How to use AirDrop without opening your phone up to strangers

AirDrop is a convenient way to share things with people up to 30 feet away, but you may receive unsolicited requests.
Three young people of different races and genders standing on a sidewalk in a park during the fall, all holding their phones and laughing.
AirDrop is perfect for when you want to meet your friends in the park and share memes. That's a perfectly normal thing to do. Keira Burton / Pexels

Many WiFi-enabled devices strain under the weight of sending multiple photos, contacts, and videos at once, causing the transfer to move at glacial speed. If you have an iPhone, Macbook, or iPad, though, you can lighten its load and avoid all that hassle by learning how to AirDrop—preserving your patience along the way. 

With no tangled cords and with lightning speed, you can use AirDrop to share photos, documents, files, and contact information between any Apple devices within 30 feet of each other. That means you can quickly send photos and videos, share web pages and links, swap notes, and transfer countless other bits of information from any AirDrop-compatible app.

How to turn on AirDrop

Enabling AirDrop is easy, no matter what Apple device you’re using:

  • On iOS and iPadOS: Open Settings > General > AirDrop. Once there, choose to make your device Visible to Everyone, discoverable by Contacts Only, or have Receiving Off.
  • On macOS: Click the AirDrop icon in the Finder sidebar, then select your visibility options from the menu. If prompted, make sure you at least have your Bluetooth on, if not WiFi as well.

Be careful: AirDrop is a convenient way to share nearly everything, but it can also expose you to devices owned by people you do not know. They may send you unsolicited photos, videos, links, or images with messages. 

[Related: How to protect your smartphone privacy]

When you’re not using AirDrop, we recommend making sure it’s turned off or your AirDrop settings are set to either Contacts Only or Receiving Off. This way, you won’t randomly receive AirDrop requests from strangers. You may have to turn on AirDrop more frequently, but the added privacy is worth those few extra taps. 

How to AirDrop

AirDrop won’t work if your Bluetooth is off. Check this by going into your device’s settings, clicking on Bluetooth, and making sure your device is discoverable. Once your Bluetooth is on, you may share web pages, contacts, images, location addresses, files, or videos. The process will be the same no matter what you try to AirDrop:

  1. Open the item’s sharing options. Depending on what you’re trying to share, you may find these options by tapping or clicking Share or the share icon (an arrow pointing upward out of a square).
  2. Hit the AirDrop icon. Within your sharing options, you should see what looks like a downward-facing Pac-Man made of several concentric circles. This is the AirDrop icon, and it may also say “AirDrop” under it.
  3. Choose your recipient. Once you tap or click the AirDrop icon, you’ll see a list of any nearby devices you can share with, labeled People or Other People. If there are no devices close enough to AirDrop to, you won’t see anything. Move closer or check both devices’ Bluetooth and AirDrop settings. 

Do you need WiFi to AirDrop?

You don’t need WiFi to use AirDrop, but it’s recommended. AirDrop works best when both devices are connected to the same WiFi network. If WiFi is unavailable, AirDrop can use Bluetooth to establish a peer-to-peer connection between devices, but these will be noticeably slower than sharing over WiFi.

How to receive AirDropped content

As long as the sender and recipient devices have Bluetooth enabled, AirDrop will work seamlessly. On the receiving end, you’ll get a pop-up preview of the content the sender wants to share with you. You can either Decline or Accept. When the transfer is complete, your device will bring you to where it placed the content. For example, an AirDropped photo will be among your photos, and your device will use the Photos app to open the image on your screen. 

How many photos can you AirDrop?

According to Apple, there is no limit on the size of individual AirDropped files, but larger files will take longer to transfer. So whether you’re sharing a 1MB photo or a 1GB video, AirDrop will handle up to 100 media and non-media items in one batch.

[Related: How to back up and protect all your precious data]

If you need to migrate your entire camera roll, you’re better off using a wired connection and a dedicated photo and video transfer app. But for quickly sharing selected photos or videos on the go, AirDrop is likely your best bet.

Why you can’t AirDrop to an iPhone

All technology can be tricky from time to time, and AirDrop is no different. If AirDrop isn’t working between iPhones or other Apple devices, try these troubleshooting tips:  

  • Make sure both devices have AirDrop enabled in Settings
  • Check that you have cell or WiFi service and Bluetooth is turned on and working properly on both devices.
  • Move the devices closer together, within 30 feet.
  • Soft reset both devices by turning them off and back on.
  • Update both devices to the latest iOS, macOS, or iPadOS software version.
  • Temporarily disable any macOS firewalls that may block AirDrop. Do this by opening System Settings, then Network, and clicking on Firewall. Then hit the Options button and turn off Block all incoming connections.

As a last resort, back up both devices and restore them to their factory settings. If you need help, we have a guide that will help you reset iPhones and Macs.