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 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.