Solutions for screen and file sharing over the Internet

Secure direct screen and file sharing outside a local network.

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Ironically mesh VPNs are now very much in vogue, which is funny because Apple once had one of those before, Back to My Mac (BTMM). I’m almost certain BTMM perished chiefly because it wasn’t supported by iOS, but nowadays you have a choice of Tailscale, ZeroTier, Nebula, Cloudflare Teams … all of which will let you do a very similar thing, of connecting your distant computers over the 'net in a more optimal fashion than classic VPN servers.

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I would love to see a return of Back To My Mac for all macOS and iOS devices. Make it an iCloud+ feature for all I care, but please give user back this simple way to get at the dynamic IP addresses of their remote Apple devices and tunnel to them.

I can hack this together using ssh tunneling and remote daemons (on macOS) relying on commercial DNS logging services, but it would be so much nicer if this were built into iCloud again. Not to mention, as such it would become accessible to any Joe/Jane, not just a bunch of nerds with too much time to spend on geek quests. :wink:

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I could go for that too. I use Screens 4 and it works fine at home but the Screens Connect thing that is supposed to allow remote access doesn’t work despite more than 1 attempts to get it set up right. I try, give up, and come back to it the next time I’m going to be away. Solution so far is to put what I think I might need up on DropBox. Seems like Apple could easily get the IP fro the Mac at home and tunnel through doing all the hard to manage ssh stuff behind the scenes.

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Totally. It’s such a useful, obvious, Apple-esque thing to do, but their short-sightedness (and, sadly, that of many of their apologists) killed it. It didn’t help that it had reliability problems owing to their initial reliance on UPnP/NAT-PMP to work, or that when they did finally fix it to use a more ICE/TURN-like approach, they fragmented the network across versions of the platform including in their AirPort base stations (also, as we know, discontinued, stupidly). Just a tragic comedy of errors, and now their competitors are all basically stealing their lunch money because Apple threw away that opportunity. Oh, well. I now use a combination (across different sites, depending on the Internet connections they have available) of Cloudflare tunnels, and a traditional OpenVPN server. It works, but it’s not magical.

I know that Apple can screen connect to any device connected to the internet and on an iCloud account. I would love to use my iPad to look at and control my desktop computer like I can between desktop computers.

Yes, as I understand it the scenario of iCloud screen sharing does work, however it requires the remote Mac to answer the incoming connection; it can’t be used to control one’s own computer in the fashion of a traditional client-server connection. In other words it is clearly intended for the remote support situations supported by the Messages app, not for personal use. I don’t know if there’s a rationale behind that, perhaps privacy.

Simon, I hate to display my ignorance, but what does BTMM stand for? Sometimes when I read Tidbits — and I read it all—- I don’t understand a thing Tidbiters are talking about. I really need to replace my 2010 MacBook Pro running High Sierra, but all the discussions about Mi1’s, etc…, Thunderbolt, OS’s, and new stuff for the most recent laptops scares the hell out of me! So I haven’t made a decision on what to buy.

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Back To My Mac? I think. A way to use the iCloud account to remote to other Macs on the same account

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I can’t figure out what the four things you mention are supposed to do, nor do I see anything on their pages about Screen Sharing. All I want is to be able to get back to my machines and their files while I’m out of town. Just like I can “Share Screen” or mount a disk on a machine in my house. Likely just as BTTM did. That’s it.

Apologies. Back to My Mac is really, behind the scenes, just an automatically configured VPN that allows Apple’s networked services to be discovered and used when you’re not on the same network. These services all let you do a similar thing, but less intuitively. Screen Sharing and File Sharing are just network services you can use, but really any service can be used, for example you could use BTMM to manage your AirPort base stations or back up with Time Machine (very slowly) as well. To take ZeroTier as an example, if you were to install the software on two of the Macs you control, and then join them to a “network”, they should be able to “see” each other in exactly the same way in the Finder sidebar. Unfortunately the process is not as straightforward as it was under BTMM with just ticking a box. :(

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Don’t want a subscription fee just to return BTMM. So no to part of iCloud+.

