How to attach files and documents in Mail for iOS

iOS does not come with a common storage for files and folders. There is no equivalent of Finder app in iOS. This makes it tedious for a simple operation as attaching file in Mail app. Ideally we should all store our documents in the cloud, and instead of attaching file, we just email the link to the file in cloud storage such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive etc. But we don’t live in the future and attaching files in email is a real requirement to many iOS users.

Attach directly within Mail app

Mail app comes with the ability to attach photos and videos stored in the Photos app, this includes those in your iCloud Photo Stream. When drafting an email, tap and hold on the editing area. On the popup, scroll to look for “Insert Photo or Video” and tap on it. This will present you a screen to select your photo or video in the Photos app and insert it into the email.

How to attach files and documents in Mail for iOS

Thus if you have any image or video that you want to attach into an email, first save the picture into the photo library of Photos app. Then you’d use the above method to attach into an email.

To attach other document type other than photo and video, we’re out of luck as Apple is not making it easier. There is no direct method within Mail app to attach other document type. We need to depend on iOS inter-operability feature and Mail app API.

Copy and Paste

Copy-and-Paste via system clipboard is another method you can use to attach a document into an email. The implementation however varies across apps.

When you select a picture in Photo app and tap on “Copy”, the picture content is saved into the clipboard. You can then go to the Mail app and “Paste” the image into email compose screen. 

When you’re viewing a picture in Safari, you can copy the image by tap-and-hold and select the “Copy” option. But Safari will copy the image URL instead of the image content to the clipboard.

When you’re using cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Drive, you can only copy the URL link of the documents into the clipboard, and not the document content. We have not come across any iOS app that would allow you to copy the whole content of a non-photo/video document into the clipboard. If you do, please highlight the app in the comment.

No “Open in…”

“Open in…” is implemented by many iOS apps. This allows us to transfer the content of an app to use it in another app. For example when viewing a PDF document in Dropbox, you can “Open in…” the PDF document to apps that can accept PDF document such as iBook, Google Drive or Evernote. Dropbox will actually transfer a copy of the PDF document to your selected destination app.

Unfortunately Mail app does not implement the “Open in” protocol.

Mail app API

Mail app has a build-in API that allows third party app to implement a “send by mail” feature. Third party app is able to activate the Mail app compose email screen, and optionally attach a document. As an example, Numbers and Pages have a “Send a copy” function which uses this API. 

Unfortunately not all document apps implement this Mail API. And when you try to mail a document from within Dropbox or Google Drive, you get an URL link instead of an attached document.


One work around that you can use is to email the document from the Mac. You can then forward the email with the attached document on your iPhone or iPad, and compose the proper email. This is especially useful if you’re attaching different types of documents such as a Numbers file, a PDF file and photos in one email.

It is clear that the direction is for us to store documents in the cloud, and share those documents via URL link instead of direct attachment of the document content. Until Apple comes out with changes in new iOS release with feature such as a common storage, attaching document will always remain a laborious task on your iOS devices.