Photos on iOS 12 lets you create an iCloud.com share link from a bunch of images, videos and other media

No one likes multi-megabyte attachments, but hey, iOS 12 lets iPhone and iPad users quickly share photos, videos and other items in their Photos library by generating Dropbox-style links that anyone can access and download a slew of shared media to their device.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • iOS 12 lets you create iCloud.com links for sharing photos and videos with other folks
  • Anyone with a link can browse, view and download your shared items
  • Macs, Windows and other devices access the items via a web interface on iCloud.com
  • On iOS, sharing happens in the Photos app
  • Links automatically expire after 30 days

Why share links, not the actual files?

Because sending full-resolution photos and videos via email or iMessage is so last century.

No one likes multi-megabyte attachments

Th ability to share media through a link solves this problem in one fell swoop. To see the shared items, the other side simply clicks a link. It’s an admittedly cool feature that works similar to sharing a file from Dropbox and should come especially in handy when sending media to non-Apple devices.

Your device uploads the items to iCloud, but don’t worry about running out of space because this doesn’t count against your iCloud quota. You’ll save other people a bunch of bandwidth by sending media in this manner because all you’re sending is a link.

TUTORIAL: How to easily turn an iPhone photo album into a public website

Recipients use a share link to access your items right in their Photos app or through a desktop browser. A preview page is automatically generated at the URL and in the Photos app of everyone involved.

The shared link is accessible to anyone that has it, for up to a month.

Prerequisites

This is what you’ll need to generate iCloud.com sharing links:

  • iPhone, iPad or iPod touch with iOS 12 or newer
  • iCloud Photos must be enabled in Settings

People you send these links to needn’t have iCloud Photos turned on.

How to create iCloud.com media sharing links

Do the following to generate a sharing link to items in your Photos library:

1) Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad with iOS 12 or later.

2) Tap Select in the upper-right corner.

3) Pick one or more media items you’d like to send to someone.

4) Tap the Share button.

5) Choose Copy Link in the bottom row of icons.

A screenshot demonstrating how to select multiple items and share them via a Copy Link action in the Share menu

Send a link to a photo instead of the actual media file

A message says your photos and videos are being prepared for sharing, which may take a while depending on the size and the number of the shared media items.

A screenshot showing selected Photos media being prepared for sharing

6) With a link in the system clipboard, use the Paste action to send it to friends or family using Messages, Mail or another app of your choosing.

Photos for Mac currently lacks this link-generation feature.

How to open iCloud.com media sharing links

You can access shared iCloud photos and videos via a web browser or through iPhone and iPad, with iOS customers treated to the most frictionless sharing experience due to the deep integration with the Photos app.

A closeup of the For You tab in the Photos app on iOS 12

A badged icon in the For You tab indicates new content, like shared media

Mobile

You probably won’t need to manually open a link because iOS 12’s enhanced Siri intelligence will likely detect it in Message and automatically create previews in Photos. Don’t worry, nothing will be added to your image library unless you specifically choose so.

A screenshot showing opening an iCloud.com media sharing link from iOS Messages

Pasting a link into Messages generates a rich preview of shared media

Receiving a link in an email message on iOS may also create a preview page straight in Photos. Opening a link on a non-iOS device, like an Android smartphone or tablet, takes you to an underlying download page on iCloud.com.

An example email message in Spark for iPad with an included iCloud.com media sharing link

Desktop

Accessing a link in your favorite desktop browser opens a nicely designed download page on iCloud.com with the same preview complete with a grid of thumbnails like in Photos.

Safari for macOS Mojave showing an example download page on iCloud.com

The media is shared with full EXIF data, including camera model and location. The link may include the sender’s name, title, the neighborhood where the images were shot and so forth.

TUTORIAL: How to browse the Photos media library on your Mac with the Finder

Keep that in mind if you care about online privacy before iOS 12 is widely available. The commercial edition of iOS 12 will remove location data and other personally identifiable pieces of information from the shared items.

How to copy shared media to your library

To retain the items before a link expires or the sender stops sharing, add them to your library in Photos or download them to a computer via the web interface. Again, nothing will be added to your Photos library unless you specifically cherry-pick a selection of the shared photos and videos that you’d like to keep.

Mobile

You can copy everything at once to Photos, pick multiple media items to keep or add a single item to your library. No matter what you choose to keep, a preview page remains present in Photos and at the share URL on iCloud until someone revokes sharing.

As a refresher, iCloud.com sharing links automatically expire 30 days after being created.

