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We're all connected to the same WiFi but other computers only show up in the Finder when they are close by.

According to this Mac Basics article, you need to

  • have Wi-Fi turned on
  • select AirDrop in the Finder
  • be in close proximity (“AirDrop is designed to work within a range of approximately 30 feet.”)

(emphasis mine)

What's the technical explanation for this requirement?

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    This article: support.apple.com/kb/HT4783 mentions that the computers needn't be on the same Wi-Fi, so the connection might be on an ad-hoc Wi-Fi between the two computers, not on the existing network. Hence the distance requirement. – Lizzan Sep 1 '14 at 13:56
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    Oh wow, I read that somewhere but didn't see the connection (no pun intended). I'm not really familiar with ad-hoc networks. If you could elaborate on this and turn it into an answer, I'll gladly accept it. – awendt Sep 1 '14 at 14:32
  • I'm not familiar with them either, so if someone else knows, feel free to write that answer. :-) – Lizzan Sep 1 '14 at 14:46
  • For me Airdrop does not even work in close proximity... – gota Feb 18 '16 at 17:43
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It uses Bluetooth to look for nearby devices.

You can read more about it on AppleInsider:

It should be understood that AirDrop is a proximity-limited technology, meaning that it will only work when two or more users are near each other. This is illustrated by the requirement that a compatible device, which will be limited to the iPhone 5 or later, fourth-generation iPad, iPad mini, and fifth-generation iPod touch, have both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled.

When AirDrop is activated, it uses Bluetooth to scan for nearby devices that are advertising discoverability. User can elect to be seen by everyone, only by contact, or not at all if the feature is turned off.

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    As far as I know, OS X uses only Wi-Fi for AirDrop. When I go to AirDrop in Finder bluetooth is not turned on. Wiki page states the same: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AirDrop – Mateusz Szlosek Sep 1 '14 at 12:32
  • This confusion is exactly why I'm asking this question :) – awendt Sep 1 '14 at 13:47
  • Seems the Bluetooth is for detecting devices, WiFi for transferring data. – bjbk Oct 11 '15 at 2:28
  • it did work for me between two macbook with no wifi. @bjbk i think wifi is not important – Cade Mar 24 '16 at 10:29
  • A wifi network is not needed but wifi between the two Macs is adhoc. – bjbk Mar 24 '16 at 19:18

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