Mac Screen Sharing Through the Messages App

You can help out a friend by showing them something on their Mac by taking over their screen. There are many ways to start screen sharing between Macs, but the easiest is probably by using Messages. You can request to take over their screen during a chat. You can simply point things out to them, or you can actually take control over their cursor and text input.

Video Transcript
Hi, this is Gary with In this episode let me show you how to help out somebody by taking control of their Mac starting with the Messages app.

Maybe you've been in this situation before. You want to help somebody out. Maybe a parent, maybe a child, somebody that is not at your location and they are having trouble with their Mac or maybe they are just trying to figure out how to do something and you know how to do it. It's difficult sometimes to tell them over the phone or using email how to help them.

But you can take control of their screen using ScreenSharing. Now a lot of time this involves configuring exactly where they are, what their IP address is, setting things up on their Mac and all that. But the simplest way to do it is to start by using the Messages app.

If you are using iMessage to communicate with them with the Messages app on your Mac and their Mac you can very easily take over their screen and show them how to do something or do it for them.

So I'm going to start off by just going into the Messages app. If you don't have the messages app yet configured for you or the person that you're trying to help then you want to just go into Messages and you go into Preferences, add your account to it, and of course have them do the same thing. You can use your email address, usually your Apple ID address right there, as the way to contact them.

Now that I've got mine set up and they have theirs set up, and I have it here on my laptop next to my desktop, I'm going to contact them using the Apple ID of the other machine. Again this is on my desk where I have two machines on my desk. But this can be somebody halfway around the world.

I'm going to type a message now at the bottom. Just something that will get this going. You can see here on the other screen I've got a message and I can respond.

Great. So now that I've done that, of course you can use this for normal chatting, but if you want to help the person out on a technical issue you can click on the Details button here and then click on this ScreenSharing button and you can either invite them to share your screen or you can ask them to share their screen. So we'll ask to share their screen. You can see on the other machine here we have a notification that we have to Accept. Once we do we go into ScreenSharing.

So now we've got that and they're going to hear our voice over their speaker. So you're doing something similar to FaceTime and you are actually communicating with voice. Just audio only.

This is their screen and I'm seeing inside of a window here. You can see when I go in I can hone in on it at specific spot and they will see there which spot I'm looking at. Now if I want to control what they've got you can see I have it set to binoculars for observe mode. I can switch to control mode and they'll get a question there of whether or not they want to do it.

Now you can see I'm actually controlling their cursor. So I can do things. For instance I can run an app or just anything I want down here. I'm basically controlling their cursor and their keyboard. So I can run Safari. So I'll run Safari on their machine and I can type. So if I was going to doing something like say show them how to configure something on their Mac I can do that by going to System Preferences and actually doing it.

So I can now use all the standard ScreenSharing things here. I can even use the Shared Clipboard. I can set the scaling so I can actually see their screen at full size and then move my cursor around to adjust where I'm looking.

When I'm done with this I can actually just quit ScreenSharing or close the window here and now we return here where we are just back in the regular Messages chat and I've helped them out.

So this is great for helping out a relative, a parent, a child, anybody that needs help with their Mac from your Mac. It really works best when you're both using the latest operating system. If they're using too old of an OS or you are then it's not going to work out. So you want to make sure that everybody is up to date to begin with. Then you can provide technical assistance to those you want just by using Messages. Not having to setup anything special with your router or using any special software. You can just do this by using the Messages app between two Macs.

Now this whole thing can be thwarted by some advanced security protections, firewalls, certain routers may not allow traffic over this port that ScreenSharing needs. But it should work for most people. You may want to try it out before you actually need it. So if there is somebody you sometimes help out with Mac stuff you may want to just chat with them on Messages, try taking over their Mac so they can see what it's like and you can see what it's like and then when you need it in the future it will be very easy for you both to be able to set it up and do it.

Comments: 19 Responses to “Mac Screen Sharing Through the Messages App”

    Law Thim Fook
    2/15/16 @ 11:48 am

    Much thanks, Gary, for this useful video. I’ve actually tried this before, with another friend, but we were not able to share screens. We did the steps that you have mentioned here – except till the part of accepting the screen sharing, as this screen didn’t pop up. And, in System Preference, Sharing/Screen Sharing, we have also turned it on, but it still didn’t work. In the first place, does this option need to be on? Also, how many versions back of OS X can we perform this screen sharing? Thks

    2/15/16 @ 11:50 am

    Can’t be sure why it didn’t work for you. Could be a router at either end, or an ISP, blocking traffic on the ports that are needed. I don’t think you need to turn on the direct Screen Sharing option. If you did, then it wouldn’t appear as an option in the first place. I’ve only tried this on matching versions of El Capitan. It may work on Yosemite, but I doubt much before that.

    Cora Dugan
    2/15/16 @ 3:07 pm

    That was a great video! Thank you for that!

