How to Use the Files App on Your iPhone or iPad

Keep your files in order on your mobile devices

iCloud Drive

The Files app for the iPhone and iPad offer iOS users more control over their files than previous versions of the mobile operating system. The closed system Apple promotes in its software help make the iPad easier to use and difficult for malware like viruses to gain traction. But it does make it difficult to install unsanctioned apps without jailbreaking the device and keeps its file management system from being completely open.

But the Files app is a step toward a more PC-style method of organization. Here's everything you need to know about it.

These instructions apply to devices running iOS 11 or later.

What Is the Files App?

The Files app is a centralized hub for available cloud-based storage options like Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud Drive. It also houses documents you have stored on iOS devices that you created in other apps. Previously, the only way to get at these local files was by plugging your iPhone or iPad into your PC and launching iTunes. But with Files, you can copy these documents to any of your other storage solutions.

How to Move Documents in Files with Drag and Drop

The drag-and-drop feature Apple introduced in iOS 11 provides easier ways to manipulate files on iPad or iPhone. While it is possible to manually select and move files using buttons on the screen, it is far faster to pick them up and move them.

  1. Open the Files app.

    Files app in iOS
  2. Tap the folder containing the file you want to use under Locations on the left side of the screen. You can access all of the services you have installed on your iPad. Local files will appear in app-labeled folders in the On My iPad menu.

    Files app on iPad
  3. Tap and hold on a document you want to move. It will pop out of its place on the screen, and a translucent copy will appear under your finger.

    Files app on iOS
  4. To move multiple items from the same folder, tap them with another finger to add them to the "stack" of files.

    A number will appear in the top-right corner to show how many files are in your stack.

    Files app in iOS
  5. Using another finger, tap the destination you want to move your stack to.

    It's easier to transfer files with your iPad flat on a table or in your lap. This will ensure both hands are free.

    Tap and hold any finger next to the one controlling a stack of files to "transfer" them. Shifting the group is convenient if you find yourself trying to keep an awkward position with your hands.

    Files app on the iPad
  6. Drag your items to their new destination, which may be a folder or a menu. The blue number in the upper-right will turn green and add a + sign when you're holding the files over a valid location.

    Files app on iOS
  7. Lift your finger to transfer the files to the folder you've selected.

If you don't see the destination app you want to use (e.g. Dropbox), tap Edit in the Browse pane on the left side of the screen. Check that all of the switches next to available apps are on/green. Tap Done when everything is switched on.

How to Move Documents with Buttons

You can also move files by using buttons on the screen. This can be faster and more convenient than managing your documents and photos with multiple fingers and hands.

  1. Open the folder containing the items you want to move, and then tap the Select button at the top-right of the screen.

    Files app in iOS
  2. Tap the items you want to move. A check mark appears in the circle to designate that you have it selected.

    Files app iOS
  3. Four options appear once you select at least one file. Share lets you open the file in other apps or send it to someone else in a text message or email. Duplicate creates a copy of the document or photo in the same folder as the original. Tap Move to transfer items to another cloud storage device or your iPad. Delete removes them from its current location and moves it to the Recently Deleted section on the Locations menu.

    Files app in iOS
  4. When you tap Move, a menu will appear listing the available destinations.

    Files app on iOS
  5. Tap the destination you want and then the folder (if available), and then tap Copy to move the file.

    Files app iOS
  6. You're only copying the files and not moving them, so they'll still appear in their original location.

How to Use Tags in Files

Files app in iOS

Tags let you flag individual documents or folders for quick access later. The Tags section includes color-coded (red, orange, blue, etc.) and a few specialized ones (work, home, important). You can add a label to a document or an entire folder by dragging and dropping a file or a stack to one of the tags

Tagging a file does not move it.

Tap an individual tag to bring up all files and folders with that tag. You can also drag-and-drop from this folder to another tag or move the stack of selected documents and folders to a different location in Files.

Drag and Drop Outside of the Files App

When you select a stack of documents in Files, you aren't restricted to dropping it into another area of the Files app. You can use multitasking to bring up another app as a destination or close the Files app by clicking the Home Button before launching the new app.

The only requirements are (1) you keep that original finger holding the stack of files pressed against the display and (2) the destination must be able to accept those files. For example, you can drag an image to the Photos app and drop it into an album, but you can't drag a Pages document to Photos.