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macOS Search provides many easy options for connecting to a server. Here's how to use Finder's Connect to Server window to easily mount and use remote network volumes as if they were local drives.
Apple's macOS operating system offers one of the easiest server connection interfaces of any major operating system. You can connect to LAN servers, VPN servers, FTP/SFTP, SFTP over HTTP, web servers, Windows SMB shares, NAS, some cloud servers, WebDAV, and more. The Connect to Server window even allows you to view remote desktops using the VNC protocol.
In most cases, after connecting to the server, the Finder displays a new window with its contents, as if it were a local storage volume.
In all cases, to start in the Finder, click the Go menu and select Connect to Server… at the bottom of the menu. The Connect to Server window opens. You enter the server address to connect to in the top field of this window.
The simplest and first example is connecting to a LAN server on your local network. The server must use one of the protocols mentioned above.
Click the Browse button on the Connect to Server window. A Finder window called “Network” will open, displaying all known local servers that the Mac can connect to on your network. Your own Mac is also listed, known as localhost in network parlance. Double-clicking your Mac's name in the window will list all mounted storage volumes and any shared folders on your Mac.
For all other local network servers, you will be presented with a login window asking for the username and password of an account on that server or a guest. You can also save your password locally by checking the “Remember this password in my keychain” box so you don't have to enter your password next time.
In the case of anonymous FTP servers, you may not need to enter a password.
Once authenticated, a Finder network volume icon will appear on the desktop and a new window will open displaying the server's file system or volume as if it were a local drive. You can perform most network operations as if they were a local storage device, as long as you have the correct permissions.
There is also a “Disconnect” button that, when clicked, disconnects the server volume from the desktop. You can also unmount a server volume by right-clicking or Control-clicking it and choosing Eject from the Finder pop-up menu, or by dragging it to the Trash in the Dock.
For remote servers, you can use any of the network protocols mentioned above. To do this, enter the protocol abbreviation, and then “://” in the upper field of the “Connect to Server” window, then the name or IP address of the remote server, then click the “Connect” button.
If the server uses a custom port for a particular protocol, type it at the end of the server address, preceded by a colon. Here are some examples:
- ftp://ftp.apple.asimov.net is a standard FTP connection.
- https://ftp.apple.asimov.net/— Same as above, but FTP over secure HTTP using Secure Sockets Layer.
- https://sampleserver.somenetwork.com:20821 is a fictitious web server in the somenetwork.com domain that is listening on port 20821 for incoming HTTP connection requests.
- smb://126.96.36.199 is the address of the local Windows SMB folders on the local Windows network computer.
- vnc://188.8.131.52 is the address of the local computer from any OS running the standard VNC screen sharing protocol.
- https://download.info.apple.com is a standard HTTP+SSL web connection, assuming any file sharing is enabled on the server – or a WebDAV collaboration server.
In the case of HTTP servers that also use WebDAV, you may receive a certificate warning informing you that your Mac thinks the server may be bogus or masquerading as a WebDAV server. If you are sure the server is valid, click the Continue button.
You can also view the details of the server certificate and always trust it in the future by checking the “Always trust” box after clicking the “Show Certificate” button.
After successfully logging into the server, a new volume and a Finder window will appear on your desktop. In the case of our ftp://ftp.apple.asimov.net example:
To make the list in the new server window clearer and easier to read, press Command-T followed by Command-2 on your keyboard . This switches to list view and hides the window's toolbar. You now have a window into the remote server's file system. You can perform most Finder operations on a server volume just as you would on any local drive volume. But permissions may or may not be restricted.
Another quick time-saving tip: after a server volume is mounted, you can create an alias for it on the desktop or for any drive or folder by selecting the server volume on the desktop while holding Command-Option and then dragging it to the desktop. table or somewhere else on the disk. This creates an alias file with the same name as the server volume. To remount the volume later, simply double-click the alias.
In the case of a server running VNC, a hidden macOS Screen Sharing application is launched upon connection, displaying the desktop of the remote computer. You can turn the Screen Sharing app on and off for other Mac apps just like you would for any other Mac app. To connect to another Mac via VNC, Screen Sharing must be enabled in System Preferences.
The window redrawing speed will depend on the speed of your network connection.
To end the VNC connection, simply click the close button on screen sharing windows.
VNC servers can be configured in a variety of ways and may or may not be configured to require a password – in which case you will be prompted to enter it first, as you did in the FTP examples above.
Corporate or VPN connections
Remote connections to corporate VPNs are not much different from the above, unless your company uses a dedicated firewall device and/or a custom network protocol. In most cases, once your Mac's VPN connection is established, all other standard protocol connections should be the same as local or internet connections.
One common difference, if it exists at all, is the configurable port number we talked about above, or in some cases, a remote key token controlled by radio or satellite. VPNs provide the added benefit of encrypting most network communications.
For any server you enter in the “Connect to Server” window, click the small “+” button at the bottom parts of the window. left corner to add it to your favorites list. The next time you open the window, Favorites will appear in the list. Just double click one of them to start a new connection.
To remove servers from your favorites list, select the servers you want to remove, then click the “-” button.
You can also view all recent servers by clicking the small pop-up menu arrow icon to the right of the server address field. To clear the list of recent servers, click on the small “…” with a circle next to the “-” button and select “Clear recent servers” in the pop-up window.
Apple has a basic support article “Connecting Your Mac to Shared Computers and Servers” in the macOS User Guide that explains some connection details.
You can connect to servers using foreign file systems that MacOS doesn't understand — provided you have the appropriate third-party Mac networking software and extensions installed. But we will talk about this in the next article.