I'm interested in reading PDF-format ebooks on my Apple iPad. I have half a gig of PDFs I want to transfer to it, from my PC. I'm familiar already with loading EPUB-format titles through iBooks – unfortunately, iBooks doesn't read PDFs so I am looking at using a third-party application for PDFs.

I know many such third-party media viewer applications for the iPad support download from web or email, but that's a hassle. I've heard iTunes 9.1 added support for USB File Transfer, specifically for iPad devices.

How does USB File Transfer work in iTunes, for transferring files from my PC to my iPad?

Please provide example steps.

NOTE: iBooks does now support PDFs. Updated my answer to reflect.

  • 1
    This question is getting a lot of views. Should it be updated, because of software updates, it is no longer applicable? iBooks now does read PDFs, and file transfer to it from iTunes is as simple as drag and drop.
    – xdumaine
    Jan 31, 2011 at 16:24
  • @roviuser iBooks and PDFs were simply an example. The question is about the USB File Transfer mechanism, which still exists as the primary way to get data into a 3rd party application. Jan 31, 2011 at 16:46
  • What if I want to send more than 2 GB (app limit :/) to my iPad ? Is there a software that can mount my iPad like pendrive ?
    – user65506
    Jan 31, 2011 at 16:47
  • @rozliczenianfz Suggest you post your question as a new question, using the "Ask Question" button above, top right. Jan 31, 2011 at 16:48

3 Answers 3


Update: I misread your question and thought you were NOT open to 3rd party apps.

I use Air Sharing HD on my iPad to do exactly what you want to do. It may be up to the app to provide the USB transfer interface, so if you are not using Air Sharing HD, this may not work for you.

  1. Install Air Sharing HD (I'll call it ASH)
  2. In ASH, add your server (they support lots of protocols) but you can SKIP THIS STEP if you just want to use USB.
  3. Launch iTunes with your iPad connected
  4. Click your iPad in the Devices column
  5. Click the Apps tab
  6. It will look something like this:

    enter image description here

  7. Click Add... and it will bring up a dialog.
  8. Select one or more files to upload.
  9. They upload pretty darn quick. A 50 MB pdf went up in maybe 2 seconds.
  10. It seems like the iTunes interface will not let you browse the folder structure, so whatever you upload ends up in the root.
  11. In ASH, hit the EDIT button and highlight the files you want to move.
  12. Hit the gear icon (something like that - going from memory here).
  13. Browse to the folder where you want to drop the files.
  14. Press the paperclip icon that showed up after step 12.

I would recommend Goodreader, it's free and is a superb PDF viewer. You can transfer files in many different ways, but iTunes is the best for bulk transfer.

Many of the book reading applications like GoodReader and Stanza have all manner of ways to get ebooks onto your iPad, including via email, FTP, Calibre etc. However the quickest and simpliest ways that I have found are:

For bulk copy or large documents:

Use iTunes over USB, this is fast and reliable. For example if you want to load a 100 books into iBook. Just drag them from Windows Explorer into the "Books" screen in iTunes (click on books in the navigation bar on the left in iTunes). Note that Calibre will convert all sorts of formats including .PDF, .mobi, to ePub which is currently the only format iBook undertands. However later this month you will be able to drag and drop books in PDF format into iBook as well.

Transfering a small number of books:

I find email is often the best option, create an email account for your iPad, eg myipad@gmail.com then email the books, synch email on your iPad, click on the book you want to open and choose which application.

PDFs now.

Good reader is the best option for reading PDFs right now, and maybe even after iBooks has PDF support. The latest release allows you to setup an automated crop of whitespace round the page (which can be different for odd and even pages). Without this I sometimes struggle with the text size on a magazine or A4 PDF. Normally with cropping enabled (the settings are per document) it's almost always fine.

iTunes is by far the best way to copy a whole bunch of PDF's onto the iPAD, use the applications tab in iTunes, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on GoodReader


Sorry, I only just realized I still had this question open, and I don't think either of the other answers adequately describes how to use iTunes own built-in USB File Transfer to load files from a PC or Mac into 3rd party iPad, iPhone, or iPod applications that support such transfer. (The ASH example in @Chris's answer touches on it, but added some unnecessary steps that are ASH-specific, and @SteveRichard's last point mentions it, but doesn't elaborate the steps.)

Here are the steps, per the article at The Mac Observer: iPad: Transferring Files with iTunes:

To add files to your iPad through iTunes, do this:

  • Launch iTunes.
  • Connect your iPad to your computer with the USB dock cable.
  • Select your iPad from the Devices list in the iTunes Library column, then click the Apps tab.
  • Now scroll to the bottom of the iTunes window to see the File Sharing area.
  • Apps on your iPad that support file transfers appear in the Apps list. Selecting an application’s icon tells iTunes which app you want to transfer files for.
  • Click Add at the bottom of the Documents pane to find the documents you want to copy to your iPad.
  • Now click Sync to copy the documents to your iPad.

Here's an example for GoodReader specifically:

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