Easy step-by-step guide to Safari downloads on the iPhone

There are great new features in Safari in iOS 13 and you now have much more control over downloaded files. Choose where downloads are saved to, view them, open them on your Mac, PC and more.

Downloading files in Safari on the iPhone used to be confusing. Files seemed to disappear into the system and were hard to find and access afterwards. iOS 13 changed all that and downloading is simpler and easier than ever.

If you were confused by downloads on the iPhone before, you will find the new features in Safari a breeze to use. In fact, you will probably make more use of downloading on your phone whereas before you probably avoided it because it was so awkward.

Not only is downloading easier than ever, you can also easily access downloads on your Apple Mac using Finder or PC using Explorer (with iCloud for Windows installed). You can now download a bunch of files on the go and access them when you get back to your desktop or laptop computer.

In this article I will take a look at the configuration options in Safari that enable you to choose where downloaded files are saved to and show step-by-step how to download a file and access it afterwards.

1 Safari settings in iOS

Safari settings on the iPhone

Open the Settings app on the iPhone (or iPad) and tap Safari to open the browser settings. In the General section is a new item for configuring downloads. Press it.

2 Choose where to save downloads

Safari download settings on the iPhone

There are three options and iCloud Drive is a great place to choose and it is the best option for many people. Anything you download will be saved to your personal iCloud storage in the Downloads folder.

Remember that you only get 5 GB free, so if you are not paying for more storage, make sure there is sufficient free space for downloads. An error is likely if your iCloud Drive is full.

On My iPhone works like Safari used to before iOS 13 and downloads may disappear somewhere and are sometimes hard to find. It is not really necessary anymore because files on iCloud can be downloaded to the iPhone anyway, so if you need them offline, you can do this in the Files app (long press a file for options, including Download).

The Other… option on this screen enables you to choose where to save downloads, so you could select a different folder on iCloud Drive for example. If you wanted to download many videos, you could temporarily set downloads to a Videos folder on iCloud for instance.

Press Remove Download List Items to continue.

3 Clear the Download List in Safari

Safari download settings on the iPhone

Safari keeps track of downloaded files and stores them in a list. We will see that in a minute, but pressing Remove Download List Items here lets you choose how long downloads are remembered. Choose an option that suits you best. The first or third are best.

4 Browse for downloads in Safari

Safari on the iPhone showing a website

After configuring Safari download settings, let’s try them out and see how they work. Go to a website that has downloads. Here is PDFDrive, a website that has thousands of free PDF documents, ebooks, guides and more.

This is an item chosen at random, but it sounds like it might be interesting, so let’s download it and see. Tap the Download button.

5 Download files in Safari on the iPhone

Safari on the iPhone showing a website

It says “Your download will begin in a moment”, but it didn’t. It may do on a desktop computer, but it did not automatically download on the iPhone. Long press on the Go to PDF button to continue.

6 Link options in Safari

Safari browser on the iPhone showing link options

This is fairly typical in Safari on the iPhone and to download a file you need to long press on a download link. A menu is then displayed with several options, one of which is to Download Linked File. Press it.

7 Show Safari Download list

Downloads list in Safari browser on the iPhone

In step 3 we looked at the settings for the Safari Download List. After downloading a file, if the Manual or After One Day option is set, tap the down arrow button to see the Downloads List. There is a Clear link and a Search button. You can also see the file we just downloaded.

8 View Safari downloads on the iPhone

Safari Downloads folder in iCloud drive on the iPhone

Earlier, we set the downloads to iCloud Drive. Open the Files app on the iPhone to view your iCloud Drive storage and tap the Downloads folder to view the contents

9 Browse Safari downloads

The Safari Downloads folder on iCloud Drive on the iPhone

All the files you have downloaded are stored here. iCloud Drive can, of course, be accessed on the Apple Mac in Finder. This means that any files downloaded on the go on your iPhone can be opened when you get back to your office or home and switch on your Mac. Windows users can access iCloud Drive with iCloud for Windows.

10 Open a downloaded file

iCloud Drive file options on the iPhone

What can you do with a downloaded file on the iPhone? That depends on the type of file and whether there is anything that can handle the file format.

A PDF file was downloaded and iOS is able to display PDFs, so just long press the file until a menu appears. On it is Quick Look and this opens it for viewing.

11 View your downloaded PDF

Reading a PDF document on the iPhone

Here is the PDF we download being displayed from the Downloads folder on iCloud Drive on the iPhone. Turning the phone sideways into landscape mode makes it perfectly readable.