By Dan Moren
November 12, 2020 12:02 PM PT
Command Performance: Connect to Server
Back in my earliest days of using networked computers1 I quickly learned the glories of connecting to other computers, whether it was via telnet, gopher, or eventually a web browser like lynx.
While I still spend plenty of time using the command line for these tasks, macOS has some powerful networking capabilities built right into the Finder that I also end up using quite a bit. I speak, of course, of that old workhorse: Connect to Server.
Hidden away in the Go menu, Connect to Server is actually an impressively versatile command, since it accepts a wide variety of URLs that you can plug into it. While I frequently use it to make file-sharing connections with other devices on my network—in olden days, via Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) and, in more recent times, SMB (Server Message Block)—Connect to Server goes far beyond those meager capabilities.
For example, if you’ve ever wanted to quickly initiate screen sharing via the Finder, you might be tempted to navigate to the Locations section of a Finder window sidebar, click on the computer you want to view, then find the Share Screen button. But if the device you’re looking for doesn’t show up in Locations, or this just seems like—let’s admit it—too much work, you can instead use the vnc:// URL scheme in the Connect to Server window. So, for example, I just type
vnc://Cavalier.local, hit Return, and I’m off to the races; the Finder will launch macOS’s Screen Sharing app and initiate the connection with my laptop.
Third-party apps can register for URL support as well. So, for example, if I need to upload some files to my site, I can type
sftp://dmoren.com and it will open up Panic’s Transmit and start up a connection to my website.
And because Connect to Server supports URL schemes, you can take it a step further and even specify certain file shares or directories, i.e.
sftp://example.com/uploads or even put in your username:
Connect to Server also offers a few other useful features built into its window. For one, you can browse back over a list of servers you’ve recently connected to by clicking the menu button on the right side of the address field, which has definitely saved me the trouble of remembering arcane IP addresses. You can also save favorite servers by entering the URL and then clicking the Plus button at the bottom of the window. Finally, there’s also a Browse button, which will open a Finder window at the Network location, letting you see other devices on your local network.
This is really only scraping the surface of what you can do with Connect to Server, since, as I said, third-party software can register its own URL handling schemes. In order to find a list of some of these, you can run a Terminal command like
defaults read com.apple.LaunchServices/com.apple.launchservices.secure | grep Scheme, but even that doesn’t cover the full breadth. To get a more comprehensive look, you’ll want to check out something like the SwiftDefaultApps preference pane, which gives you far more information—and control—over these schemes.
I’d also be remiss for not mentioning that the Files app on iOS has now had its own Connect to Server button for a while, though it’s not nearly as capable as its macOS counterpart. You’ll find it hidden behind the three dots button at the top of the Locations sidebar on the iPad, or in the top right of the iPhone interface. It doesn’t support many URL schemes—neither SFTP or VNC work, even if you have third-party apps that can do those tasks—or let you save favorites, but at least it lets you connect to Macs, PCs, and some other file servers on your local network. Here’s hoping that someday it grows up to be as powerful as its sibling.
- Namely, dialing into the VAX account for my dad’s work. ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]