I forgot to add another feature request to the imaginary Apple todo list: iPod Mode, i.e. let iPhones become iPods, intentionally disabling any logic that requires them to have an active (E)SIM. Example: on iPod Touch you could place phone calls through your iPhone using the FaceTime app and Continuity features; contemporary iPhones won’t do this, even when no SIM is inserted, and instead the call will fail immediately. I asked Apple Support why, and their reason was simply that the device had an IMEI and therefore wasn’t eligible for routing via Continuity. This seems strange and wrong and I’d love them to fix it. (Also strange, but fortuitous: calls received via iPhone are still sent to other iPhones via Continuity.)

My apologies. I went straight to the abbreviation without ever first spelling it out. Usually that drives me nuts and now I did it myself. :man_facepalming: :rofl:

Post edited. As @raykloss kindly pointed out, Back To My Mac = BTMM.

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I hear you. I can’t stand all the subscription shenanigans these days. I was just trying to make a point that if money is the only thing holding off Apple from reintroducing Back To My Mac for all of somebody’s Apple devices, I would happily be willing to pay for that. I don’t necessarily expect that to be a free service because I don’t believe it’s something every Mac/iPhone owning Joe needs. But I know I’d love to see it come together. And I’m sure there are more among us here in TidBITS land.

Perhaps I’m just not getting your point. It’s been a while since I did this myself, but wouldn’t something like VNC Lite on an iPad (or even iPhone) be sufficient to control your Mac in another room (assuming these devices are on the same LAN) and on the Mac you’ve activated the VNC option under Settings > General > Share > Screen Sharing > Computer Settings…

Let us know what you think of subscription proliferation after you retire.

The amount of VNC apps on the iOS App Store seems sketchy with many not listing what they cost to use and that they don’t take access any personal information (then you see reviews about how people had their PayPal accounts accessed) which makes me a bit cautious. The big names are there, but cost a bit of money for personal home use. I would feel more confident about one that comes from Apple. The one you mentioned seemed to require some expertise in settings and allows for 20sec free use. But it looks like it was free until an update that reset the free time.

RE: Screens Connect
Screens Connect provides two services for a logged-in user:

  • Location Services for that logged-in user
  • Automatic router configuration for incoming connections (manual is optional)
    My experience with automatic configuration has been dismal. I set up my clients with reserved DHCP addresses and static forwarding for incoming connections.

I set up one user who keeps her computer on the kitchen counter and uses Screens 4 on her husband’s MacBook for remote access. A couple of clicks and she is virtually sitting at the kitchen counter computer. The Screens configuration has remained unchanged and useful through many macOS versions.

I have also set up connection aliases for Screen Sharing.app to connect to clients where DHCP reservations and connection forwarding are available. Manual router configuration and use of DynDNS on target machines replace the shared locator and autoconfiguration produced by Screens Connect

Comments:

  • Encrypted connections using ssh are transparent to the end user but require initial intervention to setup ssh known users or certificate based authentication.
  • Configuration of routers (automatically by Screens Connect or manually) can be fraught with technical traps, specially using ISP-provided routers.
  • I loved Timbuktu Pro, it worked with dialup as well and any available TCP/IP connection and making low bandwidth connection palatable by reducing color data. BTMM then became my workhorse Timbuktu replacement for remote support. When Apple killed BTMM and the Airport Extreme, it became a scramble to find remote access support. Screens 4 and Screens Connect have served reasonable well but do not currently support IPv6 and require more than an ‘average user’ for configuration.

I am still trying to decide on a replacement for several Airport Extreme basestations still in service, including my own. Looking at recent macOS releases, Apple clearly understands the demand for screen sharing and is slowly improving both the connection self and the connection process. Remote access improvements is a great desire.

.

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Screens Connect may not work all that reliably if you have double-NAT (i.e., a router inside another router.) I have this at our family summer place, where the fiber optic internet connection goes through a modem/router provided by our phone company, and I have Eero inside the house for clients. I could bridge the Eeros so that they are not double-NAT, but that loses me the ability to manage and see what is going on remotely. I tried firewall rules, I tried setting up a DMZ host - it still wouldn’t work with Screens Connect.

But I can still get Screens Connect working on the server I have there using Tailscale. I have that running always on the Mac mini, so it provides a Tailscale-provided address that works with Screens Connect for other remote devices within the same Tailscale virtual network.

IIRC Back to My Mac also didn’t work if you had double-NAT.