Here’s the situation: my buddy John has a MacBook Pro. He works with a bunch of friends who take videos on their iPhones & other iDevices1, & he wants to get those videos off of their iPhones & onto his Mac so he can combine & edit them. He tried plugging in another person’s iPhone into his Mac, but that didn’t work (of course). He thought about Dropbox, but the files can be huge, so that wouldn’t work. So he asked me, & this was I wrote up & sent to him.

At first I told him he could just use FTP, but that wouldn’t work. Turns out, it’s far easier to set up a limited SFTP server & user than the same thing for FTP. Plus, SFTP is more secure, as everything is encrypted, including the password & data being transmitted. So this is a guide to setting up an SFTP server on your Mac, not an FTP server.

One more wrinkle: since he works with a bunch of people, I didn’t think he’d just want to create a new user for each of those folks. So another requirement that I thought was important was that I make it easy for users to connect to his Mac, without having a real, separate user account that would create a new home directory in /Users.

Finally, please remember that for all this to work, both the Mac & the iDevices have to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

Create a folder for SFTP files to go in

You will only need to do this step once.

In your Downloads folder on your Mac, create a new folder called Incoming.

Add a Sharing Only user that can connect to your Mac via SFTP

You will only need to do this step once.

Go to Apple > System Preferences > Users & Groups.

Click the lock icon so you can make changes. Enter your name & password when prompted.

Click + (Add) below the list of users.

In the sheet that appears, for New Account, choose Sharing Only from the dropdown menu.

For Full Name, enter FTP User. You cannot enter just FTP (it’s reserved by the system), so don’t try it!

The Account Name is generated automatically. If you want to change it—& we do—you must do so now. Enter ftpuser for the Account Name. You cannot enter just ftp (also reserved), so don’t try it!

Enter a password in the Password and Verify fields. You should use something like PleasePutNewFilesHere2012. Yes, it’s long, but people will only need to type it twice.

You don’t need to enter a hint to help remember the password, so don’t bother.

Click Create User.

Now, right-click on FTP User & select Advanced Options.

Change Login Shell from /usr/bin/false to /bin/bash.

Change Home Directory from /dev/null to /Users/john/Downloads/Incoming.

This assumes that your Home folder is named john. To check, open Finder & look under Favorites for the little house icon. The name next to the little house is your Home folder name. If you don’t see the little house icon, do the following:

  1. Open Finder.

  2. Go to Finder > Preferences, which opens the Finder Preferences window.

  3. Click on the Sidebar button at the top.

  4. Under Favorites, check the box next to the House icon, which has your Home folder’s name.

  5. Close Finder Preferences.

  6. Now you should see the Home icon under Favorites in the Finder sidebar, & next to it you’ll see your Home folder’s name.

Press OK to close the Advanced Options sheet.

Do NOT close the Users & Groups System Preference, as we need System Prefs for the next step.

Find out & change your Mac’s server name

You will only need to do this step once.

If you were a dumbass & closed System Preferences even though I told you not to :), go to Apple > System Preferences > Sharing. Otherwise, if System Preferences is still open to Users & Groups, click on Show All & then click on Sharing.

To change the Local Hostname, click on Edit.

Change the Local Hostname to something that is one word, like JohnMac. Ignore the .local—you can’t change it, & it’s required anyway, so just leave it alone.

Press OK.

Note what it says under Computer Name: “Computers on your local network can access your computer at: JohnMac.local”. Remember that.

Do NOT close the Sharing System Preference, as we need it for the next step.

Turn on Sharing & share the folder

You will only need to do this step once.

If you were a dumbass & closed System Preferences even though I told you not to :), go to Apple > System Preferences > Sharing. Otherwise, if System Preferences is still open to Sharing, great, ’cause that’s where you need to be.

Check the box next to Remote Login.

Next to Allow Access For, select All Users.

Check the box next to File Sharing.

Under Shared Folders, click the + (Add).

Navigate to Downloads > Incoming & select Incoming.

Press Add to close the sheet. Incoming should now appear under Shared Folders.

With Incoming selected under Shared Folders, press the + (Add) under Users.

Click on Users & Groups on the left, & then select FTP User on the right.

Press Select to close the sheet.

Under Users, select FTP User, & then, to the right, click to change FTP User’s permissions to “Write Only (Drop Box)”.

Close System Preferences. We’re now done configuring your Mac.