All items

To add everything shared via a link, do the following:

1) Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad with iOS 12 or later.

2) Tap the icon labeled For You in the tab area found alongside the bottom.

3) Tap a preview of the share underneath the Recently Shared headline.

A screenshot showing the process of adding all of the shared media to the Photos library

4) Tap the Add All button.

All of the shared media items get downloaded to your device in their original resolution. Find them in the Photos tab, positioned according to their original creation date.

Single item

Do the following if you’d like to quickly add a single shared item to your library.

1) Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad with iOS 12 or later.

2) Tap the icon For You in the tab area found alongside the bottom.

3) Tap a preview of the share underneath the Recently Shared headline.

A screenshot showing the process of adding a single shared item to the Photos library

4) In the lower half of the interface, tap a thumbnail to see the underlying photo or video.

5) Tap the button Add to Library centered at the bottom of the interface.

The current item is downloaded and saved to the Photos library on your device.

Multiple items

To copy an arbitrary selection of the shared items to your device, do the following:

1) Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad with iOS 12 or later.

2) Tap the icon For You in the tab area found alongside the bottom.

3) Tap a preview of the share underneath the Recently Shared headline.

A screenshot showing the process of adding a selection of the shared items to the Photos library

4) Tap Select near the top-right corner of the thumbnail section.

5) Tick the checkmark in the top-right corner of each photo or video you’d like to keep.

6) Tap the Add All button.

The selected items will be download straight to the Photos library on your iOS device.

Desktop

You can download the shared media with any web browser for Mac or Windows.

1) Open a desktop browser of your choosing (we’ll use Safari).

People on non-Apple platforms can open an iCloud.com media sharing link in their browser

2) Click the URL field at the top of the window, paste the iCloud.com link copied from a friend’s iMessage or email and hit Enter or Return on the keyboard.

The web interface lets anyone with a link download the shared media to their computer

3) You’ll see a simple webpage with a grid of thumbnails. Pick the items you’d like to keep by ticking the circle in their top-right corner, then hit the Download button.

4) Once the ZIP file has been downloaded to your computer, go to your default Downloads folder and double-click the archive to unpack it.

Using the new Gallery view in the Finder on macOS Mojave

Tap Show More in the Finder’s new Gallery view on macOS Mojave to reveal metadata

The web interface at iCloud.com allows anyone to access shared media via a browser, even if they’re not on one of Apple’s platforms, like Linux customers.

iCloud Photos disabled?

iCloud Photos must be on before you are permitted to create a link.

If you try to share media but iCloud Photos is off, you’ll see a message cautioning you that iOS 12’s new sharing suggestions and iCloud.com sharing links sharing require that iCloud Photos be toggled on in the sender’s Settings app.

The Use iCloud Photos splash screen in Photos for iPhone

Tap the link Use iCloud Photos, then tap the button Use iCloud Photos to quickly enable this feature. Or, venture into Settings → your name → iCloud → Photos to set it up manually.

How to stop sharing Photos content

You can stop sharing items at any time, here’s how:

1) Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad with iOS 12 or later.

2) Tap the icon labeled For You in the tab area found alongside the bottom.

3) Tap a preview of the share underneath the Recently Shared headline.

4) Choose Stop Sharing from the three-dotted menu in the top-right corner.

The sender can stop sharing their media at will

5) Confirm the operation by selecting Stop Sharing from the popup menu.

Stopping a share session removes all previews from recipients' devices

Access to your shared media will get removed from iCloud immediately.

A preview of the shared items disappears from Photos for everyone and the associated iCloud.com download webpage is pulled permanently. Any shared photos or videos that people with your link have chosen to download to their device shall remain in their Photos app.

How to stop receiving shared Photos content

A shared link expires after 30 days, but you may opt-out anytime you want:

1) Open the Photos app on your iPhone or iPad with iOS 12 or later.

2) Tap the icon labeled For You in the tab area alongside the bottom.

3) Tap a preview of the share underneath the Recently Shared headline.

4) Choose Decline from the three-dotted menu in the top-right corner.

If you'd like to share a friend's media further, use the Copy Link command from the three-dotted menu in Photos

5) Confirm the operation by choosing Decline from the popup menu.

“Access to these shared photos will not be available anymore,” reads the warning message.

Previews of any shared photos and videos are automatically pulled from the For You tab in your Photos app. The items you’ve kept on the device won’t be removed.

LAST TIP: Want to share the media you received through a link with other folks? Select Copy Link from the three-dotted menu to grab the original sharing link, ready to be pasted.

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