AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes

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AirDrop is the most incomplete Apple technology since the introduction of Apple Maps Is Apple Maps a Reliable Navigator Yet? Is Apple Maps a Reliable Navigator Yet? After replacing Google's navigation, Apple Maps endured a rocky start, heaps of criticism and some very funny jokes – but has all been forgiven? Read More with iOS 6. The amount of times it simply does not work for absolutely no reason is downright infuriating.

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If you’ve ever sat there, puzzled as to why your two shiny Apple devices don’t seem to want to communicate effectively, I empathize. This article is for you.

But First a Warning

I’ve had problems with AirDrop since the technology was introduced in iOS 7 almost two years ago. It’s worth pointing out that AirDrop’s previous incarnation as a pure Mac-to-Mac file transfer tool Share Files Easily Between Computers With AirDrop & Two Similar Applications [Mac] Share Files Easily Between Computers With AirDrop & Two Similar Applications [Mac] How often have you sent an email to yourself, simply to move a picture or document between computers? Often, the only obvious alternative is clear overkill, like setting up a temporary FTP server on your... Read More had worked consistently in my experience, even when transferring gigabytes of movie files.

I’ve banged my head against the metaphorical wall trying to solve these problems for months, with limited success. I can say with confidence that sometimes, no matter what you try, AirDrop simply will not work. I’ve added a section at the end of this article exploring alternatives if you find yourself at the end of your wits.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how AirDrop should work.

Mac & iOS Requirements

iOS-to-iOS and iOS-to-Mac Transfers

According to Apple, AirDrop between a Mac and iOS device requires the following:

There is no need to be connected to the same WiFi network, but you will need to be within roughly 10 meters (30 feet) of the device you are trying to communicate with. You do not need to be signed into the same iCloud account, though you will need to be connected to iCloud in order to limit AirDrop to “Contacts Only”.

AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes airdroposx

Important: In order to receive a file on your Mac you must open Finder and click on AirDrop in the sidebar in order to ready your Mac for a transfer and ensure it’s visible. To receive a file on your iOS device, ensure your device is visible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to bring up Control Center.

Mac-to-Mac Transfers

If you’re trying to send a file from a Mac to another Mac, you will need one of the following running OS X Lion (10.7) or later:

  • MacBook or MacBook Pro (late 2008 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (late 2010 or newer)
  • Mac Pro or iMac (early 2009 with AirPort Extreme or newer)
  • Mac Mini (mid-2010 or newer)

In my experience, Mac transfers work consistently. If you are having trouble finding an older Mac while trying to send a file, click on Can’t see who you’re looking for? and select Search for an older Mac.

AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes oldermac

Troubleshooting Tips

The biggest problem when trying to send files between devices is an inability see the target device. Oftentimes your Mac will see your iOS device, but your iOS device simply refuses to see your Mac. In this case, my iPad Air can see my Mac and transfer files to it, but my girlfriend’s iPad mini Retina flatly refuses.

If this sounds like a problem you’ve encountered, here’s a few things you can try:

AirDrop Settings

In order to receive files, your device needs to be active (not in sleep mode) and visible. Access AirDrop by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to call up Control Center. From here your current AirDrop status will be displayed — you can choose between Off, Contacts Only, and Everyone.

AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes airdropeveryone

If you’re having trouble, I’d strongly recommend choosing Everyone and leaving it that way — you have to manually accept incoming files from unknown users regardless of this setting.

Restart Bluetooth, WiFi, and Devices

One solution that’s given me the most joy when trying to transfer files to my Mac has been disabling then re-enabling Bluetooth on the Mac, but you may also want to try toggling WiFi and AirDrop itself.

Failing that, restarting both devices can also lead to a solution. Changing wireless network will have no effect.

iCloud Issues

Despite there being no evidence that your Mac and iOS device need to be connected to the same Apple ID anywhere within Apple’s documentation, many are reporting their AirDrop issues disappear once they have had a fiddle with their iCloud settings.

For some, disabling iCloud Drive on OS X then re-enabling it (System Preferences > iCloud > iCloud Drive) seems to provide a solution. Others report logging out of iCloud on OS X entirely then logging back in solved the issue.

AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes disabledrive

Many who have spent time trying to get Contacts Only working suggest logging out of iCloud and the App Store on both devices then logging in again to solve the issue. Your mileage may vary.

Uppercase Apple IDs

This bug existed in iOS 8.1, and, though it was reported as fixed in iOS 8.2, it’s possible some users are still running older software so it bears repeating. If your Apple ID login has uppercase characters in it (e.g.,, log out and sign in again lowercase characters instead (e.g.,

Firewall Interference

Your Mac comes with a built-in firewall, which prevents unwanted connections being made to your computer by blocking virtual ports. This can also have a detrimental effect on file transfers, particularly AirDrop.

While I wouldn’t recommend disabling your firewall entirely, if you choose to block all incoming connections, then AirDrop will not work. Head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall and click on the padlock in the bottom-left corner (you may need to input a password to make changes).

AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes blockconnections

Next click Firewall Options and ensure Block all incoming connections is not checked. While you’re at it you might want to try temporarily disabling the firewall entirely to see if that enables your transfer to go through unhindered.

Got a Device Your Mac Can See?

This has to be the strangest solution to an issue I have ever written down, but while playing around with two iPads this morning (one iPad Air that can see my Mac and an iPad mini that cannot), I found a way of getting the Mini to see my Mac after all.

With the AirDrop share sheet open on the iPad mini that cannot see my Mac, I tried to share from the iPad Air that can see it. The second my MacBook Pro appeared in the AirDrop field on my iPad Air, it also appeared on the iPad mini share sheet. I could then select and share from the Mini temporarily, but once I stopped trying to share from the Air, I could no longer see it.

Why this works, I have no idea, but it seemed to work pretty consistently when I tried it.

Use Something Else

Until Apple improves AirDrop, you might be tempted to simply not use it. Here are a few alternative methods of transferring files to and from your iOS devices.

iTunes File Transfer

Nobody likes to have to resort to iTunes, but sometimes when you simply need to transfer a file, there’s no other option. Open iTunes and select your device, then select Apps in the menu on the left. Scroll down to the very bottom of the page to find the file sharing section.

AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes itunesfileshare

Once you’ve chosen an app, you can drag files to the panel on the right to send files or make your selection and choose Save To at the bottom of the screen to download them. If you have checked Sync with this iPhone/iPad over WiFi, you don’t even need to plug your phone in to do this (though transfers will be slower).

VLC for Media

Trying to copy media files to your iPhone or iPad but AirDrop isn’t helping? Download VLC for iOS, turn on WiFi file transfer, and use a web browser to drag and drop any media file (including obscure ones like .FLAC and .OGG) to your device. You can then use VLC to play it. Read more about replacing iTunes with VLC Ditch iTunes & Use VLC For iPhone & iPad Media Ditch iTunes & Use VLC For iPhone & iPad Media VLC for iOS does rather a lot that Apple would probably rather it didn't. It's also better than iTunes for media on the go. Here's why. Read More .

Cloud Storage

If the files you want to transfer are relatively small (or you don’t mind waiting), then you might want to use a cloud storage solution. It must be said that this isn’t the most efficient way of transferring files as you must first upload the file from one device and then download it again on another.

AirDrop Not Working? Troubleshoot Your File Transfer Woes icloudbreak

Ironically, Apple’s iCloud Drive might provide the easiest method of doing so. Many apps allow you to save files to iCloud Drive, but it’s arguably more useful for transferring files to your iOS devices. You can put files in iCloud Drive using Finder on a Mac, and access them using an app like Documents 5 on your iOS devices.

There’s no need to limit yourself to Apple though, try: Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, BitTorrent Sync or your own cloud storage service The 3 Best Self-Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested and Compared The 3 Best Self-Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested and Compared Looking for a Dropbox alternative that doesn't impose any restrictions? Here are the best self-hosted Dropbox alternatives. Read More .

What problems have you had with AirDrop and how did you solve them?

Explore more about: iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini, iPhone, OS X Yosemite.

