What happens to your files if you turn off iCloud Drive on macOS?

iCloud Drive on the Apple Mac stores all the files in the Desktop and Documents folders | rawinfopages.com

There is a brand new feature in macOS Sierra that stores all your files on iCloud. At first it seems great, but is it really a good idea? What happens if you turn off this feature? You may be surprised!

The Mac’s operating system is getting bigger, our files are getting bigger, and there are more of them. This is one reason why Apple has introduced a new feature into macOS Sierra and it enables you to store all of the files in your Desktop and Documents folders online in iCloud Drive. Provided you have sufficient storage of course, you might need to upgrade your plan to get more space.

One advantage of this macOS feature is that it can enable space savings to be made on your Mac’s disk. If you have a small SSD for example, you might be struggling to find the space to store new files like apps, videos, photos, movie and TV show downloads, and so on.

The 128GB storage in a MacBook Air won’t last very long for many people and they will soon fill it. Storing all your files online instead of on the disk is therefore one way to free up space on the Mac.

However, you do need to be careful what files you store in your Documents folder and on the desktop.

Another option would be to plug in a USB disk drive, but if you travel with a MacBook you don’t want to have to carry around a USB disk too.

Store the Desktop and Documents folders on iCloud Drive on the Apple Mac

Storing the Desktop and Documents folders on iCloud Drive might be useful for some people, but not everyone needs to free up space. Some people have plenty of empty space on the Mac's disk. I have a couple of hundred gigabytes free for example.

Although you free up some space with the iCloud Drive storage feature, the files are no longer on your Mac. If you turn off the feature, the Desktop and Documents folders on your Mac are empty and you have no files.

Turn off syncing Desktop and Documents folders with iCloud Drive on the Apple Mac

Nothing is deleted from iCloud Drive, so your files are safe, but to restore these two folders and put them back the way they were, you have to download the Desktop and Documents folders from iCloud. That was around 15,000 files in my case. It didn't take long, but then I have a fibre optic internet connection and not everyone does.

iCloud drive in macOS Sierra stores your Documents and Desktop folders

  1. Open a Finder window and select iCloud Drive in the sidebar.
  2. Open the iCloud Documents folder and press Command+A then Command+C to select and copy everything.
  3. Open the Documents folder on the Mac’s disk and press Ctrl+V to paste everything in. All the files and folders will then download.

Alternatives to iCloud Drive

The iCloud Drive macOS feature is a bit like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and other online drives. In one way it is better, and this is its ability to free up space on the Mac's disk by storing all files online.

If you have plenty of disk space then Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and others offer far more features and configuration options. They are preferred.

iCloud Drive stores all files in Desktop and Documents or nothing. There is no choice and you can’t choose which folders are synced. With the alternatives you create a folder and place in it the files that you want to sync. You are not forced to sync everything and you can choose.

I often use the desktop as a sort of temporary storage for stuff I am working on - files, folders, scraps of text, images, and so on. Up and downloading them all the time is slow. It could be painfully slow on a poor internet connection.

Speed up your Mac

Since turning off storing Desktop and Documents on iCloud Drive, the Mac is more responsive and snappier. Using Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box or something similar enables you to choose which files to sync. They also enable you to share files and folders, previous versions of files are stored, and more.

If I had a 128GB SSD in my Mac, I would definitely leave iCloud Drive storage on, but there is no point with a 500GB that is only half full. My Mac is faster without it and I sync and share what I need to using Google Drive and not every single file.

There are other issues that are confusing, like what would happen if you ran backup software? Would it copy just what is on the disk or would it download all the files on iCloud Drive in order to back them up? There could be tens of gigabytes!

You could say that the files on iCloud Drive don’t need to be backed up, but what if you delete files or overwrite a document with a new version. I just don’t know. With the files on my disk, I know where everything is and can back them up.

What if iCloud is hacked?

What if someone hacks into your iCloud account or guesses the password? It does happen occasionally, and not just to celebs with photos. I don't know. I worry that if you can't connect to iCloud then you won't be able to access any of your files.





Thank you, Roland, for writing this. As a person who provides tech support at my workplace for about 40 users and several shared Macs, I think this is going to be an important topic going forward. I appreciate your writing about it and doing the experimenting for us ahead of time. And boy am I jealous of your fibre connection! I have a lowly 5mbps connection at home still ahahahaha.

