4 Files & fold­ers in iCloud

Fig­ure out the space you get–and what you need


How it’s meant to work

By us­ing iCloud Drive and as­so­ci­ated fea­tures across macOS and iOS, your saved doc­u­ments are avail­able on any de­vice, hap­pily liv­ing in­side what­ever folder struc­ture you’ve cre­ated for them.

How to make it work

Again, this one’s com­pli­cated. Ap­ple sees a fu­ture in which you never need worry about hav­ing saved a file or folder on the ‘wrong de­vice’ again (thereby tem­po­rar­ily putting it out of reach when you most need it). But we’re not there yet, and the sys­tem Ap­ple’s ended up with is sub­op­ti­mal and messy, due to years of ac­cu­mu­lated cruft on the Mac side and false starts on iOS.

As of macOS Sierra, you can op­tion­ally sync your Desk­top and Doc­u­ments fold­ers to iCloud. Again, this is re­liant on you hav­ing enough iCloud stor­age space to do so. If you only have a small amount of iCloud stor­age, try us­ing your desk­top as a kind of tem­po­rary repos­i­tory for files you want to have fast ac­cess to any­where, and Doc­u­ments to house only very im­por­tant files and fold­ers. Cre­ate a new folder called ‘Doc­u­ments – lo­cal’ in your user folder for archived/less im­por­tant stuff (which won’t sync be­tween de­vices), and con­sider in­stalling vir­tual house­keeper Hazel ($32, noodle­soft.com) to au­to­mat­i­cally file con­tent that’s been lurk­ing on your desk­top too long and/or those items with large file sizes.

If your prob­lem is the op­po­site – you have tons of iCloud space but not much room on your Mac’s tiny SSD, tick Op­ti­mise Mac Stor­age in the iCloud Drive op­tions found within the Sys­tem Pref­er­ences iCloud pane. Older doc­u­ments will be shifted to iCloud when space is lim­ited. How­ever, be aware that if you have projects with de­pen­den­cies (such as ex­ter­nal im­agery, video, or

au­dio), you should con­sider stor­ing the en­tirety of those in lo­cal fold­ers, or en­sure you’re on­line when you need to work on them. If you don’t, macOS might er­ro­neously off­load the ex­ter­nal files, leav­ing you stranded.

App-spe­cific fold­ers

App-spe­cific iCloud Drive fold­ers can be browsed and man­aged on Mac. Se­lect iCloud Drive from Finder’s side­bar (use Finder’s Side­bar pref­er­ences if this isn’t vis­i­ble), and work with app fold­ers just like any other. How­ever, for apps that ex­pect files to al­ways be in ‘their’ fold­ers (of­ten the case on iOS), don’t move in­di­vid­ual files out­side of the app fold­ers – if you do, lo­cat­ing them later from within the iOS app may prove prob­lem­atic.

If you dis­able sync­ing Desk­top and Doc­u­ments to iCloud, you might sur­mise Ap­ple would just stop sync­ing your doc­u­ments, but leave every­thing in place. In­stead, it cre­ates empty Desk­top and Doc­u­ments fold­ers, to which you’ll need to copy your files from the rel­e­vant fold­ers in iCloud Drive. If you later re-en­able sync­ing, the newly cre­ated fold­ers dis­ap­pear, and their con­tents are placed in a folder named af­ter the com­puter they came from (such as ‘Doc­u­ments – Mac mini’). Do this a num­ber of times, and you can end up with a bunch of fold­ers and some se­ri­ous file man­age­ment to get your head around. So don’t be in­de­ci­sive.

On iOS, things are a mite sim­pler, in that Ap­ple started off hav­ing you save doc­u­ments ‘within’ apps, and then opened up that hid­den file sys­tem in the iCloud Drive app and an as­so­ci­ated Doc­u­ment Picker. As of iOS 11, the lat­ter evolves into a full-fledged Files app on iPad, as out­lined else­where.

When you use iCloud Drive, the files you save there are copied to the on­line stor­age.

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App-spe­cific fold­ers make find­ing and sav­ing files on a per-app ba­sis eas­ier.

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