How to Access Network Files From Your iPad

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The iPad is a great tool for accessing web-based content. Be it music, video, or games, iPads are omnivorous boxes, hoovering up entertainment from the universe and piping it into a beautiful Retina display. And if you want to grab files from any of a number of online services, you need only download the app. Dropbox, Box, Netflix, Plex: all these apps are a free download away. But what if you’re the server?

If you have a home server set up, it should seem like accessing files on that server should be simple. There is a little bit of a quirk here, in that the iPad is not natively equipped for accessing resources on a local network. Macs are, but iOS devices don’t have that capability out of the box. It’s not too hard to get that capability, though. Not unexpectedly, it comes through an app download. All these tips are also compatible with other iOS devices, including iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches.

Also, we’ll be assuming that you have a server set up on your network already. It can be as simple as a Mac with File Sharing turned on. If you don’t have a server, or access to a server, you won’t be able to use any of these tips.

The app we will be using primarily is Documents, produced by well-respected iOS app developer Readdle. There are other apps that accomplish the same or similar purposes, but they are either obnoxiously ad-supported or offer fewer features.

1. Download Documents from the App Store.

2. Open the Documents application on your iPad.

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3. Click on “Add Account” in the sidebar under “In the Cloud.”

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4. Click “Windows SMB” or “FTP,” depending on the type of server you have. If you’re not sure, use Windows SMB. This is also true for connecting to Mac servers. By default, they offer SMB (Samba) connectivity, and Macs can be connected using Samba. FTP servers will also work fine, but the protocol is older and slower.

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5. You only need to enter the IP address of your server. If the server is on a local network, you’ll enter an IP address that looks like 10.0.0.123 or 192.168.0.123. Servers outside of your local network will of course have their own URLs. If you don’t know this information yourself, you’ll want to ask your system administrator for permission to log into the system that way.

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The only thing you must enter is the IP address. However, some servers are configured to require a username and password, and remote servers often require a domain to specify where the connection should happen. If you don’t know what to type there, just leave it blank. You can name the server whatever you’d like.

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6. Click the “Save” button in the upper-right after you’ve entered the IP information.

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7. When connected, your server will automatically open.

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To access it in the future, click on the server name in the sidebar to view your files.

You can open a huge variety of files in Documents, including all of the ones mentioned below.

  • Documents: .pages, .keynote, .numbers; .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .pdf, .ppt, .pptx, .rtf, .rtfd, .txt, .html, .htm, .epub, .webarchive
  • Images: .bmp, .gif, .ico, .jpeg, .png, .tiff, .xbm
  • Movies: .3gp, .l16, .m3u, .m4v, .mm, .mov, .mp4, .scm
  • Audio: .aac, .aif, .aifc, .aiff, .au, .l16, .m3u, .m4a, .m4b, .m4p, .mp3, .pcm, .wav
  • Archives: .zip, .rar

Video streaming is very watchable, but you won’t find as many affordances as in made-for-streaming apps.

Sometimes you just want to stream your own media to your iPad or iPhone. There’s more than one tool out there for this, but let’s examine the simplest one, VLC for Mobile. It uses your local network’s Wi-Fi connection to discover servers and stream media. It supports streaming from SMB, FTP, UPnP/DLNA media servers and the Web, as well as file synchronization with Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, iCloud Drive and iTunes.

1. Download VLC for Mobile from the iOS App Store.

2. Open the app and click through the introduction which we will recap here.

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3. Tap on the orange cone in the top-left of the app.

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4. Click “Local Network” in the sidebar.

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5. Select your server from the list. If you have a Plex server, you’ll see it here. You’re most likely to see your SMB server.

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6. If necessary, enter any login credentials required for your server, then click “Connect” to initiate the connection.

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7. Select the video you want to watch from the file browser to begin streaming.

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There’s more than one way to access network files on your iPad. If you only have one use case, like streaming video, you’ll find dedicated apps are the most appropriate. If you want to access general files, Documents will be more useful.

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