Use target disk mode to share files between two Mac computers

Learn how to use target disk mode for high-speed file sharing between two Mac computers.

What is target disk mode and when should I use it?

Target disk mode lets you share files between two Mac computers that are connected via their FireWire, Thunderbolt 2, USB-C, or Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports. With target disk mode, one Mac appears as an external disk on the other Mac, allowing you to browse and copy files. This is useful when you need high transfer speeds or if the display on one of your computers isn't working and you need to get files from it.

As an alternative to target disk mode, you can use AirDrop to send content between two Mac computers wirelessly.

How to set up and use target disk mode

To get started, connect your two Mac computers with a FireWire, Thunderbolt, or USB-C cable that supports sufficient data transfer speeds. Then follow these steps:

  1. If the Mac that you'll use as a disk is off, start it up while holding down the T key and skip to step four. If it's on, click the Apple () menu and choose System Preferences.
  2. Click Startup Disk and then click Target Disk Mode. If you see a closed lock at the lower left, click it and type your password to make the Target Disk Mode button available.
  3. A message asks "Are you sure you want to restart your computer in target disk mode?" Click Restart.
  4. After the Mac starts up in target disk mode, it appears as a disk icon on the desktop of the other Mac. Double-click the disk to open it and browse its files.
  5. Transfer files by dragging them to or from the disk.
  6. Eject the disk by dragging its icon to the Trash (the Trash icon changes to an Eject icon).
  7. To exit target disk mode, press and hold the power button on the Mac you used as a disk. Then disconnect the cable.

Target disk mode on MacBook with USB-C port

MacBook (12-inch, Retina, Early 2015) and later support USB target disk mode using the following USB-C cables to transfer data:

  • USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 USB-C Cable (USB-C to USB-C): Use this cable to share files between a MacBook with a USB-C port and another MacBook with a USB-C port. 
  • USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 USB-A to USB-C Cable: Use this cable to share files between a Mac with USB-A port(s) and a MacBook with a USB-C port.

These cables aren't currently available from Apple. The USB-C Charge Cable (2m) that came with your MacBook doesn't support target disk mode.

Target disk mode on MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports

You can use target disk mode to transfer data between MacBook Pro models with Thunderbolt 3 and other Mac computers.

To use target disk mode between a MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 and another Mac notebook's USB-C port, connect the two computers with a USB-C cable such as the Belkin 3.1 USB-C to USB-C Cable.

To use target disk mode between a MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 and another Mac with Thunderbolt, connect a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter to your MacBook Pro and then use a Thunderbolt cable to connect the adapter to the other Mac.

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