iPhoto Library Sharing

Sharing a networked iPhoto (currently ’09, v8.x) library can provide access for multiple users. There are a number of ways to approach this, but I’ll focus on using an AirPort Extreme, shared network volume (hard drive).

Required hardware:

Installing and setting up your AirPort Extreme is dependent on your local network. Apple provides a couple of manuals to help:

It’s generally a good idea to re-partition and re-format any new hard drive to be more compatible with your Mac. Refer to Formatting your hard drive: in Time Machine Backup Trouble.

Because the AirPort Extreme provides Wi-Fi access, you may be tempted to use the shared library wirelessly. In my opinion, the data transfer rates are too slow for this to work.

Mounting your network volume.

  • From the Finder, Go > Network. (set your Finder window to column view)
  • Select your AirPort Extreme.
  • Click on your hard drive. It should mount and appear on your desktop. Depending on how you’ve setup your AirPort Extreme, you may need to supply a password. If so, save it in your Keychain by clicking Remember This Password In My Keychain.
  • If you’d like the shared drive to automatically mount whenever you use your Mac, open System Preferences > Accounts > your account > Login Items and drop the mounted drive’s desktop icon onto the item list window pane.
  • Follow the same procedure for each Mac that needs access to the network drive.

If you’ve enabled Guest access to your network drive (read & write) a password isn’t required. This may be a security risk if you have sensitive files stored on the network drive.

Storing iPhoto libraries on the network drive.

Defining terms:

  • Managed iPhoto Library: When photos are imported into iPhoto, copies are made and stored within the library.
  • Referenced iPhoto Library: When photos are imported, only references to the originals are stored in the library.

For the purpose of this tutorial, I assume that all iPhoto Libraries are Managed.

If your library is managed by iPhoto, then it may be copied to the network drive without problem.

Referenced libraries develop serious problems when the photos are moved. It’s entirely possible that upon moving the iPhoto Library file, it will retain its connection to the photos – as long as the photo storage remains available to the Finder. However, if the photo storage is moved, iPhoto’s references to those photos may be broken.

Managing iPhoto libraries on the network drive.

To open your iPhoto library after it’s moved to the network drive:

  • Launch iPhoto while pressing the Option key.
  • If the library you want isn’t in the list, click Other Library…
  • Navigate to the desired library and click Open.

If the library list contains your library, just select it and click Choose.

To create a new iPhoto library:

  • Launch iPhoto while pressing the Option key.
  • When asked what library you want to use, click the Create new… button
  • Navigate to your network drive.
  • Enter the name of your new library.
  • Click the Save button


When launching iPhoto, holding the Option key will allow the desired library to be selected.

Any particular library may be access my just one user at a time.

The iPhoto applications used to access your shared library, must be the same version.

For extensive library management, you may find iPhoto Library Manager ($20) to be useful. A free alternative is iPhoto Buddy.

An alternative to network storage is to simply store your iPhoto Library on an external hard drive. This drive can be moved to a different computer and the library accessed as outlined above.

Keep in mind that data transfers are much slower using Ethernet as compared to usb or FireWire.