OS X Lion: Tweak AirDrop to Work on Ethernet

| How-To

Apple introduced a new and really nice feature in Lion called AirDrop. AirDrop makes it much easier to transfer files from one Lion-based Mac to another.

A small digression is in order. Perhaps, Apple File Sharing (AFS) is a bit too complicated for some new or inexperienced users. It requires both Macs to be set up properly in System Preferences -> Sharing -> File Sharing, and the user must know the required username and password on the Mac whose file system is to be mounted.

AirDrop icon

AirDrop, as an alternative, uses something called Wi-Fi Direct. It’s a fairly new protocol that allows to modern Macs, both with Wi-Fi, to see each other more visibly, connect more easily, and transfer files (or an entire folder) with just a drag-and-drop. They don’t even have to be formally connected to a Wi-Fi network — they can just discover each other’s radio and communicate directly as the protocol implies. Plus, the data is encrypted. Apple has published a list of modern Macs that support Wi-Fi Direct. The oldest Mac goes back to 2008, but the Wi-Fi Direct technology only came into popular use recently.

AirDrop in Finder

AirDrop is accessed in the Finder sidebar

Apple posits that this protocol is only available between two Macs when using Wi-Fi because that’s the intended operational mode of Wi-Fi Direct. Lion’s default install is set up that way. However, it’s been discovered* that this protocol can also be used over an Ethernet wired connection. Even better, you can mix and match. That is, one Mac can be on your network via Wi-Fi and the other can be connected via Ethernet. Or both can be wired. That’s particularly helpful for users who have an older Mac (that can still run Lion) but isn’t on the list (above) of Macs that support Wi-Fi Direct.

Here’s how to configure your Lion-based Mac to work on either Ethernet or Wi-Fi:

1. Execute this command in the terminal:

defaults write com.apple.NetworkBrowser BrowseAllInterfaces 1 

2. Then, also from the terminal, kill and restart the Finder:

killall Finder

Even if only one Mac is on Ethernet, this preference must also be set on any Wi-Fi Macs to be used, even if they have the required Wi-Fi hardware. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when you enter AirDrop and both Macs see each other in the AirDrop display.

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* Thanks to TMO reader Mike Weasner for testing and pointing out this capability.

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Comments

Oliver

Interesting, and where did you find this trick? Because I’ve seen it on at least three other popular Mac sites over the past week or so, and now suddenly you guys post the exact same thing with no source link…

Shady business practice!

FlipFriddle

Cool. We’ll be able to use AirDrop amongst the MacPros at work. Assuming we ever upgrade to Lion. smile

furbies

Shady business practice!

John does say:


* Thanks to TMO reader Mike Weasner for testing and pointing out this capability.

Methinks it’s not shady at all…..

webjprgm

You confused me for a moment when you said:

Even better, you can mix and match. That is, one Mac can be on your network via Wi-Fi and the other can be connected via Ethernet.

So, to clarify for anyone else like me: BrowseAllInterfaces means AirDrop will search the LAN.  This is regardless of how the machine talks to the LAN. Ethernet is obvious, but in the case of the Wifi, it’s wifi->router->ethernet. That’s why you need to enable BrowseAllInterfaces on the Mac connected via wifi too.

This would also mean that if you have Macs too old to support WifiDirect, but that you connect via wifi, you can also use this trick for Wifi - Wifi.

OK, now I get it.  Cool tip, thanks!

don b

i was playing with this between my macbook air and a co-workers macbook pro today:  it dawned on me that this could be very useful over bluetooth as well.  is that possible via a similar such hack?

dhp

I have a multi-Mac home, but only one of those Macs has Lion installed, which means AirDrop is useless here. However, DropCopy does most of what AirDrop does, has some features AirDrop lacks, and only requires Leopard (even PPC!). There’s a mobile version, too. It requires no configuration and uses ethernet without any extra noodling with terminal commands. Highly recommended.

jdh

Are there any downsides here? Security issues? If turning Airdrop on for all of my computers is as simple as running a terminal hack, why didn’t Apple choose to do it in the first place? Seems it would be a great selling feature if it worked for all Lion Macs…unless it has a dark side

John Martellaro

jdh.  That’s a very good point, and we thought about that before posting the article. One theory is that it’s easy to use around the house with just a few Wi-Fi devices on the same network. However, in a corporate environment, with hundreds or thousands of Macs on the same network, it could be hard to use, visually, or burn up the network with discovery. So, right now, it seems that home users can get away with it, there’s no known security problem, and it seems to work reliably.

However, if I become aware of anything along the lines you suggest, I’ll update the how-to.

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