How to Share iPhone or iPod Apps Between Multiple Users

by Michael on February 6, 2010 · 8 comments

I have an iPhone and my son has an iPod Touch. Until recently, we’ve been frustrated by our inability to share apps that one of us buys. Fortunately, we’ve since figured out how to share apps without re-buying them, and it doesn’t even violate the iTunes user agreement.


As it turns out, the Fairplay DRM that Apples uses to protect their apps allows you to authorize up to five computers. This is the same as for iTunes music or movie purchases back before they went DRM-free.

So let’s say you want to buy (and share) an awesome new game like Heads Up!, Minecraft, or even how Grand Theft Auto (yes, there’s a new one!)… How exactly do you share apps? Read on.

Authorizing multiple users

For starters, you’ll need to authorize each user’s computer. For simplicity, let’s call them User1 and User2. To do this, simply open iTunes on both computers, click on the “Store” menu, and select “Authorize Computer.”

One User1′s computer, you’ll want to enter User2′s username and password, and vice versa. Obviously, this means that you’ll only want to set this up with trusted individuals, such as family members or close friends.

Moving app files between users

Next, you need to get the apps onto each other’s computers. You have two choices here. One is to simply copy the files between computers using a thumb drive. To do this, you’ll need to know where the apps are stored.

See: Where Does Windows Store iPod or iPhone Apps?
See: Where Does Mac OS X Store iPod or iPhone Apps?

Simply navigate to the right folder, locate the app file (.ipa) of interest, drag it on your thumb drive, then drag it from the thumb drive to the library on the other computer. As long as you’ve authorized both users, it should get transferred on the next sync.

If this sounds like too much trouble, then keep reading…

Re-downloading your apps

Alternatively, if you wish to transfer an app from User1 to User2, you can simply log out of iTunes on User2′s computer, log back in as User1, navigate to the app in App Store, and re-download it. When you click to “Buy” the app, you might get the following warning:

Are you sure you want to buy and download “Whatever App”?

Your account will be debited for this purchase and your application will begin to download immediately.

(You can banish this message, so don’t worry if it doesn’t appear.)

As scary (and costly) as that sounds, go ahead and click “Buy.” You’ll next be greeted with a message saying you’ve already paid, so you won’t be charged again:

You have already purchased this item.

You have already purchased this item. To download it again for free, select OK.

Click OK and the app will download for free. Now log out of iTunes and log back in as User2. Sync User2′s iPhone or iPod, and you’re done.

The steps to transfer from User2 to User1 are the same – just go to User1′s computer, log out, log in as User2, and so on.

There, wasn’t that easy?


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

iGnome March 26, 2010 at 5:07 am

This is a great thread but there is a bit of information missing. If you go for the copying ipa files to the second computer using a thumb drive option they won’t show up in i tunes until you open them. So when you have imported them select them either individually or all together and open them. (just double click or right click and select open from the menu). Then they will show up in i tunes and be available to sync with your iphone/touch.

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Warren August 4, 2010 at 10:02 pm

It sounds easy but the complication comes when trying to update the other users apps from your iPhone. You have to provide the other users password as well as verify their payment info AND provide the credit card security code. It is a big pain.

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Michael August 11, 2010 at 11:02 am

I’m not sure what you mean by verifying their payment and providing a credit card security code. When my son wants to update an app that I bought, we just put in my password and it updates. Very easy.

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Rino February 8, 2011 at 4:16 am

is it legal?? is it possible to get caught?? so after i transfer the .ipa file from my friend, then i put it in my itunes, are they going to ask my friend’s username and password later on??

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chriss August 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm

that changing users is the best thing ever!! me and my sister shared so many apps this way. We actually do it right on our iphone/itouch we log in on eachothers and redownload onto the device…awesum thanx for the tip!

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chriss August 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm

that changing users is the best thing ever!! me and my sister shared so many apps this way. We actually do it right on our iphone/itouch we log in on eachothers and redownload onto the device…awesum thanx for the tip!

Reply

Anonymous January 16, 2014 at 8:13 pm

It doesn’t work on iPhone 5s u can’t authorize computer through iTunes

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Jennifer February 6, 2014 at 11:53 am

I authorized both computers and moved the app files between the users, I even opened the .ipa file in the Mobile Applications folder on the hard drive, and I cannot get this to work. The problem that I have is that the app I am trying to transfer is on my iPad and not available for download in the App Store any longer and User #2 needs it on his iPad

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