Have you bought a new Mac mini to serve as a network appliance of some sort? Perhaps it's to serve files to your network and provide rendering capabilities with Compressor or maybe it's going to run a Plex media server and share printers. You'll not want to waste resources on the device such as connecting a permanent monitor or keyboard/mouse combo. Whatever your purpose for the new Mac mini, we'll show you the basics of what you'll want to set up to run your new Mac mini without a monitor.

Make certain the new Mac mini is properly configured

In order to set up the new Mac mini for use without a monitor and keyboard/mouse, you'll actually need to have it connected to, you guessed it, a monitor and keyboard/mouse. You can follow our new Mac mini setup guide if you need help with getting things started. In short, have your new Mac mini set up like a regular desktop, ready to go so that we can configure somethings locally before disconnecting peripherals like the monitor and keyboard.

Screen Sharing vs Remote Management

Apple offers two methods of remotely connecting to your new Mac mini. Screen Sharing and Remote Management. Screen Sharing offers a remote user to connect to the Mac mini and start up a session whereby a view of the Mac mini's desktop becomes visible and accessible as if the user were sitting right in front of a locally connected display. The connection is established via virtual network computing (VNC) and as such you'll have a direct albeit slightly sluggish connection to your new Mac mini's desktop. Here you'll be able to install software, reboot, run updates just like you normally would from a directly connected monitor setup.

Remote Management offers the same accessibility as Screen Sharing does but it also provides finer tuned accessibility to the remote Mac. It offers methods to install reboot and update remotely connected Macs without direct desktop access when it isn't called for and it provides remotely accessible system alerts. Remote Management is typically used by system administrators in larger companies that want to administer a multitude of hardware from a single location.

We'll be focusing on home use and as such we will enable Screen Sharing.

Turn on Screen Sharing

The first step is to turn on Screen Sharing. Once we've set up this service, you'll be able to remotely connect and install or configure whatever you like without the need of a monitor connected to the Mac mini.

  1. Start System Preferences.
  2. Click Sharing.
  3. Take note of the Computer Name. You'll need to know it to be able to connect to the Mac mini remotely later.

  4. Check the Screen Sharing Service to ON.
  5. If you want to connect from a non-macOS computer, click Computer Settings.
    1. Check VNC viewers may control screen with password: and set a password for those machines to access the Mac mini.
    2. Click OK.
  6. If you need to specify certain users to have permission to remotely connect to the Mac mini, click Allow access for: and add and remove users as needed.
  7. Done.

Your Mac mini is now ready to have the monitor and keyboard/mouse detached. Optionally, you can test your connection from a remote Mac before you do so.

Connect to your new Mac mini remotely

On a separate Mac, you'll be able to access Screen Sharing through the Finder.

  1. Start Finder.
  2. Under Locations, click Network.
  3. Double-click the Computer Name from step 3 in the "Turn on Screen Sharing" section above.
  4. Click Share Screen.

  5. Enter your User Name and Password when prompted.
  6. Click Sign In.

  7. You'll now see your new Mac mini desktop ready at your command!

Continue to remotely install and configure your headless (sans monitor) Mac mini

You can now use the Mac mini's Screen Sharing capabilities to continue to make changes and install software. Apple's built-in services like File Sharing, Printer Sharing, and Content Caching are easily enabled with simply checking the appropriate box under the Share preference panel in System Preferences. Once you're done, simply exit the Screen Sharing application.

Final comments

Keep in mind that Screen Sharing and Remote Management are an either/or option. If you feel the need to be able to remotely manage your Mac mini with the more advanced toolset under Remote Management, simple un-check Screen Sharing and check Remote Management under the Share panel in System Preferences. Ensure that you set the VNC password if you have non-macOS machines to connect to your new Mac mini. Let us know what you plan on using your Mac mini for in the comments!