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  1. Mary Durlacher
    December 31, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    Trouble reading Notes airdropped from iPhone to MacBook Air? It took Mem a while to realise they went to Downloads ... and even longer to realise there are two apps which will open the Download: if you click on the Download folder in the dock, it appears as a white (blank) page: if you double click on that, it opens in Messages, which is normally a list of ‘To’ messages you have sent. At the bottom of the right hand panel is a separate list of messages with the title of the note you airdropped to yourself, but no obvious way of opening or accessing them.

    Go instead to the the Downloads folder on the left side of a new Finder window (it comes below Documents and Desktop on my window) - click on that and it will appear at the top of the list (if you have selected 'by Date added’ in the “Arrange” tab at the top.
    Rather that directly clicking on the notes airdropdocument, go to the ‘Action’ tab next to ‘Arrange’ and that gives you different options for opening the document: in my case, it was either the Messages App which had already failed to make the message readable, or the Notes App which works perfectly!
    It took me a long time to discover something as simple as that and thought I would share it - I could find nowhere else which mentioned this simple solution: if you know where it it flagged up more obviously, it may help others not to waste time on an time wasting search!

  2. derp
    January 25, 2018 at 5:03 am

    Turn off your VPN. You're welcome.

  3. Jack
    October 11, 2017 at 4:57 am

    Just a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw great style and design. “The price one pays for pursuing a profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” by James Arthur Baldwin.

  4. Greg P.
    February 28, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    I can Airdrop pictures FROM my iPhone 6s Plus and iPad (incarnation 2 or 3) to my iMac (2015) but I cannot use Air drop TO those devices. the Mac Sees them but Fails to send. No notification ever show up on the iOS devices. All devices have the latest updates.

  5. David
    September 13, 2016 at 10:44 am

    Hasn't worked for me since the so-called upgrade to Maverick etc.

    • Tim Brookes
      September 19, 2016 at 2:52 am

      Are you trying to use it with an older Mac, David? If so you'll need to click the "Don't see who you're looking for?" button at the bottom of the window. It is my understanding they changed the way it works with newer low powered Bluetooth devices and different Wi-Fi bands. To send files to my girlfriend's 5+ year old MacBook Air, I have to click that button first.

  6. Libon Fernandes
    September 1, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    If none of the above works, like for me, try this.
    Go to router settings, change the wifi security to WPA only.
    Restart the router ! voila. . Your Welcome !

  7. LUIS
    August 26, 2016 at 12:14 am

    Im a Novice at this but would someone tell me with certainty if when you transfer a file from airdrop to iPad mini and it doesn't show on the camera roll or videos app, will it show later or has the file been saved in the storage itself of the tablet? thing is i uploaded avery compromising video to my girlfriends iPad thru airdrop by mistake, when i realized it was her iPad and not mine i freaked out and tried to find the MOV file on her iPad but i couldn't find it, I would just like a little piece of mind. Since its her iPad, do you think the file might pop u one day and she will find it or do u think it will never be seen even though the file supposed was transferred thru airdrop.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 30, 2016 at 1:46 am

      When you AirDrop a file to an iOS device it generally asks you which app you want to open it in, unless it's something like a contact or web address. Assuming the file is a video it should have gone straight to the Photos app. If it doesn't appear on the Camera Roll, then it's unlikely that the file was saved at all. It's very possible that it's an unsupported format that the iPad can't read, and unless you have something like VLC installed then the OS probably just binned it.

      I'd think it was highly unlikely that the file would just "turn up" at some point, but you might want to try restarting the device and checking again.

  8. Steven Herbin
    August 19, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    I thought that I had restarted my macbook, but restarting it after reading your treatise turned the trick.

    Thanks. It was driving me crazy -- it was an iphone to macbook trasnfer that wasn't working.

  9. Brian Schmidt
    July 20, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Every now and then, I keep hoping AirDrop will magically start working for me, but it seems Apple is sticking to their "2012 or later Mac" limitation (I have a late-2011 MacBook Pro... almost 5 years old, but still truckin' along just fine!).

    Sooooo... I just had to share an app that I have been using for a few years now that "just works," considering my laptop "just DOESN'T work" with AirDrop:

    FileDrop -- or (direct download)

    I've never had an issue with FileDrop, except for times when I've been out-and-about and my laptop can't find a WiFi network to use.

