Getting Started with macOS Server

Table of Contents

macOS might not be known as an enterprise server platform. But you can still share files and Time Machine backups using Apple’s macOS Server application.

Installing Server

1. Purchase the most recent version of macOS Server from the Mac App Store. Versions are particular to each operating system, so if you have an earlier version of macOS Server, it won’t work with Sierra. You’ll need to purchase the most recent version, which is version 5.2.

macos server download

2. Open Server from the Applications folder.

macos server open

3. You’ll be greeted by a startup window. Click the “Continue” button.

macos server launch

4. Next, click “Agree” to accept Server’s licensing agreement. Note that “Use Apple services to determine this server’s Internet reachability” will be checked by default. This will toggle your server’s ability to ping Apple’s servers to check on it’s own service availability. We can leave this checked, since it will make determining uptime easier in the future, if necessary.

macos server terms

5. Enter your administrator password and click “Allow” to finalize the installation.

macos server admin password

6. Server will run its setup scripts, which takes up to a minute.

macos server first run

Setting Up macOS Server

1. Once Server has finished its first-time setup functionality, it will open to the main Server screen.

macos server main screen

2. In the center of this window you’ll see some info about your server.

macos server details

3. The server’s default name is “Alexs-iMac.” This is a dumb name.

macos server computer name

To apply a more unique moniker, I’ll click the “Edit Host Name…” button. This will also prompt me to do a little first-run server setup.

macos server edit host name

4. The popup window will explain what a host name is. A host name is the name your computer will use on your local network, like its own username. Click the “Next” button.

macos server change host name

5. From the next popup, choose “Local Network” and click “Next.”

macos server change host name local network

6. At long last, we can give our server a better name. Click in the “Computer Name” text box and type in an excellent name.

macos server change computer name

Note that you can only use the characters a-z, 0-9, the space, and the hyphen symbol (-) for your computer name.

Personally, I like to use “w8r,” since it’s kind of a hax0r-restaurant-themed pun on “server.” I’m fun at parties.

7. Your host name, seen below the “Computer Name” box, will automatically change to match your new computer name. The host name is a little more restrictive, so any spaces in your computer name will be converted to hyphens in your host name. When you’re done, click “Finish.”

macos server change computer name w8r

8. That wasn’t so hard after all!

macos server change host name success

Sharing Files With Server

Now let’s make it useful with services. Services are all the things that your server is capable of doing, from sharing calendars and hosting email to backing up multiple Macs on a centralized Time Machine backup. We’ll make our server useful by setting up the File Sharing service.

1. Click on File Sharing in the Server window’s sidebar under “Services.”

macos server file sharing sidebar

2. Click the big “Off” toggle in the upper-right of the window.

macos server file sharing toggle

3. The toggle will turn green and say “On.” The “Status” icon will also turn green, and you should see the server under the “Shared” section of Finder.

macos server file sharing on

4. To make specific folders accessible to connected users, click on the “plus” button under Shared Folders and select a folder from the popup Finder window.

macos server file sharing add location

Connecting To Your Server

Now that our server is online, any Mac on the same local network can connect to it.


1. Choose “Connect to Server…” from Finder’s “Go” menu, or press “Command + K” with Finder active.

macos server connect to server

2. Type in your server’s host name (which ends in “.local”) using the prefix “afp://” and click “Connect.” For example, I’ve typed in afp://w8r.local, as seen below.

macos server enter server host name

3. All our shares are guest accessible right now, so there’s no need to sign in. Click the radio button next to “Guest,” then click “Connect.”

macos server connect as guest

4. Choose the folder you want to access, then click “OK.”

macos server choose folder

5. A Finder window will open showing your newly mounted folder. You’ll also see your connected server under the “Shared” sidebar.

macos server folder mounted

Advanced Usage: Setting Up Time Machine

Now, you might say that you could accomplish the same file sharing trick in System Preferences, and indeed you could. Some of the functionality in macOS Server is already available in the base OS. But some things, like backing up multiple Macs to a centralized Time Machine disk, are not.

1. Click on “Time Machine” in the sidebar, under “Services.”

macos server time machine sidebar

2. Click the “Off” toggle in the upper-right of the window.

macos server time machine toggle

3. In the pop-up window, click “Choose..” to select the location you want to use as a backup disk.

macos server time machine choose location

4. You also have the option to limit users to a specific amount of disk space. If you want to enable that, tick the checkbox next to “Backup Limit” and type a number in the text box. The default setting is 500 GB.

macos server time machine backup limit

5. Click “Create” when you’re done to create the Time Machine location.

macos server time machine create location

6. Success! This disk will now be a selectable Time Machine backup for any users on your network.

macos server time machine success

You might also like:

Mac 101: Viewing Servers on the Desktop
Getting Started with Terminal: An Introduction
The Best Mac Backup Strategies You Should Use Today
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Kossi Adzo

Kossi Adzo is a technology enthusiast and digital strategist with a fervent passion for Apple products and the innovative technologies that orbit them. With a background in computer science and a decade of experience in app development and digital marketing, Kossi brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to the Apple Gazette team.

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