Screen sharing from the Messages app: a handy yet severely under-used feature

“The Messages app has included a way to initiate screen sharing with an individual that you’re talking to, starting with the release of OS X Yosemite, but it is a severely under-used feature,” Anthony Bouchard writes for iDownloadBlog.

“Screen sharing from the Messages app includes a lot of useful features that could displace all those expensive VNC apps you might be buying from the App Store or Mac App Store,” Bouchard writes. “The feature is very much hidden from plain sight, but it’s not impossible to access.”

“OS X’s Messages app has a function built into it to launch the hidden Screen Sharing app built into OS X, and it’ll connect you to that person using your and their iCloud account,” Bouchard writes. “We think Apple made a good choice in making the feature available from the Messages app in OS X, because typically, when you need someone’s help, you’ll reach out to them in a message first to ask “Hey, are you busy? Do you think you could help me?” and at that point, it’s very easy to initiate a screen sharing session to better describe what’s going wrong.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: We’ve used it and it works very well. It only works among OS X users, though, so users of other platforms are out of luck.

However, buried inside your Mac is Apple’s Screen Sharing application. It’s inside System>Library>CoreServices>Applications.

In addition, OS X has a built-in screen sharing feature that lets you connect to another Mac on your network and display its screen on your Mac. You can use screen sharing to access your Mac while you’re away, solve a problem on someone else’s Mac, or collaborate with others on a project such as a website or presentation. Instructions for that below.

If you have an iCloud account, you can use Back to My Mac to share the screen of a Mac on a remote network.

You can let others view your computer screen on their own Mac. While your screen is being shared, the user of the other Mac sees what’s on your screen and can open, move, and close files and windows, open apps, and even restart your Mac.

1. Open Sharing preferences if it isn’t already open (choose Apple menu > System Preferences, then click Sharing).

2. Select the Screen Sharing checkbox. If Remote Management is selected, you must deselect it before you can select Screen Sharing.

3. To specify who can share your screen, select one of the following:

• All users: Any of your computer’s users and anyone on your network can log in.

• Only these users: Screen sharing is restricted to specific users.

4. If you selected “Only these users,” click the Add button at the bottom of the users list, then do one of the following:

• Select a user from Users & Groups, which includes all the users of your Mac.

• Select a user from Network Users or Network Groups, which includes everyone on your network.

5. To let others share your screen without having a user account on your Mac, click Computer Settings, then select one or both of the following:

• Anyone may request permission to control screen: Before other computer users begin screen sharing your Mac, they can ask for permission instead of entering a user name and password.

• VNC viewers may control screen with password: Other users can share your screen using a VNC viewer app — on iPad or a Windows PC, for example—by entering the password you specify here.

If this computer’s screen is shared only by other OS X users, turn off this option.


    1. Granted, Apple has extended the protocol in many ways from the original. I think I read somewhere that for iMessages they encapsulate VNC in an SSL connection/SSH connection, but I can’t say for sure. The same goes for the Back To My Mac setup.

      1. So what specifically does Apple do to ensure Messages security? Anyone?

        As with so many things, Apple simply doesn’t inform the user at all. Product manuals used to be thorough, then they supposedly went online, but now you can’t hardly find any official documentation of any kind. In finding clear explanations to semi-technical user questions, Apple’s website has become borderline useless.

        When a company punts its obligation to provide clear technical documentation to online forums, I don’t know how they assume that users will forever just blindly trust that Apple always gets it right. But then, what’s new? Quality in Apple software across the board is really plummeting these days. Four years ago everyone personally attacked me for saying so. Now most everyone can see it with their own eyes.

        1. Messages has got end to end encryption, so the VNC protocol is wrapped inside that. I am pretty sure Apple have changed the protocol enough to make it even more locked down (which is why you can only perform screen sharing from an Apple device to an Apple device), but just using raw VNC is dangerous to the point of worthless. I’d rather forego whatever I need to do and complete it when I get home to my Mac than use VNC… unless it’s wrapped into Messages.

    2. Question: I have always thought that using a VNC service (e.g. Cloak) while on a public network would be much more secure than just using the public network – is this correct? Are there some VNC services that are more secure than others? I can tether to my iPhone, but with the high cost of data here, especially overages above what allowed by your plan, if extended time/work must be done (e.g. if you work from home, and your home is in the middle of a 4 day power outage due to a massive blizzard…), using a public network (e.g. in a cafe) with VNC starts to look more attractive. What’s the best option?

      1. I’ve no experience of Cloak, do you have link? I’ll take a look.

        Basically VNC is using the RFB protocol, which was never designed to be secure. If you have to use it, your bet is to use it via SSH or VPN because your traffic is encrypted anyway, but you are still exposing yourself to risk if you ask me.

      1. Lame excuse.

        Apple today has artists and marketing dorks in positions that require proper engineering skills. There is no excuse for Apple to keep degrading its GUIs. Making a 27″ Mac look like the interface of a 4″ iPhone is just the stupidest goal in the world. But step by step, that’s exactly what Apple has been doing since Steve left us.

        If the Mac had been continuously improved, then advanced users would be able to spend less and less time at the command line. Instead, the command line is an absolute requirement because Apple keeps screwing up its system interfaces and utilities.

        I remember when Disk Utility was complete and easy to use. The need for the functions within it didn’t disappear, but the tools have vanished. Thanks for nothing, Apple.

        1. Disk Utility in El Capitan is a travesty. Most of the time it cannot initialize a drive without failing. It also can’t partition a hard drive most of the time without failing. I’ve given up and I do my Disk Utility work on a spare Snow Leopard machine. How can a modern operating system ship without the ability to format a hard drive?

  1. Okay, now that I have had a chance to read Anthony Bouchard’s article, I have to say I’m impressed. Very well written and easy to follow with just the right amount of graphics.
    I’m also impressed with how easy Apple made this feature to use, I just never thought to look for it before.
    This will help immensely in the future when helping my friends troubleshoot. (something all of us here do on a regular basis)

  2. I don’t like messages on my Mac. I preferred iChat. I don’t want my mobile messages pop on my computer. I use them for two different things. With iChat screensharing was easy. Now I use TeamViewer, a free program that has to be installed on both computers. But it works very well.
    Not everybody wants to have the smartphone and the computer share everything.

  3. One of the most unreliable features Apple has – 60% of the time it won’t connect and I’m forced to use something like, which means walking the other person through the set up process. iChat was so much better, with multiuser video conferencing, easy screen sharing, and much better reliability.

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