How to Download Files & Documents to iPhone and iPad

Downloading and saving files to a computer or an Android phone is pretty straightforward. We just need to click on some button or link, and then the web browser will start downloading the file to some “Downloads” folder.

However, for iOS users, it’s not that simple. On iOS, there is no accessible user file system and everything is taken care by apps. You can’t just download files to a default Downloads folder and have access to it through a full-fledged file manager like on an Android phone.


Where do downloads go on iPhone & iPad?

Actually, Safari can download files and documents but it only allows you to view supported files temporarily in a tab after downloading. If you close the tab opening the file, it will not be saved. To store the file for long-term use, you will need to export it to other apps.

So if you’re wondering where are your downloads, the short answer is they are stored in Safari’s temporary memory. Using this method, you will have to use other third-party apps to handle the file after it’s downloaded.

Another option when it comes to downloading files on iOS is to use a web browser app that is capable of saving files to its own local storage. With this method, you can save any file type you want without having to import to other apps.

In a nutshell, there are two primary options to save files from the Internet to your iPhone & iPad. I’ll cover both of them below. Read on to know more.


1. Import files to third-party apps

Safari can download almost any kind of file to your iPhone, this includes PDF documents, Office documents, audio files, simple text files, and compressed files like .zip or .rar.

For example, you can download and open a PDF document in a Safari tab. It will load the file like a web page. After the PDF is loaded, to save it locally, just tap on the Share button, which will bring up the Share sheet. You’ll find an option named “Save PDF to iBooks” there (If you still keep iBooks installed on your device).

Import PDF files from Safari to iBooks

Select this option then the PDF file will be imported to iBooks. Now you can close Safari and read the file offline.

So, basically, if it’s a file (except for video files as Safari will automatically stream and play videos), it can be downloaded just by using Safari. But you need to choose the proper app to handle the file after it’s downloaded.

In my opinion, Dropbox is the best option to save files downloaded from Safari as when you open the Share sheet after downloading, no matter what format the file is, the “Save to Dropbox” option will most likely show up.

Save files to Dropbox

This option will be available in the Share sheet by default after installing the Dropbox app. But if you don’t see it, swipe all the way to the right, tap “More”. From there, you can enable “Save to Dropbox”.

To save your file to Dropbox, select “Save to Dropbox”, select the destination of choice. Then tap “Save”, the file will start to import and upload in the cloud. File formats natively supported by Apple can be displayed within the Dropbox app. You can check out the complete list of file formats that Dropbox currently supports here.

Once your files have been saved in Dropbox, you can tap the … (ellipsis) icon next to the file name, which will bring up the file menu, then select “Export”. Now select “Open In…” to copy the file to other apps.

Note that Dropbox also allows you to save files or folder for offline use. Just find the files or folders you’d like to save in the list view. Then tap the ellipsis icon next to the item, then select “Make Available Offline”. Regular users are able to save files, however, offline folders require upgrading to Dropbox Plus.

[ See also: Best Free Video Downloader Apps for iPhone & iPad ]


2. Use third-party apps to download files

Safari is not capable of saving files but there are still plenty of options to choose from the App Store. In my experience, Documents by Readle is one of the best apps to do the job. It’s completely free, reliable, and no ads included.

the Documents app

[Click Here to Install Documents]

The Documents app is primarily a file manager that can handle multiple file formats. In addition, it also includes a built-in web browser that allows users to download files and documents from the Internet. These features combine making the app one of the must-have apps on iOS devices.

Documents can download any kind of file to your iPhone and iPad by using the built-in web browser. Just give it a live download link, it will let you save the file like on the web browser of your computer. Even if it’s a redirect link or the file you want to download is from a password-protected site, Documents can handle it all.

If you’ve installed Documents on your device, the following instructions will guide you through the process of downloading files.

1. Launch the Documents app. Open the built-in web browser by tapping the icon that looks similar to Safari in the bottom right corner.

Download files to iPhone using the Documents app

2. Navigate to your desired download page, tap on the download link or click on the download button. If you have the direct download URL of the file, paste it in the address bar and access it directly.

3. Documents will prompt you to save the file locally. You can change the file name and select where you want to download it to before downloading. By default, downloaded files will be saved to the Documents/Downloads folder. There is also an option to download the file to iCloud as well.

4. Tap Done and the file will download to the desired folder. Once the file is downloaded, it’s available in the app’s local storage and you can open it anytime, anywhere.

[alert-note]TIP: If you’re opening the direct link to download a file in Safari, you can change the URL in the address bar from http:// to rhttp:// and tap Go. Documents will launch automatically and download the file for you.



Documents can handle multiple file formats so you don’t need to install other apps to read your files. The app can read Office files, read and annotate PDF files, create and extract compressed files, play music and video.

If your downloaded file can’t be opened using Documents, you can export it to other apps easily through the Share function. For example, you need to send MKV files to video player apps like VLC to be able to watch them.

Export files from Documents to other apps

To make file managing as simple as it would be on a computer, Documents also lets you seamlessly move files between folders by using a drag and drop gesture. The app even allows you to open two Readle apps in Split View on iPad and drag and drop files across the views.

If you’ve downloaded MP4 video files, you can move them from the Documents app to the Camera Roll by moving the files to the Photos folder in the app. Once moved, your videos can be watched from the Photos app even if the Documents app is removed.

Personally, I think Documents is the best option to download and manage files locally.


The Files app

With the iOS 11 release, the new Files app has finally been introduced by Apple. Files doesn’t have its own storage for saving files. Instead, it lets you browse and organize all of your files from third-party apps, cloud services, and even on your other iOS devices.

So whether you use Documents or Dropbox to download files, you can make use of this native app to manage all your files in one place. Files lets you browse files and folders in the grid or list view, tag files, create new folders, sort items by name/date/size/tags, copy/move items by a drag and drop gesture, and a lot more.

the Files app on iPhone & iPad

You will be able to move files or folders across apps easily. For me, I often move files downloaded from the Documents to cloud storages like Google Drive and Dropbox. The app’s interface looks similar to Finder on my Mac and I have to say I really like it.

Eventually, all we need are the downloader, the drive for storing files and the file manager. And these apps complementing each other have been doing a great job by bringing the natural solution to all of its users.

How did you download files to your iPhone and iPad? Does this article help you out? Let’s share your experience with us in the comments section below.


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