    Grab it for both your Mac and your phone. Launch the app on both devices and enjoy your wireless transferring! :)

  10. Todd
    May 21, 2016 at 6:26 am

    It's the 21st century. Companies only make money if you keep buying their services/products. The "buy once and forget it" scheme no longer works. With that said, I think Apple deliberately leaves bugs in their systems to force you to upgrade. With this method, you will eventually reach the point where you need to upgrade your devices with newer ones because it will not be capable of running the "latest". And while talking about "latest", let's not forget that iOS 7.1 is not even 2 years old - as of May 2016!

    • Tim Brookes
      May 23, 2016 at 4:40 am

      That theory doesn't really hold up though, because Apple has a very good track record of providing support via software updates to its older devices. This goes for both iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, and its Mac computers. Sure, you're going to experience a decline in performance as your device ages, but that's just how it goes. Newer versions of operating systems are built with the latest hardware in mind, and speeds continue to improve at a rapid pace year on year.

      iOS 9 addressed some of the slowdown issues on iOS 8, which means the last upgrade potentially resulted in better performance than the version that preceded it. Deliberately leaving bugs in software is not something a company should be doing if they want to retain customers, and it doesn't really make sense to do so in 2016 when many are hypercritical of tech companies as it is.

  11. Albert J.
    May 3, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I found that My airdrop wasn't working in any of my mid 2011 or older Mac Minis. I realized it was an issue when those computers did not show the Compatibility mode and Discovery mode at the bottom of the Airdrop screen. We've imaged these computers using deploy studio and I found that someone had made an image using newer hardware (2012) so the 2011 bluetooth Kext files were not compatible.

    I was able to find a solution to fix it and have tested it on several machines. This may help some of you as well.

    This forces Continuity on any mac with Low energy bluetooth enabled (hardware compatibility listed in link). Adding continuity using this method updates (after backing up) the kext files and makes your older computer work just like a newer one with Hand-Off, Airdrop and Continuity.
    Hope this helps!

  12. Alon
    May 1, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Airdrop is such a great feature when it works, but I've been having consistent problems since upgrading to El Capitan. Before that a quick off/on switch of the wifi or bluetooth would get it working.

    It's been really getting to me and I must say I do think it's actually a complete and total fail. The solution of switching my iPad on seems to get my Mac to see my iPhone, but that's a real joke.

    They should have troubleshooted this and created a few buttons in the Airdrop interface that allow users to troubleshoot and sort this out once and for all.

    I am a huge fan of Apple, but this Airdrop thing is really something that Steve Jobs would have never ever allowed. A feature that doesn't work half the time is exactly what he was completely against.

    The whole philosophy was that you devices would simply work, and the user would never have to spend all their time troubleshooting and slowing down their workflow because of their devices slowing them down in some way.

    Grills me to the core.

    • Tim Brookes
      May 2, 2016 at 4:47 am

      I agree that AirDrop should be a lot more consistent, and I still find myself thinking "maybe iOS 10/OS X 10.12 will fix it" to be honest. But one thing to note is that the feature existed under Jobs as well, though back then it specifically related to Mac-only file transfer. From what I remember it worked pretty consistently, and it's only since the feature appeared in iOS that things haven't worked so great.

      I have noticed things have been better since upgrading to iOS 9 and OS X 10.11, specifically iPhone to Mac transfer, not sure about yourself.

      • Alon
        May 2, 2016 at 7:52 am

        That is really interesting Tim.

        I am on the latest versions on both my mac and my mobile and I've found it just as bad.

        Basically upon updating to El Capitan I've had consistent troubles. A quarter of the time it works perfectly but the rest of the time I sit there waiting for my mobile to show up on the Airdrop screen when trying to send from my Mac for ages, resetting everything and trying everything and nothing works.

        It's been seriously disruptive to my workflow and it drives me nuts. Hopefully the process of using my iPad at the same time will continue to 'wake it up' if you like.

        My iPad and iPhone have no trouble seeing eachother, it's only the Mac.

        Grating my balls.

