How to attach files and documents to the Mail app on iPhone or iPad

By , Apr 21, 2016


Since using my iPad in a more productive way for the past couple of weeks, a few problems I never really had to deal with before started started popping up. File management is one of them.

I’ve recently shared my workflow for downloading files from a web browser, as well as saving attachments from the Mail app on iOS, so naturally, I want to talk about attaching files and documents to an email in the Mail app on iPhone or iPad.

Where are these files located to begin with?

The first question that one may wonder is about the physical location of the files we’re trying to attach to begin with. Because there is no user-accessible file system on iOS, we’re left with very few options. You can either attach photos or videos stored on your iPhone, or files and documents stored in iCloud or a third-party storage service such as Dropbox.

In this post, we’ll go over these three options, and will be using an iPhone in all of our screenshots. Note that the concept is the same regardless of the iOS device you’re using, whether it is an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

Attaching a photo or video to an email

1) Start composing an email in the Mail app.

2) When you want to attach a photo, tap once somewhere within the body of your email. A menu will pop up offering several options.

Attach a photo to email

3) Tap the right arrow key once until you see the Insert Photo or Video option.

4) Your photo and video library will open. From there you can select a photo or video to attach.

Insert photo in email

5) Tap Send to send your email once you’re done drafting it.

Attached image in email

You can repeat steps 1 to 4 should you need to attach several photos or videos, although if that is the case, it might be a better idea to share them directly from the Photos app, which would make the process quicker.

Attaching files from iCloud Drive to an email on iPhone or iPad

Every Apple ID comes with 5GB of iCloud storage, and for many users, this might be a good way to dip their toes in cloud storage. If you’re using iCloud to store some of your files and documents, you can use the file picker to attach these files to emails. Here is how.

1) Start drafting an email.

2) Tap once anywhere within the body to bring up the contextual menu.

Attach document to email

3) Tap on the right arrow a couple times until you see the Add Attachment option. This will bring up the iCloud Drive file picker.

Browse iCloud file to attach

4) Browse and select the document you want to attach. Tap on it to attach the document to your email

5) Tap send to send your email when done, or repeat the process should you want to add another file.

Attaching files or documents from Dropbox

Here we are using Dropbox as an example, but the concept is the same regardless of the third-party cloud storage service you use. For example, if you use Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, the steps described here are exactly similar.

1) Follow steps 1 to 3 as described above.

2) When the file picker shows up, tap on the Locations button in the upper left corner. This will let you choose other cloud services (obviously, you must have the Dropbox app installed and be logged in).

3) Depending on what applications you have on your device, you may see more or less services than on this screenshot. If you don’t see anything, make sure to tap on the More icon, and activate other services. In our case, we will select Dropbox.

4) You will now have access to your Dropbox files and folders. Browse your Dropbox folders and select the document you want to attach. This document will automatically be downloaded and attached to the email.

Dropbox file attachment

5) Finish up your email and hit Send once it’s ready.

As you can see, attaching files and documents to an email on iOS is not as simple or even obvious as one would hope. If the process feels a little overwhelming, there are many third-party email applications in the App Store that make attaching documents easier. But regardless, the principle is always the same. Because there is no accessible file system, users have to rely on iCloud or other cloud storage services to store the files they want to attach to an email.

Also read:

Do you have any tips about attaching documents or files to an email? If so, please feel free to share with all of us in the comments section below.

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  • Rodney Coleman

    Oldie but goodie

  • Noohar

    lol @ iPhone 8 & 10gb RAM

  • Joshfei

    I’m just curious, why not mention one or more of the ways to do it while jailbroken? For example, I use Attachments+ for Mail, which is very versatile.

  • Madhu Renduchintala

    Why not just use Outlook or Airmail? Both handle attachments much better. The native mail app works fine for most people, but Outlook, Airmail, and Boxer are so much better for professionals that rely on their email for work.

    • Right. I did mention third party apps at the end of the post, but this was intended for people who use the stock Mail app, which is the majority of people.

      • Madhu Renduchintala

        Understood. It’s frustrating that this party apps do email better than the native mail client. I would really like to use the stock mail app but it’s just such a mess.

      • I’ve tried pretty much every email app out there and I always come back to the stock Mail app. It doesn’t do many things, but the little things it does are just enough for me.

      • Madhu Renduchintala

        Yeah I get that. For most people it probably is good enough. For me, being able to schedule emails or appointments based on emails is key along with sending attachments. One thing I wish iOS 10 would do is to let you set a default email client an web browser like OS X does.

  • A-thought

    “I’ve recently shared my workflow for downloading files from a web browser, as well as saving attachments from the Mail app”…

    People come on..are you serious? Creating workflows just so you can download and attach files? Reading the article above and seeing what lengths you have to go to just to attach a single file made me hurt for you.

    How about this on your tablet: 1) compose your email, 2) touch “attach”, and 3) attach as many freakin files of any type that you want, and send. That’s how a productivity device should work. You can do that today if you get the right tablet. I’ve been doing it from my tablet for two years since I jettisoned the iPad as a work device.

    Maybe it’s time for all of us to admit the iPad with iOS just isn’t a productivity device. I used to think so; won’t fool myself any longer. (Laptop replacement – Rofl).

    • I totally agree with you. I’ve brought this up several times on our podcast. What’s preventing the iPad of becoming a true laptop replacement is not the hardware. It’s the software. Struggling to attach a couple files to an email is a perfect example of that.

      • A-thought

        I appreciate your honesty. Usually I just get people calling me a troll and attempting to stamp out my voice for being brutally honest about this.

        Funny how the “free” Internet is often more of a place for fans to censor those they don’t like, rather than people to be able to state their honestly held opinions.

  • Hey, the iOS stock mail doesn’t show any received attachments. So i need to login from the web or using another 3rd party app to see em. Is there any solution for this issue please?