Everything you need to know about WhatsApp’s new multi-device support

WhatsApp has been preparing for multi-device support for months now – even longer if you consider its existing semi-functional web and desktop implementation as an intrinsic part of the process. The feature started coming live for some users a few days ago and seems to be spreading widely now. Most beta app users should have it now, and it’s making its way to non-beta users as well. It’s trivial to set up, and while most of the functionality is retained, it’s still a bit of a letdown.

What is this new multi-device feature?

If you’ve installed WhatsApp on your phone, you probably know that you can’t sign in with the same account on other devices. To (partially) address this, WhatsApp added support for the web and then native desktop, but your phone remained the first and much-needed point of contact. It had to be on and connected for you to be able to receive and send messages from your computers.

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With the new method, WhatsApp does away with this annoying requirement, allowing you to use the service on your computers even when your phone’s battery is dead or when it has no signal.

One phone + four companions

There are two very crucial restrictions on the new multi-device protocol. First of all, there is no support for more than one phone at this point, i.e. if you thought it would allow you to run the same WhatsApp account on two smartphones (or one tablet with a native app, not a web client), you’re out of luck.

Second, only four companion devices can be connected at any one time, and the phone must remain the primary provider. If it has no connection for 14 days, all linked devices are automatically disconnected. The limit of four devices should be enough to connect to a personal computer, work computer, laptop, and tablet (using the web client), so it’s not that bad.

Join the beta

If you want to try out this new feature, you need to be in two beta levels. First, the entire option is currently rolling out for those using the beta version of WhatsApp. To do this, you can either register on the Play Store or manually retrieve the last one APM Mirror beta v2.21.15.10. Those who prefer to stick with the stable versions may have to wait a bit longer for the test to reach their devices.

After making sure that you are running this version, you can tap on the overflow button ⋮ at the top right of the app and then Linked devices. This is where you typically have your web and desktop clients, but a new section should appear: Multi-device beta. For now, this is a sign-up feature, which means you have to activate it manually. WhatsApp clearly explains its advantages and limitations and provides a link to a great support page to help you with your decision, but you can quit and join the beta at any time if you want to take a look at the situation without committing to it.

Once you have joined the beta, all of your existing login sessions will be deleted and you will be logged out. So you’d better keep your phone nearby if you want to re-enable WhatsApp on your devices. Binding a new web or desktop client is done in the same way as before: you authenticate yourself with your fingerprint then scan a QR code.

Same same …

The interface on your computer remains virtually the same, but you will notice that the welcome graphic is changed from the old one. Keep your phone connected to a new one WhatsApp for desktop beta.

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To the left: old desktop welcome screen. To the right: New with multi-device enabled.

The experience is also unchanged – all the shortcuts, settings, screens, and most of the functionality are there, so you won’t have to get used to anything new. Even things like using a colon (:) to find and send emojis or double-clicking next to a message to reply to them are there. You can also send disappearance messages and make calls on Mac and Windows clients (not on the web, this has always been a limitation and has not been lifted). Overall, I didn’t notice any major bugs after switching to the new protocol, but there are a few missing features that I’ll cover in a bit.


… But different

The main advantage of going through this is that you become independent from your phone. In short: no phone, no problem. Whether its battery is dead or you left it at home or you have a terrible signal on it, it doesn’t matter. As long as your computer is able to connect to the Internet, you have access to your WhatsApp conversations and calls. I tried several times, I disconnected my phone before and during a chat / call and everything was fine with the WhatsApp client on my iMac.

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Making a call from my iMac while my phone was disconnected was no problem.

End-to-end encryption

One of the most important features of WhatsApp is its end-to-end encryption, and you’ll be happy to know that it’s retained throughout the linking process and while you are using the desktop and web apps. WhatsApp explains how the first one happens here – essentially, it sends an encrypted version of your most recent chat history to your computer when you link it, then deletes it once it’s received. And when using the desktop app, you can turn on security notifications just like on your phone to be notified when a contact’s passcode changes and make sure everything stays private.


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Missing features and known issues

As this is still a beta version, some features are not yet supported. Here are the most important ones that I noticed:

  • Pinning chats is not available and your pinned chats do not continue. So if you’re used to having your partner or close friends at the top of your chats, you’ll have to adapt. Hope this will be fixed soon.
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Of all the complex features, it is the seemingly simple one that is missing.

  • Since only your most recent chat history is sent to your computer and your phone is no longer the data provider, you will lose access to old followed messages. Your searches will also only return recent results, so you have to go back to your phone to look for something old.
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To the left: Messages followed before. To the right: When the multi-device is activated, nothing is visible.

  • Viewing a contact’s live location is not supported.
  • You cannot call another person who is using the old protocol for linked devices (that is, who has not signed up for the beta) from your computer. You will need to go to your phone to do this.

WhatsApp has a slightly longer list of issues on this support page, but the other elements are more minor or more specific, so you are unlikely to come across them. It should be noted that joining and viewing group invites appears in the official listing, but I have no problem with that. I was able to see an invite to a group that I’m not a part of and join without a hitch, so this can already be resolved.


After all the wait, I am personally a little disappointed with this turn of events. Sure, the feature works and there aren’t any major bugs for a “beta” version, but one of the main reasons I wanted multi-device support on WhatsApp is that I could have the application on a second phone without logging out of my main one. I also prefer to have access to all of my history for searches and tracked messages, although this is only available when the primary phone is connected.

As it stands, multi-device support is a practical enhancement to the WhatsApp desktop and web experience, but it’s not the game changer we’ve all wanted it to be.


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