Back to my Mac – Not functioning at all

This blog is getting really depressing. Basically every much hyped new Leopard feature I touch has serious flaws. Sometimes it is so flawed that it is simply unusable. This time I’m looking at Back to my Mac. Unfortunately it seems to be completely non functional.

First let me explain what Back to my Mac is from a user point of view: if you own multiple Macs and you have a .Mac account then Back to my Mac allows you to easily find your Macs and connect to the services they run. The software is supposed to work transparently: if you have Back to my Mac enabled then your other Macs simply appear in the Finder’s sidebar under the SHARED heading. From there you can open them to connect to their AFP shares. You can also easily connect to other services they run like Screen Sharing. Because this is based on Bonjour it also works for other services. If you want to ‘SSH Back to my Mac’ you simply open and do a ‘New Remote Connection…’ (Command-Shift-K) and it will list all your Macs that have Back to my Mac enabled.

So for me Back to my Mac is perfect. I am mostly on the road with my MacBook Pro on which I do most of my work and I have a nice fat iMac at home which I use to work on when I want a bigger screen, where I store backups and to connect some external drives. I also run a lot of unixy things on this iMac and I frequently SSH into it to work on things.

The nice thing about my iMac setup is that it is connected directly to the public internet. It has a public ip address and does not sit behind any router equipment that does NAT. Which is horror, since NAT always messes things up.

Full with hope I installed Leopard on this iMac. A clean install, not keeping any of the old settings or accounts. Then I turned on file sharing, Remote Login (SSH) and Screen Sharing. Then I signed in to .Mac and turned on Back to my Mac.

On the MacBook Pro I did the same. Signed in to .Mac with the same account, turned on Back to my Mac. My MacBook Pro was connected to a different network, behind NAT, behind that should really not matter in this setup where the server side (the iMac) is directly reachable.

So I opened a new Finder window. Nothing. Not even a SHARED section in the sidebar. It does not work.

When I look at the iMac from a network point of view I see a device with one network interface that has a public ip address assigned. There is NOTHING special about this setup. Yet, Back to my Mac is not able to find and connect to this Mac.

This is really depressing. Next week I’ll be traveling and I had hoped to just open up a Finder window and see my Mac at home. Login to a share, backup some files, etc. Guess not.

Whoever designed this crap should go back to the drawing board and give it another try. Lame.


9 comments so far

  1. Winni on

    You must have suicidal tendencies when you want to open file shares to the Internet. You should thank God that you are doing it on OS X. On Windows, your machine would already be trashed by now.

    As for the rest of what you are doing: What makes you think that file sharing protocols work through NAT?

    I suggest you read up on routing before you put Leopard down. The guys at Apple did their homework, but the things that you want to do do not make any sense from a security perspective.

    If you set up a VPN solution, the Finder stuff will work even over the Internet.

    And if you want a simple solution for your problem, just setup a FTP server on your iMac and grant access to your folders. That’s also not secure, but it’ll work.

  2. thelameleopard on

    Winni, thank you for your reply.

    I’m actually not very afraid of opening shares. Not because I’m using OS X (which actualy does have an ‘ok’ default permission scheme where people can only see your public drop folder when they connect as a guest), but because I am not afraid of putting a password protected service on a public IP.

    As you mention, ‘If you set up a VPN solution, the Finder stuff will work even over the Internet.’, this is EXACTLY what Back to my Mac does.

    It uses IPsec to secure the connection (a VPN tunnel) between your Macs. This means that even less secure protocols like for for example VNC (Remote Desktop) are still getting high encryption over the wire.

    Your comment about NAT and filesharing protocols is fair. However, I AM very much aware of how AFP works. It is a simple TCP based protocol and it should have ZERO problems when connecting TO an AFP server that is on a public IP.

    Unfortunately Back to my Mac still does not work for me. I have been able to connect my my iMac once after restarting the Finder. Ironically, directly connecting to the public IP of the iMac ALWAYS works, so it certainly is software problem and not a network issue.

  3. Iain Collins on

    Thanks for confirming that it doesn’t work for you, even with your mac on a publicly accessible IP. I’m going to give up on this feature for now, and set up NAT rules for VNC with DynDNS or perhaps SSH tunneling.