    At first, it didn’t work…but I made sure my face time was turned on…and I used my “apple ID”. I sent the message, and then the “details” came up. Thanks for the tips!!

    Law Thim Fook
    2/16/16 @ 11:53 am

    Thanks for your quick reply, Gary. Hmmm, ISP, blocking traffic, etc? FYI, I have VPN on, Ghostery and AdBlock … so I wonder if that’s causing it. Anyway, I’ll retry later. I’ve actually spoken with an Apple Support staff, and she said the Screen Sharing on iMessage has been removed in El Capitain. Guess it’s not true (anymore). Shhhhhh …. FaceTime has to be turned on …?

    Thanks again and regards.

    2/16/16 @ 12:02 pm

    Law: “Screen Sharing on iMessage has been removed in El Capitan”? Huh? That’s what I’m showing in the video. Perhaps you mistyped?
    As for those other things, it should be easy enough to turn them off to test. I would say that VPN is indeed a suspect if you are having trouble. FaceTime should be turned on, yes. Why have it turned off?

    Law Thim Fook
    2/17/16 @ 9:47 am

    Yes, Gary, that was what I was told by one of Apple’s Support staff, when I mentioned to her that I couldn’t perform screen sharing on iMessage on El Capitain- which I don’t think is true, or true anymore, as shown in your video. OK, I’ll test out later with VPN off, and FaceTime on. Fyi, I didn’t turn on FaceTime the last time
    – maybe this could be another reason why it didn’t work earlier.

    Law Thim Fook
    2/17/16 @ 9:31 pm

    Quick update, Gary. Confirm that with FaceTime on, I was able to share the screen on iMessage. I didn’t even need to turn off VPN. Guess the earlier error/oversight was not turning FaceTime on.

    Much thanks for your assistance, Gary. Greatly appreciated.


    2/18/16 @ 11:09 am

    Great topic and as always well explained. As a Mac teacher with lots of distant clients, this is invaluable! Thanks.

    2/18/16 @ 11:36 am

    Hi Gary…my screen sharing icon is greyed out…can’t get this working. FaceTime is on..i’m in Mavericks. I’ve switched on screensharing in preferences too (it wasn’t on before). Hmmm..any help please? Frustrated…

    2/18/16 @ 11:39 am

    Jamie: Not sure how well this will work in Mavericks. Remember it takes two to do this, so even if you have it set right, then if they have FaceTime turned off, a VPN, or some sort of router firewall then you can’t connect to them.

    2/18/16 @ 12:04 pm

    ok thanks – i don’t think this is going to be as straightforward as you have suggested after all! Argh!

    2/18/16 @ 2:06 pm

    Screen sharing has been around and working fine since at least 2009. Its only since Yosemite that it stopped working for some people. It probably has to do with Apple’s increased security but I still have not found the cuplrit. What exactly do you guys mean about ‘turning FaceTime ON’, do you mean launching FaceTime and have it running in the background?

    2/18/16 @ 2:10 pm

    JPF: Run FaceTime. Go to FaceTime, Preferences. Are you logged in? Is “Enable this account” checked? This shouldn’t affect direct VNC connections for screen sharing (like on a fixed IP address) but it will probably shut down many functions of Messages if you have disabled FaceTime. The two apps really work hand-in-hand.

    2/19/16 @ 7:56 am

    Thanks Gary, my FaceTime settings were fine, I’ll have to check the4 preferences on my ‘support customers’.

    Adam Snyder
    2/19/16 @ 10:35 am

    Excellent video Gary. I did not realize this was possible nor this simple.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Pat Mcknight
    2/20/16 @ 7:50 am

    Great tip. Will this work to share a screen with an iPad?

    2/20/16 @ 7:54 am

    Pat: No. But you can use a VNC app on the iPad to view/control the screen on your Mac. Search for VNC in the app store. You can’t use Messages to initiate it, so you’ll have to know the IP address, have your router set up correctly, or use another technique to “locate” the Mac from the VNC app on your iPad. It is more of an expert-level technique and no where near as easy to do as what I show here.

    Bob Gerard
    2/28/16 @ 10:52 am

    I have Screen Shared using Messages multiple times with different folks in the past. Yesterday, with my daughter using Yosemite in SC and me using El Cap in MD, it would not work. The problem, whatever it was, was at her end: when she moused over Details, the subsequent icons were all greyed out. Cannot figure out why. Used Team Viewer instead. Wish I could figure out why it would not work on her end.

    3/26/16 @ 11:43 am

    I’ve used screen sharing via Messages/iChat since 2007 to help my mom remotely. Last July, the AOL version of the application stopped working; the icon at the bottom of the buddies list appears “grey” as unavailable. We switched to using the iCloud version of the application demonstrated in the video above and that had work great for roughly seven months through the upgrade to El Capitan. Since January 2016, the screen sharing icon under “Details” now appears grey and unavailable. Strange.

Comments Closed.