Copy the videos into Readdle Docs

On your iDevice, open Readdle Docs2.

Tap on Documents (the bottom left icon on iPhones).

Under Documents, tap on Photos > Camera Roll.

Tap on the videos and/or pictures you want to copy into Readdle Docs. Tap tap tap.

Once your vids &/or pix are selected, tap on Save.

Tap on Documents again. You should see the vids & pix in the main Readdle Docs Documents list.

Time to upload those items to your Mac!

Open the SFTP server in Readdle Docs

On your iDevice, you should already be in Readdle Docs. If not (& why not?), open Readdle Docs.

Tap on Network (the middle icon on iPhones).

Tap on Servers Nearby. You should see your Mac’s server name, with “SFTP service” underneath it.

Tap on your Mac’s server name.

You will be prompted for Authorization. For User Name, enter ftpuser. For Password, enter PleasePutNewFilesHere2012. Capitalization matters!

Tap Done. After a few seconds, Readdle Docs will connect to your Mac! You’ll see a folder named Library (which you’ll also see on your Mac, at /Users/john/Downloads/Incoming). Leave that folder alone3. If anyone has already uploaded vids & pix, you’ll see those too.

Tap Edit.

Tap Upload.

Tap on the items your wish to upload to your Mac server. Tap tap tap.

Once your vids &/or pics are selected, tap on Upload.

When the upload is finished, press Done.

You can now delete the video in Readdle Docs on your iPhone by doing the following:

  1. Click on Documents (the 1st icon on the bottom row on the iPhone).
  2. Tap Edit.
  3. Select the file(s) you want to delete from within Readdle Docs.
  4. Tap Delete.
  5. When asked, tap Yes.

Close Readdle Docs.

Don’t forget to delete the original video in your Photos app on your iPhone too!

Strictly speaking, the uploader with the iPhone & the downloader with the Mac are both finished completely. There are two things, though, that you’ll probably want to do, one for convenience, & one for security.

Add the Mac server permanently in Readdle Docs

You don’t need to do this, but it’s certainly more convenient. Every time someone wants to use Readdle Docs to connect to your Mac, they’ll need to repeat all the steps above. If they tell Readdle Docs to remember your Mac server, though, it’ll go faster. And they won’t need to re-type that password every time.

Open Readdle Docs.

Tap on Network.

Tap on Add.

Tap on SFTP Server.

Enter the following:

  • Title: John’s Mac (this can actually be whatever you want—it’s just so you recognize the server in the list of Favorites)
  • Host: Enter your Mac’s server name, plus .local. So if your Mac’s server name was john, you’d enter john.local.
  • Login: ftpuser
  • Password: PleasePutNewFilesHere2012

Don’t worry about the other fields.

Tap on Save.

You’ll be taken back to the Network screen. On there, you should now see, under Favorite Servers, “John’s Mac”. If you tap on that, you should log in to your Mac server without being asked to authenticate, as the Favorite is storing that info for you. Much easier! Huzzah!

Make your Mac server a bit more secure

When you’re not actually having people upload videos & pictures to your Mac, you shouldn’t be advertising it as a server. So let’s disable some things. Yes, next time you want someone to upload to your Mac, you’ll need to re-enable them, but that’s called being smart & secure.

Disable File Sharing

Go to Apple > System Preferences > Sharing.

Uncheck the box next to File Sharing.

Don’t worry—your Mac should remember the shared folder so you don’t need to re-create it again. If for some reason it does forget, just folow the steps above.

While System Preferences is still open to Sharing, click on Show All & then click on Users & Groups.

Right-click on FTP User & select Advanced Options.

Change Login Shell from /bin/bash to /usr/bin/false.

Change Home Directory from /Users/john/Downloads/Incoming to /dev/null.

You will need to change these back the next time you want someone to re-connect to your Mac.

Press OK to close the Advanced Options sheet.

Close System Preferences.


  1. Of course, all of this should work on Android, Windows Phone, etc. I just don’t know what SFTP software is available on those platforms. 

  2. Why Readdle Docs? I like it, it’s inexpensive & very powerful, & I figured he & the rest of his crew could use it for lots of other things. If I was just looking to recommend a straight up SFTP app, I’d probably go with Files Connect

  3. That Library folder is there because you told Mac OS X that this was the FTP User’s home folder, & OS X automatically creates a Library folder in every user’s home folder.