How to tether Android to Mac OS High Sierra

It is possible to use an Android handset in USB tethered mode with a Mac running High Sierra, although there are a few hoops to jump through.

I’m writing this guide largely because I’ve just taken a few hours to work this out myself, and while I can’t take credit for every step, I couldn’t find all these instructions in one place. Or in other words, I could have used this stuff earlier so I figure you might benefit as well.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell.
If you’ve got a Mac running High Sierra (or, as far as I can gather, Sierra, although that’s not the case I’ve tested for), you can pair up an Android smartphone by sharing over Wi-Fi. Within the oddities of Wi-Fi on both Macs and Droids, it all works pretty well.
Except when it doesn’t, like for example if you find yourself in an area with a lot of Wi-Fi saturation. All of a sudden, your smartphone’s link to your laptop isn’t worth much, as it struggles to connect, or send any meaningful quantity of data packets.
That’s the situation I’m about to find myself in at a conference with many other tech journalists. The solution: Pair up the phone over a USB cabled connection instead.
Now, from a practical viewpoint, this is much easier if you’ve got an iPhone.
Apple stuff talks to Apple stuff pretty natively, to the shock of nobody. My problem (and it could well be yours) is that my roaming SIM provider doesn’t always allow for any tethering (Wi-Fi hotspot or USB tethering) on iOS in some countries.
It’s actually a carrier thing, to be fair to my roaming partner, but it sucks having paid for data to find that you can’t use it except on your device, so iOS was out. Android works for Wi-Fi flawlessly, but plug in an Android phone to your High Sierra Mac and enable it, and you’re likely to be met with a big flat nothing.
So here’s what I did, in detail, to get it working. It may work for you, and I hope it helps, but it’s supplied as general information, no warranties, if something goes wrong and your Mac sucks the universe into a singularity, don’t come crying to me. Mostly because I will have been super-compressed along with the rest of reality, but I digress.

How to tether Android to Mac OS High Sierra

  • There’s a driver solution for Macs and Android tethering called HoRNDIS, which you can download (at the time of writing) from here. Apparently it works really well if you’re on an older macOS version for whatever that’s worth.  Grab the latest version of HoRNDIS, download and run through its installer.
  • Reboot your Mac (this is recommended by the HoRNDIS installer, and can’t really hurt)
  • 1st Critical Step (this tripped me up for AGES): Mac OS High Sierra will by default not load the HoRNDIS script until you tell it that it’s allowed to. Open up System Preferences, Security and Privacy, and under “Allow apps” in the general pane, you’ll probably find a warning saying it didn’t allow the script to run. Tell it you’re allowing that, enter your password if required.
  • 2nd Critical Step: (AKA the next thing that tripped me up) On your Android device, enable USB Debugging. To do so, open up Settings, then head to About Device. Where it says the Build number of your device, tap it seven times — after about five taps it’ll start to tell you how many taps you are away from enabling developer mode. After seven, it’ll be live, and from the settings main screen, you’ll be able to find developer options. In there, enable USB debugging.
  • Connect your Android phone to your Mac. You may need an adaptor if you’re using a newer, USB-C only Mac. That I can’t help you with.
  • Go into the networks settings part of your Android phone. This varies by model/Android version, but there should be a section for Hotspot/Tethering. Head in there, and there should be a toggle switch for USB tethering. You can’t actually enable this without having the Android phone plugged in (logical enough), but you did that, right? You should then be able to enable it.
  • All things being well, with the Network section (back on your Mac) your handset should now show up as your Internet connection, and you should be good to go!

I’ve tested this now with a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (Android 7) and Google Pixel 2 XL (Android 8), so there doesn’t seem to be an issue with Android versions, but your experiences may vary depending on handset and Android version.
Remember if you are roaming (or even if you’re only using your SIM in your own domestic market, wherever that might be), that mobile data can be EXPENSIVE. Use it wisely. Or burn through it all looking at funny animal memes. I’m not your father*.
Was this helpful? I hope so.
If so, show your gratitude by going and buying my book, Fifty-Two. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with Mac networking (although most of it was written on a Mac), but you’d be doing me a favour in return by doing so.
Plus, while I may have some kind of rather obvious bias, I do rather think it’s a fun read, and a nice distraction from your networking woes.
You can buy Fifty-Two via Amazon here.
iBooks fan? You can pick up Fifty-Two on iBooks here.
Want a more open book experience? Pick up Fifty-Two in a format of your choice for your ebook reader via Smashwords here.
*Unless my children are reading this, in which case I very much am, I’m afraid. Go tidy your rooms.

4 thoughts on “How to tether Android to Mac OS High Sierra”

  1. Thanks for this, Alex. I ran into this looking for some esoteric information relative to running Linux-style usb-net on Mac and found your post very entertaining. I’ll definitely check out your book… 🙂 And I most certainly hope that your kids read the post as well and tidied up their rooms! 🙂

    1. Thanks. While it’s perhaps not directly aimed at your issue, hopefully it’s helped. Esoteric OS problems can be the pits, pretty much by definition!

  2. This was amazing. I spent over an hour trying different things that other people have recommended and this was the most comprehensive (and easy to follow) guide. Thank you!

  3. Thanks for this.

    Anecdote : I installed Horndis years ago on OS X 10.9, maybe earlier, and though it worked, well, it didn’t always work. And seemed to produce some odd hangs and other problems which led me to uninstall it. I vaguely remember needing to tweak this and that, as described in this installed of yours.

    Then recently I updated to Sierra (late again, for reasons I won’t go in to ok because I want to keep something that wil run on a wonderful old 17″ laptop) and with one thing and another, I reinstalled Horndis.

    However, I had absolutely no tweaking to do. I went to Jushua Wise’s site, as updated, now, by Mikhael, downloaded the small installer, installed, and it worked straight away !

    I can’t tell if this is because the tweaks and things I vaguely remember from first installation were retained in the recent painful update from 10.9.5 to 10.12.6. I suspect it’s because Mikhil rewrote Horndis and the rewrite simplifies matters.

    Having said that, thanks for the excellent and detailed writeup, which I’m hanging on to in case Horndis runs into trouble on the next OS update, which I’l put off as long as possible.

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