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Mail Drop

By: 

Eli Waeterling

Published: 

February 21, 2017

Updated: 

February 21, 2017 2:41 PM

You can send large email attachments with this Apple built-in tool

If you’ve ever tried to send a large attachment with an email and found that your mail server rejected the message, or that it got lost along the way, then you’ll need to get to know Mail Drop.




What is Mail Drop?

Mail Drop is Apple’s free-to-use solution that lets you share large files from an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Mac. To send email the feature only works with Apple’s own Mail app on those platforms, but you can receive the email from any platform.

Apple introduced Mail Drop in OS X Yosemite on the Mac and in iOS 9.2 for iOS devices, and it is supported in all current editions of the operating system (macOS Sierra and later as well as iOS 10 and later).

The system is designed to help users get past the file size limits many email service providers impose on email attachments. As a result, emails with an attachment bigger than the set limits bounce back, thus fail to send.

Mail Drop automatically detects the attachment (up to 5GB) and uploads it to Apple’s iCloud service, enabling you to feature it in the email without sending the data via your service provider.

When the other party receives your email, they find a link that lets them download it from iCloud. The download will have taken place automatically. There are a few restrictions, but we’ll go into those later on.

Why you need Mail Drop

Mail Drop is really handy for sharing large files. Even better, using it is almost seamless, and you need not worry which platform, application, or email application the person you are trying to send an attachment to is using. Nor do you need to go through the hassle of uploading the file to third party file exchange services, or convincing people to use online storage services they may not trust.

Some technical experts think sending attachments via Mail Drop is even more secure in transit than conventional email. Nothing is ever completely secure, but while the file may move through numerous servers in transit between you and your destination with email, with Mail Drop the majority of the journey takes place on the way to and from Apple’s relatively secure iCloud. Though this still leaves plenty of wriggle room for hackers, so it makes sense to encrypt files you send.

You can use Mail Drop to get round silly bandwidth restrictions, including Internet Service Providers file size maximums, corporate IT policies, or any other file size restriction that may make conventional email impossible.

Mail Drop limitations

There are some limitations. Attachments must be no larger than 5GB and will only be stored and made available on iCloud for 30-days before they are removed. The files do not count against your own iCloud storage limit.

You cannot send large folders unless they are compressed. To send a folder you must Control-Click on the folder in Finder and choose ‘Compress [Folder Name] in the contextual menu that appears. You can then send this item as a single large file.

Apple will keep a maximum of 1TB of Mail Drop attachments, if you try to send more after that the process will fail. However, attachments will expire after 30-days so you’ll be able to use the feature again once it does. You cannot currently control which files are left available using Mail Drop, or edit those you have sent – they will be kept for 30-days.  The time taken to upload or to download a Mail Drop file will vary depending on the broadband connection you are using, of course.




How long does Apple store Mail Drop files?

Apple will only store a Mail Drop file you send for up to 30-days, after which it will automatically be deleted. If you receive a Mail Drop attachment then you should download it soon after receipt in order to ensure it isn’t deleted before you get to it. This also means that if you think you may need a file later on, then you should create a separate backup of it outside of Mail Drop/iCloud. It is not possible to change the 30-day expiry limit, nor is it possible to delete items before the 30-day storage period completes.

How to Use Mail Drop on a Mac

Apple has designed Mail Drop to be super-easy to use – you shouldn’t really need to think about it, though you will need to check you have it enabled on your email account.  Here is a complete guide on how to use Mail Drop on a Mac.

To check Mail Drop is enabled

  • Open Mail>Preferences.
  • Tap Accounts. You should see a list of all the accounts you currently have enabled on your Mac.
  • Select the account you wish to use and tap ‘Account Information’.
  • You should see the tick box to enable that account, the account status and other information about that email identity. At the bottom (directly beneath ‘Download Attachments’) you should see a checkbox for “Send large attachments with Mail Drop”.
  • Tick the checkbox to switch this feature on.
  • You can enable Mail Drop for each account if you use lots of accounts.
  • Click Done when you’ve finished. Your Mac should automatically use Mail Drop when you try to send an attachment that’s larger than your ISP supports.

To use Mail Drop

  • Create a new email message
  • While writing a new message use the Attach button at the top of the window and select the files you want to attach. You can also drag-&-drop items you wish to send.
  • If your files are too large to send you’ll be asked if you want to use Mail Drop. When you indicate you want to use the feature the files will be uploaded to iCloud.
  • Once the upload completes the attached files will appear above the email message text.
  • To remove an attachment before sending it just click the remove icon (across) you can see by the file name.
  • Once the files are uploaded to iCloud, tap Send and the message will be on its way.
  • Recipients will either be provided with a download link with which to access the file, or they will receive it as an attachment in the ordinary way, though this depends on which platform, ISP, or email application they use.
  • Recipients will be told how large the file they must download is. All files expire after 30-days.

How to Use Mail Drop on an iOS device

Mail Drop also works on iPhones, iPads, and the iPod touch. Usage is relatively similar to the manner in which you use it on the Mac, it should trigger automatically when you try to send an email containing a large attachment. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Open Mail and create a new email message, or select the item you wish to send, select it, and mail it using the Share button.
  • If you want to select something from within an email you should tap and release inside the body of the email message until the contextual Select dialog appears.
  • When it does you must scroll through toward the right using the arrow keys that appear until you reach the ‘Add Attachment’ option.
  • Now you can navigate to the item you wish to send on your device. Tap to select it.
  • This item will now become an attachment within your email.
  • Finish your email and write the recipient(s) address(es) and hit Send.
  • A dialog will appear warning you that the message you are attempting to send may be too large to send by email.
  • It will ask if you want to use Mail Drop to deliver the attachment using iCloud. You can ignore this and try sending the file as a regular attachment, or use Mail Drop.

If you use Mail Drop recipients will either receive a download link they can use to get the file, or they will see it appear as an ordinary attachment within the message they receive. They will be informed as to the size of the file you’ve asked them to download, so they can choose to pick it up at a more convenient moment (such as when on Wi-Fi). Files expire after 30-days.   Here is a complete guide on How to receive Mail Drop on iOS10.




You can use Mail Drop through a Web browser

You can also use Mail Drop to send email using the iCloud Mail Web app in a Web browser. This is quite useful if you are traveling and need to use a borrowed computer to get online, as iCloud online works with most decent browsers and Windows as well as Macs.
You’ll need to visit and use your Apple ID to login to iCloud (www.icloud.com) in the browser first.

  • Open the Mail app and click the Compose button inside Mail in the browser, and complete your email in the usual way.
  • To attach an item to your message just tap the Attach button at the top right (it looks like a paperclip).
  • Select the files you wish to send and click Choose.
  • Tip: To select multiple non-adjacent files use Command-click on a Mac or Control-Click on Windows. You can also drag-&-drop files onto the message composition window on Macs.
  • If the attachment(s) become too large to send using your current connection, (usually when they hit 20MB or above), Mail on the Web will ask you if you want to use Mail Drop. You can choose not to do so if you wish.
  • Tap “Use Mail Drop” and the attachment will begin to upload. You must not quit the page before the upload is complete. Once the upload is complete you’ll see your attachment listed just under the Subject line in the email composition window.
  • You can click the X to the right of the file name to delete it or repeat the process to add more attachments to the email.

Once you have managed to place all the attachments you want to send into your message and the upload process is complete, you’ll be able to Send your message.

Now you should be able to transfer almost any file to another person using email from any Mac, iOS device, or even a Windows PC, thanks to Mail Drop.

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