click on the picture of the person you want to share with.

How to AirDrop from your Mac using the Share sheet

You can also AirDrop files using the Share sheet on macOS, including from the Finder and Safari.

  1. Click on the Share button, typically at the top right.
  2. Select AirDrop
  3. Click on the picture of the person you want to share with.

How to troubleshoot AirDrop on on Mac

If contacts don't show up in the AirDrop interface, try these solutions, in order:

  • Toggle Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi off and back on to reset the connections.
  • Turn off Instant Hotspot to free up the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections.
  • Temporarily switch to Everyone to remove any chance of contact mismatch.
  • AirDrop not working? Here's the fix!

Any AirDrop questions?

If you have any issues with AirDrop, or any additional questions, drop them in the comments!

Updated August 2019: Updated for macOS Catalina and iOS 13.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • 1) Wait for the outer planets to align
    2) Summon the four corners
    3) Locate a penny and pick it up
    4) Send the file by iMessage or email instead
  • It's a shame that this is true. AirDrop is very intermittent, sometimes it works, sometimes not. When it works, it works great, it's fast, easy to use, but sometimes you will just not be able to find the device despite the fact it should be visible. I'm always setting AirDrop to be visible to "Everyone" just to eliminate any possible issues with permissions, it'd be nice to be able to trust the system. Also, you shouldn't have to have the AirDrop screen open on OSX to receive files, you don't have to on iOS so it seems weird that you should on OSX
  • I really don't have any problems. It's slow to connect sometimes. I have to wait awhile before my phone and the other phone will connect. I don't air drop a ton, so maybe if I started using it more i'd see more issues. We have a limited data plan at home so I love using air drop to send photos and videos because it's saves our data.
  • The idea of AirDrop is that it's quick and simple. If you have to wait for it to connect then it's easier just to send the file another way
  • I also find Airdrop flaky, so use Instashare between my iOS devices & Macs, which is much more reliable. Sent from the iMore App
  • I really hope that this is improved in iOS 10/macOS Sierra
  • Hi all, this is James, since IOS 7, until now version IOS 10.0, the airdrop still have bug on the Iphone 6, 6S, and high memory version, 128Gb, and 68Gb. I'v report this issue to Apple but they didn't solved.
    Try to transfer by airdrop over than 400 photos at once, from one iPhone 6plus 128Gb to another 6plus device with 128Gb, the transfer always stopped in the middle, never completed, broken connection. This is motivated by the memory bug capacity with have been reported previous on social media. if you try to transfer few photos it works, because the usage memory it is less.
  • The "Ultimate Guide" part of the headline should have made me suspicious. I find it sad that this is just another click-bait article. Everyone knows that Airdrop works whenever-it-wants at best. Instead of making this the subject of this article (or - while we're at it - the even worse syncing between iOS photos and macOs photos) unfortunately it's just another piece of content I wish I had never seen.
  • iMore is perhaps paid, or otherwise sponsored, by Apple for the shill articles. There are things with regards to to Apple that frustratingly fail - iMore will candy coat these.
  • I don't believe they are paid or sponsored by Apple. I just think in order to survive in this business they put getting traffic to their site above good journalism. Like many others.
  • If you owned this website you would do the same. None of us pay to come here, it's funded by ads and maybe sponsored by someone else. Yes there are clickbait articles but there are also plenty of great articles. The beauty of it is you don't have to click on the articles you think are going to be clickbait, keep scrolling
  • Why dont you DM the powers that be ? Have you tried. Maybe your constructive criticism may be heard. J/S
  • I tried AirDrop and it's very inconsistent it works when it feels like it, use iMessage instead like the other commentator said, but well informed as usual Rene. Sent from the iMore App
  • I would say Airdrop works 90% of the time as intended for me. I use it maybe 10times a year at family gatherings to share the days photos(100's) before heading home. I say it works as intended because, as intended, isn't great. The UI needs work. Initially you are in the share frame, you tap Airdrop there's zero response. It should now say; searching or make ripples or spin.... But instead does nothing UI wise for a little while, until it does eventually pop up the other persons ID, so; hey I guess I did actually tap on Airdrop. After you're through this UI hurdle it works. It baffles me and the other family members (is it genetic) every time at that stage. Every time; two people standing there phones out. "Are you sure it's on"' "yeah look, it's on". "Well did you tap on AirPlay". "Yeah I tapped on AirPlay". Needs tweaking but is a handy feature. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have tried every single trick I could found, but it still doesn't work, nothing is showing up.
    AirDrop is a one big unreliable mess! *angry as f* Sent from the iMore App
  • Another old article it seems, but I'll pile on - yes it is STILL very inconsistent... and I've never gotten it to work from my iMac to my iPhone, I just never show up... Sent from the iMore App
  • Yeah, like I mentioned a few months ago, try InstaShare - it just works. Sent from the iMore App
  • This article on airdrop is superb Sent from the iMore App
  • AirDrop does seem to be more reliable with iOS 10, between iOS devices anyhow. Pictures, webpages, maps, all good.
    However, I use AirDrop to share my contact card fairly often. The problem is now - when they receive the contact card, view it, tap Save (top right) or Save as new contact (bottom of page) ... the contact card doesn't save in their contacts! This has happened every single time I've tried since iOS 10. I end up sharing via messages, but the vcf still won't save in their contacts!
    What's funny is that it works for me; when someone sends me a contact via messages, it saves 100% of the time with no issues. Maybe it's my contact card?!
    But, hey, we have confetti in our messages now, so, we must thank the almighty Applelords. Sent from the iMore App
  • Bugs happen, report them and they will be fixed. iOS 10 is pretty stable, but there will always be something that's missed, that's the nature of software development
  • AirDrop is great when it works… like never. Sent from the iMore App
  • Does someone know how to do an automatization with airdrop? Example : I print a pdf, put it on the desktop (until there I know how to make it with a macro), then open airdrop, select the destination (these last 2 steps, I do not know how to do and link with the previous steps). Tipically what I need to send a pdf to an iPad to review with a note taking app and send it back.
  • I have an iMac connected to the airport base-station directly through a LAN cable. Shouldn't Airdrop through iPhone/iPad work with such a setup? My understanding is that the device to device connection is established through Bluetooth. But the actual transfer takes place over a local network or a cellular network in case of 2 iOS devices. In order to enable Airdrop over LAN, i used the following command:-
    User$ defaults write BrowseAllInterfaces 1
    User$ killall Finder
    After executing the above commands, I tested an Airdrop transfer between my iMac and a family member's iPhone. The desktop wouldn't even discover the phone and vice-versa, let alone initiate transfer.
    Could somebody help clarify this?
  • Hi, does anyone know how to airdrop files while keeping the data attached. By this I mean either EXIF data for photos or version history for other documents. Thanks!