So, you want to take remote control of your Mac computer while using a VPN? You’re in the right place – our goal is creating a Mac “server” and connecting to it from another Mac “client”. To do that, we’ll give you two options – one built-in, but that has users reporting a lot of trouble and update inconsistency. The second involves a third-party alternative that’s much easier to use, does most of the job for you, and has great reviews. Regardless of the way you go, here’s how to remote desktop through VPN on Mac:
Option 1. Use the built-in Apple Remote Desktop
Every Mac computer comes with an Apple Remote Desktop app pre-installed – you just might not have used it yet. Make sure you’re connected to the VPN before you start, whether you installed a VPN app or manually setup a VPN on Mac. Then, follow the step-by-step guide below:
1. Create a password for your server Mac
Since you’re opening Apple Remote Desktop for the first time on the Mac you want to connect to, here’s how to set up a password:
- Open the App Store and search for ‘Apple Remote Desktop’.
- After you find it, click on Open.
- Choose a complex password and enter it twice.
- We only recommend putting a checkmark in front of Add to Keychain if you’re the only person using the Mac.
- Click Continue, and jot down the password somewhere safe – you’ll need it in a minute.
- Leave all of the boxes checked in the next window, and click Done.
2. Enable Remote Login
This adds security to the equation, and also allows you to connect to your Mac via any SSH client via (Secure Shell) using SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol). Here’s you to turn on remote login on your Mac:
- Click on the apple icon in the top left corner.
- Select System Preferences.
- Select Sharing from the list of options.
- Click on Remote Login in the menu on the left.
- Put a checkmark in the empty box in front of it.
- Optional. If you want to allow access for specific user accounts, select Only these users: then click the + button to select accounts.
3. Enable Remote Management
Follow steps 1 through 3 above if you quit the window, then do this:
- Enable Remote Management by putting a checkmark in the box in front of its name in the menu.
- Optional. Follow the same steps to set specific user accounts that will have access.
- Click on the Options… button in the bottom right corner.
- Put a checkmark in front of Observe and Control. Depending on what you plan on doing, you can also enable other options such as Open and quit applications, Copy items, Delete and replace items, etc.
- Click on OK.
4. Verify that your Firewall isn’t blocking incoming connections
Once again, go to System Preferences, but this time, choose Security & Privacy. Here’s what to do next:
- Select Firewall.
- Click on the icon of a lock, and authenticate your user account with an admin password to enable access.
- Click on Firewall Options…
- Make sure there’s a green dot in front of Remote Login (SSH) and Remote Management. If not, click the + button and add them.
5. Establish a Remote Desktop connection on Mac via VPN
Switch over to your client Mac (the one you’ll be connecting from). Open Apple Remote Desktop and, if it’s your first time, set up a password just like you did a few minutes ago. Then, once you get to the main screen, do this:
- Click on Scanner in the menu on the left.
- You’ll see a list of Mac computers that are recognized on the network.
- Right-click on the one you want to connect to, and select:
- Control to take over the mouse, keyboard, and/or touchpad and issue commands (if allowed).
- Observe if you only want to see the screen.
- Curtain if you want to control the Mac remotely, but want the screen to be black for the target. Useful if you’re entering personal information.
- Since the computers are on the same VPN, you won’t be asked for IP Address/DNS. Enter username (user account name on the target Mac) and the password (the one you chose when opening Remote Desktop).
- If it worked, you’ll see a screen in the resolution of the target Mac appear on yours.
An alternative way to access Mac desktop remotely
You might find this way easier and faster. Also, it works effortlessly when connecting to your Mac from Windows or any other operating system using a VNC (Virtual Network Computing) software. Here are the steps required:
1. Enable Screen Sharing on the target Mac
Follow this set of steps to turn on Screen Sharing:
- Go to System Preferences > Sharing again.
- Tick the box in front of Screen Sharing to enable it.
- Save the computer screen address somewhere (for example, vnc://10.0.11.127/)
- To add a layer of security, click on Computer Settings…
- Tick the box in front of VNC viewers may control screen with password:
- Enter a password of your choice and click OK.
2. Open Apple Remote Desktop on the client Mac
Click anywhere outside of the main window and follow these steps:
- When the top taskbar changes, click on Go.
- In the Connect to Server text field, enter the VNC address, and click Connect.
- Enter a user account name on the Mac and the password you chose above.
- Click on Sign In.
- You will see the target Desktop appear on your screen.
Option 2. Use a third-party app
We recommend Screens for Mac since it’s beginner-friendly. Also, it should automatically configure Sharing settings you had to do manually, take care of blocked ports through port mapping, and automatically change your VPN IP address as it changes (unless you bought a static IP). Here are the required steps to remote desktop to Mac via VPN using Screens:
1. Setting up Screens ID
Connect to the VPN on your target Mac. Then, follow this set of steps:
- Create a Screens ID by entering an e-mail address and password.
- Download Screens Connect for Mac (“slave” app for devices) from the same page and install it.
- If prompted, click on Move to Applications Folder.
- Run the app and click on Continue.
- Sign in with your Screens ID in the app.
- Follow the on-screen welcome guide to choose a name for your Mac computer, decide on the username and password required to log in and method (select Mac User).
2. Connecting to your Mac desktop remotely
Switch over to your client Mac, and make sure you’re connected to the same VPN as the server (target) Mac. Here’s how to establish a remote desktop connection to your client Mac computer:
- Download Screens for Mac, which is the “master” application.
- After the installation, run it and sign it with your Screens ID.
- You should see your server Mac in the list on the left under Screen Connect.
If you don’t, configure Remote Login, Remote Management, and Screen Sharing, and check your firewall settings afterward before trying again.
- Click on the + button in the left corner of the top menu.
- Select New Screen.
- Under the Select a Computer drop-down list, select your Mac server PC and click Continue.
- If prompted, enter the username and password you choose in Screen Connect.
- If everything went right, you’ll see a new desktop screen window appear.