    “Back to My Mac” is not working for a lot of people over on Apple’s Support forums (with most people blaming user error or a broken UPnP implementation, although I know that’s not the case with me either). Some have reported eventual success after logging in and out of .mac, but that has not worked for me.

    While an overall improvement, Leopard is a rough round the edges in a few places.

    I wonder if maybe the service it signs into in the background is either just unreliable or underpowered and has silently fallen over. Either way, it’s a headline feature that clearly doesn’t work as advertised.

    There should at least be positive confirmation in the UI (in System Preferences…) that this feature is indeed on and working.

  4. Jamie Hill on

    I’m having the same issue, I’ve not tried 3 macs, UPnP is definitely enabled on my router.

    .Mac seems pretty unreliable in general. I have only had my account 2 weeks and had nothing but trouble, I’m syncing my keychains and I still keep getting asked for passwords when collecting mail??

    I’m thinking of asking for a refund as I used to just connect to my work machine from home by typing afp://ip_address in the connect dialog of Finder, even that doesn’t work now.

    Please let me know how you get on with the Back to Mac stuff as it’s driving me mad… Good luck!

  5. Yaztromo on

    I’ve been hearing stories that Apple has been having problems with the Back to My Mac service on their .Mac servers. At home, I’m getting to the net via NAT through an Airport Extreme (G), and at the office my PowerMac is on a dedicated IP, behind a firewall or two.

    Tonight, after two weeks, the PowerMac has suddenly appeared in my Shared section in the finder window. So I’m guessing that Apple has fixed whatever was the issue at the .Mac end. Unfortunately, I can’t get to any of the services it exposes this way (I’m guessing the firewall at the office is the culprit).

    Hopefully in some future version Apple will find a way to allow this service to work with SSH tunnels. I can already do this manually (and have been since Panther), but having this enabled in conjunction with Back to My Mac would solve a lot of potential problems.


  6. Bryand on

    I’ve been searching this subject hoping to get help because I’ve been trying for the last two weeks with no success. I suppose its possible that all these people are doing something wrong, but then the system clearly isn’t as easy as Apple advertises. I’ve followed the step by step set up instructions, I’ve turned on upnp on my router and it is on their list of supported routers.

    Could it be a problem with my cable modem or DSL router? I don’t know, but Apple should have anticipated that home users connect through such devices. IF we’re all just doing something wrong, then why don’t they give better instructions?

  7. Duncan on

    Nice….So I go out and buy a Time Capsule expecting the Back to my mac to work right out the box. It worked inside my house but what the hell good is that? my house aint that dam big that I cant get up off my lazy ass and walk back to the other MAC… I need this to work when I am out of my house on the road. So how is it that can do this junk for free without issue but when I pay and even go buy a time capsule (which is really cool by the way) I just get in home use? Come on…

  8. Sam on

    Hey, Just found your post looking up how to ssh via back to my mac, and thought i’d let you know that with the new mobile me, it seems to work completely perfectly. I’ve been connecting to my shares through double routers (half a state apart) with no issues whatsoever.

  9. Jeff Kee on

    I’m a fairly competent computer user – my specialty lies in design and development of things. The whole thing about how “it just works” is a big fucking sham. All computers have their glitches and unless you use your computer for Facebook, music and such, not everything will just “work”.

    The whole thing about the uPnP, NAT protocol or hwatever – that’s not something an everyday internet user is supposed to be aware of. It’s not common knowledge, and if some nerds try to say “Figure it out before you trash the system” that is complete bullshit. Am I expected to know how to change teh drivebelt of an import vehicle? No.

    The BTMM feature is shaky, incomplete, and it’s so unreliable. At this moment I’m sitting in a hotel room. Both the wired connections and wireless connections are giving me very inconsistent results to get back to my iMac at home (whcih is on shaw’s Nitro speed internet, with the Apple Airport Extreme hooked up). It’s not the speed that’s the issue, nor my computer settings (BTMM was working before dinner, and not anymore – my roommate confirmed the computer is on, and my gmail still says I am logged in from my home IP).

    If you think that a computer user should know about uPNP ports, NAT protocols, ports, router settings and all that crap to use a computer that is supposed to “just work”, grow some fucking balls and learn to play some sports or something, and drop the D&D.

    I agree with the author – BTMM is a very unreliable unstable feature and I regret paying for it.

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