If you use macOS Sierra iCloud Drive with BT Sync, Box, Dropbox folders etc. on your Desktop OR in your Documents folder, beware! You will have huge problems. I had serious issues with file duplication, wrong file versions because iCloud Drive replaces those files with virtual placeholders called ".icloud" file extensions which look like the original files and will get synced instead of your original files. This means you can lose your originals very easily. Also, I believe if you disable iCloud Drive after Desktop & Documents folders have been uploaded, it will prompt you to download all of your iCloud documents into an Archive directory located on your hard drive at /Home/Archive. Can anyone please confirm this?

I switched off iCloud Drive sync and my Desktop and Documents folders were empty. I did not switch off iCloud, so I could select it in the Finder sidebar and drag all the files back to Desktop and Documents. I don't like the way files are stored ONLY on iCloud. Files stored in one location are at risk. I also wonder what a backup tool would actually back up. Would nothing be backed up because files aren't really there? Or would the backup software try to back up each file and spend a week downloading everything? I have a Windows PC and iTunes/iCloud is installed on it. When I ran a virus scan, as you do on Windows, I found it running very slowly. It turned out it was downloading each file (thousands of them) from iCloud in order to scan them. I disabled iCloud Drive on my PC. I prefer the simplicity of Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive etc. Files are both on the disk and online and on my Mac and my PC. Unless you are seriously short of disk space (weren't MacBook Airs sold with 64GB SSDs at one time?), I wouldn't use iCloud Drive.

I'm Strongly Suggest that Read Comments on this page here below... specially If you are a New Mac User or iCloud.like myself, There is a Great Chance to ... YOU COULD LOST ALL YOUR FILES by on little mistake (more likely by confusing) * any files located "icloud" Folder in "Finder" you could lost IF YOU DO'T PAY ATTENTION WHEN YOU TURN OFF THE ICOUD. = WHEN POP WINDOWS WITH SELECTION . 2) ALSO YOUR HD COULD BE FILLed UP w/o NOTICE. Check for if you have Duplicated Folder that Located in Library "iCloud Drive (Archive) One time I had to delete Files in the icloud <Finder, and later put them back to the folder , after that I discover many Archive Folders that same files in it.

I had a desktop where I kept all my photos/movies/music and documents. I also had a laptop, a MacBook pro early 2015 which was the computer I used day to day. I decided to get a new MacBook and combine the files from my old MacBook and desktop. I transferred all MacBook files to desktop. I either air dropped or many of the folders replicated thanks to iCloud Drive. Once everything was there on my desktop, I wiped my laptop and took the desktop to Apple so they can migrate to the new MacBook Pro. When I got the new MacBook Pro the desktop looked...like the desktop of my old laptop before I wiped it. All the files and stuff that were on my Desktop transferred EXCEPT the items that I transferred from laptop to desktop. It seems that when I wiped the old laptop, all those items disappeared. It was essentially everything I've been working off of/using for months now. A lot I found because I'd emailed or had already pulled up on desktop but a lot is just...GONE. Is there any way to recover any of this? THANK YOU.

If you transferred all your files to the desktop (an iMac or Mac mini?) are they not there? Can't you transfer them back via AirDrop or iCloud? If files are missing from the desktop, have you checked the Trash? Log into icloud.com go to Settings and click Restore Files. It saves everything deleted from iCloud for 30 days and lets you recover them. Try Disk Drill on your desktop to recover lost files https://www.cleverfiles.com/


I had 1 GB icloud on my Mac book Pro and every thing was oK. After upgrading OS to Sierra - apple started pestering me : that my icloud is full and; that I needed more space. Eventually I gave in because most of my files were locked .Once I bought more icloud space at £2.75 a month some were unlocked This was fine until I switched off icloud from Documents , Pages and Keynote in the preference. I noticed lots of my files specially the cropped version from other files had cloud sign against them, When i tried to open them they were locked. So wer many of my slide shows , other files and some of my photos and their clips were locked. Some files had a cloud against them, Others had a cloud and a dot in the middle . What I really want to do is to save and secure my works and delete my ICloud from my Mac Book Pro

When I installed macOS Sierra, it uploaded all my files to iCloud and deleted them off the disk. I downloaded them all, put them back and switched off iCloud. I really don't like the way it does that. I would try logging into the iCloud website using a web browser. You may be able to download your files from there. It may be that you need to pay for iCloud to unlock your files. You can then download them to the Mac's disk. Once they are all on the disk, your iCloud subscription can be cancelled.

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