Updated October 4th, 2020.
UPDATE: things have changed a little since I wrote this article, and they’ve changed for the better! Apple now has something called “Messages in iCloud.” This means that you can now delete a message from your iPhone and it will be removed from your Mac automatically. It works in the other direction too. Previously– that is, when I first wrote this article– you could set things up so you received all of your text messages on both your iPhone and your Mac, but you had to delete them from both devices separately. Now, with Messages in the Cloud turned on (and that’s optional), Messages acts more like Mail– delete something from one device and it disappears from your other device.
Messages in iCloud requires at least macOS 10.13.4 and iOS 11.4. They weren’t invented when I first wrote this article. On the iPhone, you’ll find a new option in the iCloud section of the Settings, and it looks like this:
That’s just as you’d expect: Settings, iCloud, Messages turned on. On a Mac, it’s different— you don’t go to System Preferences / iCloud. The option to turn on Messages in iCloud is in the Messages app’s Preferences, so you start Messages, go to the Messages menu, come down to Preferences…, click on Accounts, and there you find the checkbox. Here it is:
You still need to do the things in the rest of this article, so keep reading. But now things really sync, both when messages are coming in, and when you are deleting them.
Below: the original article. Still important stuff.
It’s really handy to have your iPhone’s text messages show up on your Mac (and/or iPad). Start a texting conversation on your iPhone when you’re out, then continue it at home or work when you’re able to use your Mac (or iPad). Each device will have the complete conversation, and the other party will not know that you aren’t doing it all on your iPhone. Setting it up takes a couple of steps, and occasionally things stop working. In that case you’ll need to check on the settings again. This article tells you everything you need to know.
If you’re not getting any of your text messages on your Mac or iPad, this article is for you. If you’re getting some, but not all, of your text messages on your Mac or iPad, this article is also for you!
iMessages are not text messages!
Technically, iMessages are not text messages, and text messages are not iMessages. “Real” text messages are handled by the phone company, and they are sent to devices with phone numbers (for example, to your iPhone). Real text messages appear in green on your iPhone in the Messages app. Apple’s “iMessage” service provides something that looks a lot like text messages, but with two important differences: iMessages are handled by Apple’s servers, so they don’t go through the phone company (which means the phone company can’t charge you for them), and they’re available on any device signed into your Apple ID. iMessages appear in blue on your devices.
iMessages will sync across all of your devices as long as they’re all signed into the same Apple ID. But text messages– the green ones– by default belong to your iPhone only, and they will not appear on your other devices, because text messages are tied to a phone number, which only your iPhone has. But will will fix that up shortly.
So you have two systems going at once: the phone company’s (green) text message system, and Apple’s (blue) iMessage system. The goal here is to tie these two systems together, and to show all of the messages, whether “text” or “iMessage,” all in the same Messages app. So how do we get the phone company’s text messages (sent to your phone number, on your iPhone) onto your Mac and iPad etc.? That’s what this article is about.
Note: your devices don’t really sync with each other. Rather, they sync with iCloud. There can be a little bit of a lag sometimes so you may notice messages appearing on one of your devices before the others. That’s just the way it goes– nothing for us to do about it.
Step 0: if you’ve never launched Messages on your Mac, launch it now. If you see this box, fill it in with your Apple ID and Apple ID password and then click “Sign in.”
Step 1: On your iPhone, go to Settings, then Messages. iMessage has to be ON. If it’s already on, but you’re not getting text messages onto your Mac, switch it off. Then switch it on. You’ll then see something that says “Use your Apple ID for iMessage.” Tap that, then enter your Apple ID and password. Signing in with your Apple ID is key to tieing your devices together. (It’s also often the step that people miss.)
Step 2: On your Mac, launch the Messages app (in the Dock by default) and go to Messages/Preferences… Click “Accounts.” You may see more than one account, but one of them should say “iMessage” underneath it. Click it, and be sure the checkbox for “Enable this account” (under Apple ID) is checked. If it’s not checked, check it. If you’re asked for a password, put it in– this is the Apple ID password that’s needed.
(You may notice that you DON’T see your iPhone’s phone number in the list where it says “You can be reached for messages at,” If it’s there, but unchecked, check it. If it’s not there, don’t worry, we are about to fix that.)
Step 3: Back on your iPhone, in Settings/Messages, tap “Text Message Forwarding.” You won’t see “Text Message Forwarding” if you don’t have iMessage switched on, and if you haven’t signed into iMessage using your Apple ID.
Having trouble switching on iMessage on your iPhone? Are you stuck “Waiting for activation”? If so, read my article “How to fix iMessage ‘Waiting for Activation’ on iPhone.”
With iMessage turned on on your iPhone, and with your iPhone signed into the Apple ID for iMessage, you should see the names of your devices (Christian’s iMac, Christian’s iPad, etc) when you tap “Text Message Forwarding.” If you read the fine print at the top of the pane that appears it will really tell the story: “Allow these devices to send and receive text messages from this iPhone.” YES! That’s what we want– we want “text messages” (the green ones– from the phone company) to appear on the Mac, and the iPad, and whatever. So we forward them. If we don’t do this, we only see blue (iMessage) messages on our devices that aren’t iPhones.
So, in Text Message Forwarding, slide the switch to “On” for each device. You might have to tap where it says “Apple ID” at the top of the screen– if it doesn’t show your Apple ID at the top, in blue, tap and enter your Apple ID and password one more time.
Note: you might think it makes sense to check everything under “You can be reached by iMessage at,” but that can lead to confusion when your recipients ask you why you are texting them from an email address. Better to uncheck everything but the phone number, on each devices.
And that’s it! If all went well, each of your devices will show all of your incoming messages, and show all of your sent ones. During the setting-up process you are bound to see notifications on various devices saying something like “Your Apple ID was used to sign into an iMac in Santa Monica, California” (except the location will be your location, not mine). That’s fine, and expected. That’s just us turning things on.
Bonus tip #1: on your Mac, double-click a conversation in Messages’ left-hand pane. That opens the conversation in its own window. That way, you can keep key conversations in view.
Bonus tip #2: on your Mac, try dragging a picture from one conversation into another. Just click and hold on the picture, then drag onto the other conversation. You can drag it from one conversation right onto the other, in Messages’ left-hand pane.
Bonus tip #3: on your Mac, try dragging a picture (or other document) from your desktop right into the area where you’d ordinarily be typing a message. Or just drag it onto the conversation– anywhere on it! So easy.
Any questions? Ask away— that’s what I’m here for. Did this help you? Tell a friend (use the sharing buttons).