How I rolled my own AirDrop


Apple’s latest developer build of Lion touts a pretty fun feature called AirDrop.  It allows a user to simply drag and drop files from one Mac to another, and boom, the files swiftly bounce wirelessly to the other Mac.  A couple months ago, I actually stirred up my own cocktail to do the same thing.  Now, I know you can buy apps for this, but I wanted something that appeared to integrate into the very OS.  I didn’t want just another icon in my already cluttered menu bar.  My way results in being able to right-click a file, and choose “Send to MacBook” from the services menu.  Also, it’ll work over the internet.  Here’s how…

So the “cocktail” is a combo of Dropbox, Automator, and Hazel.  Dropbox is free, Automator comes on every Mac, and Hazel has a 14-day trial from, it's $21 if you like it.  For the tech adventurers, you’ll be able to set this all up in about five minutes. First, set up Dropbox. Go to your Dropbox folder, and create a folder somewhere called “Move Files.”  Then, create subfolders for each Mac (eg. “MacBook” and “Macmini”).

Second, create Automator workflows. You’ll need to do this on each of your Macs.  Open Automator, and choose “Services” from the template chooser.  Add in the action called “Move Finder Items.”  Set the “To:” menu to the folder that you just created for the other computer.  Close this Automator action and save it.  I have a subfolder in my Documents folder called “Automator Actions” for these guys.

Third, create Hazel rules. Again, you’ll need to do this on each Mac.  Add to Hazel’s folder list the Dropbox folder named after the computer that you’re currently on.  (For example, on the Macmini, you’ll want to add the “Macmini” Dropbox folder.)  Then, under the Rules list, add a new one.  Name the rule “Move to Desktop and set the following actions: If “Any File,” then Do the following: “Move file” to folder: “Desktop.”  Really, you could make the destination wherever you want.  I also added in another “Do the following” action that sends a Growl notification.

Now like I said, you’ll need to set up Automator and Hazel on each Mac.  The result is that you’ll now be able to right click a file, and choose, “Move to MacBook” from the popup menu.  Of course, you won’t want to do this with massive files, as Dropbox will be slowly uploading those to the cloud.  However, for PDFs, photos, and documents, this is quite handy.  And as I mentioned above, it’ll even work over the internet. Let me know in the comments if I need to clarify any of this. To make sure you’re getting your money’s worth out of Hazel, I suggest this article from Lifehacker.

[UPDATE: Aug 24, 2011] Eric Goldstein ( wrote in to suggest a single app that actually brings the ease of AirDrop to almost any Mac. It's called DropCopy, and I've actually played around with it in the past. It's free when installed on three or less Macs, and then $25 if you want to add more. It's definitely a good alternative, however I still prefer my method, as it isn't dependent upon another active app to the ones I already use, works over the Internet, and isn't dependent upon the Mac even being on. Of course, if you move files quite a bit, DropCopy's ability to work directly over the LAN might be a huge plus to your workflow. Thanks for the tip, Eric!

Rick Stawarz

Minneapolis, MN

I am an Apple Certified Support Professional with over a decade of experience supporting families, schools, and businesses. Tech has always captured my imagination, but it's not my only passion. I'm an ordained Anglican minister;  Aeropress is a daily ritual of mine; I've driven across Mongolia; and I'm the father of three girls. I hope to provide for you a balanced and realistic perspective into the practicality of technology.