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How to Connect to Network Shares With the iOS Files App

Photo of an iPhone on a desk
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The stock Files app lets you manage your filesystem on an iPhone or iPad. Since iOS 13, it also lets you work with remote network shares. You no longer need third-party apps to access files on your network devices.

As Files is compatible with the SMB protocol, you’ll be able to connect to network shares created with most common servers. These include shares hosted by Windows and Mac machines, Samba servers on Linux, and popular NAS drives. Here’s how to get connected.

Adding a Network Share

Begin by opening the Files app. It’s installed by default so you should find it on your home screen, in your App Library, or by searching in Spotlight. As Files is now a removable app, you might need to reinstall it from the App Store if it doesn’t show up.

 

Make sure you’re on the “Browse” tab at the bottom of the screen. Tap the “…” (three dots) icon in the top-right to display the app’s context menu.

Tap the “Connect to Server” option near the top of the menu. On the next screen, enter your server’s connection string. This should be an IP address or hostname that’s accessible on your current network. Tap the “Next” button in the top-right to continue.

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The following screen lets you supply authentication credentials if you’ll be connecting to a protected network share. Tap “Registered User” and fill out the “Name” and “Password” fields with your SMB username and password. You can tap “Guest” instead if you’re connecting to an unprotected share.

Press the “Next” button in the top-right to complete the connection. Your iOS device should successfully connect to the server and display a list of available shares.

 

Tap one of the network shares to view its directory listing. You can browse the contents of the share using the familiar Files interface. Commands like cut, copy, and paste will work to bring in content from other locations.

Viewing Added Shares

You can access all your network servers from the “Browse” menu. Tap the Browse tab at the bottom of the screen. It might take two taps depending on where you’re starting from.

Your servers will be listed at the bottom of the menu, underneath the “Shared” heading. You can access your existing iOS locations, such as iPhone storage, iCloud Drive, and app-based filesystems, via the “Locations” section above.

Tap any of the servers in the list to get to its shares list. You can close a connection by tapping the eject icon to the right of the server’s name.

Using Network Shares

Network shares are fully integrated into the Files app and there are no restrictions on their use. You can add new files, copy existing ones to your iPhone, and add content to network shares from your other apps, via the system sharing menu.

 

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The latter use case is helpful if you keep important documents or photos on a network share. While Apple would rather you relied on iCloud Drive, many users still need to save data to a home or corporate NAS.

Adding network shares to Files lets you save email attachments, photos, and web downloads directly to your network storage. Use the “Save to Files” option in the iOS share menu, then select your server from the list of available locations.

When Should You Use It?

SMB support in Files is one of those features where you either know you need it, or you’ve never heard of it. For many years, iOS buried the filesystem and went to great pains to stop you from directly interacting with files.

The presence of SMB in Files makes it a much more versatile app for system administrators, enterprise users, and consumers with network-attached storage. Android’s often seen as the more flexible choice for these users but Google’s platform still doesn’t ship with an integrated network share browser.

SMB in Files works well day-to-day. Once you’ve added your server’s details, you shouldn’t need to manually close or open connections again. iOS automatically saves your servers and reconnects to them when you return to their corresponding Wi-Fi networks.

Summary

The Files app lets you connect to SMB-compatible servers and use them anywhere files are exposed in iOS. This gives you much more flexibility in where you store your content, without using iCloud as an intermediary between your iPhone and your NAS.

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More technical users could still find the experience limiting. In this case, it can make more sense to browse network shares via iSH, an app that provides a Unix shell on iOS. Termius is another third-party app for SSH-ing to remote servers. It supports network shares over SFTP and can register them as browsable locations in the Files app.

James Walker James Walker
James Walker is a CloudSavvy IT contributor. He is the founder of Heron Web, a UK-based digital agency providing bespoke software development services to SMEs. He has experience managing complete end-to-end web development workflows with DevOps, CI/CD, Docker, and Kubernetes. Read Full Bio »

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