        • Tim Brookes
          May 4, 2016 at 4:27 am

          I absolutely know what you mean about workflow. Getting screenshots from my iPhone to my Mac when finishing off an article like this shouldn't take ten minutes of turning settings on and off and swearing at my machine. At least in those instances syncing with cloud storage like Google Drive doesn't take too long, I still refuse to "email myself" in 2016 though.

          What's crazy is how reliably VLC's web UI server works when transferring movies from my Mac to my iPad over a network. Launch app, tap a button then drag and drop gigabytes of video files over!

  13. Bill
    April 2, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    Just connect to each other Personal Hotspot and you can detect and perform AirDrop afterward :)

    • Tim Brookes
      April 4, 2016 at 2:09 am

      What a brilliant idea! I'll have to try that the next time I have problems :)

      • Bill
        April 4, 2016 at 4:32 am

        Yeahhh let us know if it is working or not and don't forget to write it so that others can solve it too :)

  14. doug
    March 12, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Air Drop -- an Apple trinket. My solution, have Win 7 in a virtual machine, plug in your phone, have the usb connection go to Windows and access your phone files with Windows Explorer!

  15. Michael Hamson
    March 10, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Concerning the changing of networks... When I am on my Airport Time Capsule, Airdrop does not work at all. However, if I change my devices to any other network (non-Apple) it does work without a hitch. This is a big failure in my book! I sincerely do wish Apple held off on any more products until they can successfully revert back to the "it just works" state that we used to enjoy

  16. Andrew Hodgkinson
    March 4, 2016 at 5:53 am

    I tried all of the above but nothing worked. Then I tried, to see if it was a hardware issue, creating a new user account (rather than logging out of iCloud). Logged in, air drop worked perfectly. Returned to my original account and airdrop was working, problem solved. Thanks, for the ideas that got me started.

    • Tim Brookes
      March 7, 2016 at 3:40 am

      Thanks for letting us know what worked for you, Andrew!

  17. Rosellainoz
    February 7, 2016 at 5:03 am

    Not event he Apple Support could help me. We did all of the above, reset the System Management Controller then reset the NVRAM, restarted in safe mode and tested with another user. Still no joy. As a last resort I have re-installed the OS. Nothing! The MacBook cannot see the iPad or the iPhone in Airdrop. It can see the iPad in Bluetooth but the iPhone tells me the MacBook is not supported in Bluetooth.
    This is all a mystery to me. I have successfully used Airdrop on my iPhone with a Desktop Computer at work so I know the phone works.
    I will take the MacBook into an Apple Store and see what they say there. Maybe, just maybe they can get it to work for me, or as someone else has said, "What is the point of a feature that doesn't work?"

  18. Rajiv
    February 7, 2016 at 1:02 am

    Thanks a lot. The VLC solution worked - others didn't.

    I have a solution now from your article so thank you.


  19. Anonymous
    December 28, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Nope nothing works. Airdrop cannot see my Macbook Pro, my wife's iPad Mini , her Macbook Pro, or my old iPad2

  20. Tarquin
    December 17, 2015 at 10:00 am

    I eventually gave up trying. If it's photos you're trying to sync, get dropbox. Easiest fix. Not perfect but better than pulling hair out with frustration, turning bluetooth on and off etc

  21. Anonymous
    August 4, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for the pointers. I was trying to Airdrop photos from the iPhone to my Mac Book. Neither could see the other.
    1. As soon as I turned on my iPad the Mac saw both and the iPhone saw the iPad but not the Mac! I could copy the photos to the iPad but not the Mac.
    2. I logged in and out of iCloud. Now the Mac saw both iPhone & iPad but the iPhone still could not see the Mac.
    3. I restarted the Mac. Now everything works!

    But what a pain.

    • Tim Brookes
      August 6, 2015 at 3:57 am

      Yeah it really is a broken mess I'm afraid. Here's hoping iOS 9 and El Capitan make things "just work" like they should!

  22. Anonymous
    July 18, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Toggling bluetooth on the Mac worked. YAAAY!! Thanks!

  23. Alicia
    May 6, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Nice, I have changed my settings successfully, I have only one complaint that Airdrop works only with iOS not with other Android,Windows phone or BB..Whereas other options like SmartIO Works good in cross platform content transfer like mentioned here: