Why iCloud Drive isn't garbage – an expert's guide

13 February 2016, 03:26

iCloud Drive hasn’t seen a great deal of love sent its way since its introduction but in OS X El Capitan it just about becomes usable. Below we explain why it’s worth your time – and money.

iCloud Drive is intended to be the part of iCloud that’s a swap-in for services like DropBox, and it accesses the same 5GB of free cloud storage space Apple provides all its customers. You can place files or folders there, and they’ll automagically sync with Apple’s cloud servers along with with any other Macs you’re signed into with the same Apple ID. iOS devices you’re also signed into with the same Apple ID will be able to access the files via the iCloud Drive app (if you can’t see this, open the Settings app, tap iCloud > iCloud Drive, and then tap the switch marked Show On Home Screen).

On your Mac you can activate iCloud Drive, if it isn’t already activated, in the iCloud section of System Preferences – just put a check alongside the iCloud Drive entry.

Understanding iCloud Drive within Finder
Take a look at this annotated screenshot – the callouts are below:

1. iCloud Drive overall progress chart
This little pie chart shows iCloud Drive’s current progress either uploading, downloading or deleting data. Even if you haven’t got iCloud Drive selected in Finder you’ll still see it, so can see at a glance whether iCloud Drive is syncing.

2. iCloud Drive queue
If a cloud symbol appears alongside the filename, it means the file is either currently being uploaded to iCloud Drive (or being downloaded from iCloud Drive), or that it’s waiting to be uploaded (or downloaded). The cloud symbol will disappear once the file has been synced with iCloud Drive.

3. Individual file sync progress
This little progress bar appears alongside individual files to show their sync progress (upload or download). iCloud Drive will sync several files simultaneously although if you place a large file there it will probably be synced on its own, in order to expedite syncing and make best use of available bandwidth.

4. Syncing stats and figures
If you have the Status bar visible within Finder (click View > Show Status Bar), Finder will tell you how much free space you have available in iCloud (not just in iCloud Drive!) and how many files are syncing (including those in the upload queue), along with the progress – shown as the current KB/MB uploaded vs the total waiting to be uploaded or downloaded.

Overcoming iCloud Drive annoyances
iCloud Drive still lacks a handful of features compared to competitors, but a few tricks can help mitigate the pain.

Trashing files
iCloud Drive will ask you to confirm every file you drag to the trash. This quickly becomes annoying. One solution is to create a folder called Trash within the root of iCloud Drive, and drag files there when you want to get rid of them. Because you’re simply copying files you won’t be asked to confirm anything. Periodically, you can empty this Trash folder by deleting all the files in one fell swoop – and thereby only see the annoying dialog box once.

Recovering deleted files
Deleted iCloud Drive files end-up in the Mac’s Trash, of course, just like with any other file you delete in Finder. However, you can also salvage files for up to 30 days after deletion by visiting the iCloud website. Sadly, Apple doesn’t make things simple:

  1. Click your username at the top right of the iCloud webpage, then select iCloud Settings from the pop-up menu.
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the webpage and click Restore Files.
  3. Select the checkbox along the relevant file(s) and then click Restore at the right of the dialog box.

Files are restored to their original locations within iCloud Drive (which is to say, the location they were in before they were deleted). If iCloud Drive finds there’s a file already in that location with the same name, it will add a “2” to the filename of the restored file. There’s no way to choose where to restore the files to.

Note that you can choose to permanently delete files here by putting a check alongside them and selecting the Delete option instead of Restore.

Accessing iCloud Drive on Windows or Linux
You can access iCloud Drive using the iCloud website. Just click the iCloud Drive icon. This opens up iCloud Drive to virtually every computer capable of running a modern browser, and you can download and upload files by clicking the relevant icons.

However, Apple produces the iCloud for Windows software that tightly integrates iCloud Drive (and several other iCloud features) into Windows’ Explorer.

Bonus tip: You can bookmark each of the individual iCloud website pages, removing the need to go through the iCloud.com Home screen each time. For example, clicking here will take you straight to iCloud Drive.

Getting more space
It’s unlikely Apple’s free 5GB of space will last long if you make serious use of iCloud Drive along with apps like Photos. You can buy more space on a Mac by opening System Preferences, clicking the iCloud icon, then clicking the Manage button at the bottom right. Then click the Buy More Storage button, or the Change Storage Plan button (which you see depends on whether you already pay for more space). Here’s an up-to-date price list. On iOS, open the Settings app, tap iCloud, then tap Storage. Then tap either Buy More Storage or Change Storage Plan.

Apple’s storage costs slightly more than competitors but, then again, you do get the associated operating system entirely free of charge each year. Yup, you might not’ve realised but Apple’s switched you over to a subscription plan for OS X.

Syncing worries
It’s not unnatural to worry that iCloud Drive might not’ve synced all your files. You can use Finder’s progress displays mentioned above to keep an eye on things but if you have a modern Mac that supports Power Nap then there’s less need to worry, because your Mac will sync iCloud Drive even when it’s sleeping. You can turn-on Power Nap by opening System Preferences, clicking the Energy Saver option, and putting a check in the Enable Power Nap box. You’ll need to click both the Battery and Power Adapter headings to enable it for each energy mode.

Leave a comment...

Do you have any idea how to force a re-sync? For some reason it fails to sync a few files here and there. I try removing files from iCloud folder and re-adding them but tha doesn’t seem to work either.

— Carlos · Feb 13, 04:50 AM · #

Thanks but you really didn’t explain why it’s worth my time and money. I was really looking forward to that.

— Pablo · Feb 13, 04:51 AM · #

Carlos, I would backup all the files you have in iCloud Drive, then turn it off via System Prefs, and then delete the iCloud Drive files if they haven’t already been deleted, and then turn it on again.

You’ll find the docs here:

~/Library/Mobile\ Documents/com~apple~CloudDocs

Just Shift+Ctrl+G in a Finder window, then paste that in.

Keir · Feb 13, 05:19 AM · #

If it could manage the creation of a “shared folder” with my wife or friends or colleagues I’d have migrated all my stuff from Copy over them … instead I am evaluating if the Dropbox Pro account could be an affordable expense on my yearly budget…

kOoLiNuS · Feb 16, 03:52 AM · #

There are glaring problems with how this works. I tried to attach a file on my iCloud drive to a mail message and when I double-clicked the Documents folder to access the directory tree it placed the entire documents directory in my mail message. It could not be stopped – an annoying un-feature if you want to try and cancel a download. It brought my whole system to its knees, and when I followed the advice to turn it off then back on again, I have spent the past 10 hours writing for sync – with substantial performance degradation on my MacBook Air.

I am going to spend the weekend getting my files back down locally, then copy to a new local backup drive. Copying them from iCloud to the drive also causes everything to grind to a halt.

Larry Hewitt · Oct 12, 06:38 PM · #