Understanding iCloud Drive and the Optimize Mac Storage Option (#1627)


So I’ve seen a lot of questions online recently
from people who don’t quite understand how iCloud Drive works. How does it sync your files between your Macs. Where do the files go. Where are they really. Here’s a presentation that explains it all. We’ve got three different things here. We’ve got somebody who has two Macs. An iMac and a MacBook and there are currently
no files on either one. Then there’s Apple’s iCloud Server and they’ve
set up their Mac to use iCloud Drive. In fact to have Documents and Desktop stored
on iCloud Drive. You set this up in System Preferences. Currently they have no files. But let’s say they create their first file. Just a small file a text document. We’ll call it File A and they create it on
their iMac. What’s going to happen pretty quickly and
automatically is that file is going to be uploaded to Apple’s iCloud Server. Now, of course, it depends how fast their
connection is. How stable their connection is. But it should pretty quickly go up there and
appear there. Now you’re probably not looking in your iCloud
Server to see what’s up there. You can actually do that by going to iCloud.com
and there’s a file browser there. But normally you wouldn’t pay any attention
to that. You would just notice that maybe a few seconds
or a minute to two later that file would appear on your MacBook as well. So you seem to have the same file on your
iMac and your MacBook. You could say that a copy of it has been put
from one place to the other. But these are treated as the same file. So you make a change to it on your MacBook
and you see the change on your iMac or vice versa. The change is going to happen in all three
places as anything you do to these files is going to sync the File A in your MacBook,
your iMac, and Apple’s iCloud Server. You don’t have to do anything to enable this. It just happens if you have iCloud Drive turned
on and you saved this file in iCloud Drive. So let’s say you create a bunch more files. In this case B, C, D, and E and C is going
to be a really big one. A big video file or something like that. This will then all sync to Apple’s iCloud
Server. So all the files will be there first and then
to your MacBook. Again this may happen so fast you may not
even notice it or if file C is really big it may take a little while for it to happen. But they’ll sync across and will be treated
on your MacBook and your iMac as the same files. Make changes to one and you’ll see it on your
other machine as well. Delete one and you’ll see it deleted on your
other machine as well. These files are all linked. So file D is linked on all three locations. Now there’s an option called Optimize Mac
Storage. You can fine that in System Preferences in
iCloud Settings. It’s under Options for iCloud Drive. Now what this does is it allows your Macs
to not have a copy of every single file. So say, for instance, your iMac has a huge
hard drive and your filling it up with files over weeks and months. Your MacBook, which has a smaller hard drive,
is having trouble keeping up with this because there’s not as much room. So your iMac has plenty of free space but
your MacBook is getting pretty full. What you can do is turn on Optimize Mac Storage. Now what will happen is something like this. That file C maybe is a large video file like
I said and maybe you haven’t accessed it in a while. Your MacBook notices that it’s running short
of space. So it kind of gets rid of C. Notice it’s still
in the iCloud Server. It’s always going to be there. It’s still in iMac because there’s plenty
of hard drive space there. But in your MacBook it appears to be there
but it’s not really there. It’s basically like a holofile. It’s an icon without a file behind it. When you go to open it, it’s going to then
go out to the iCloud Service and download that file so then you can open it. So you don’t have to do anything special to
tell it to download that file. You just open it like a normal file and you
would be able to get access to file C. Now, of course, if you’re not connected to the
internet, say you’re taking a plane trip or something like that, then yes it’s a problem
you wouldn’t have access to file C. But if you’re connected via WiFi like normal you
would have no problem. You would just notice a delay as it went out
and grabbed that file. Now as soon as you went to access it, it actually
puts it on your drive and now it’s normal just like before. But later on if it notices that you’re not
using file C or one of the other files it will then go and get rid of it again even
though it will keep it there. Now let’s say file C you haven’t used it for
a long time on either Mac. It may decide to actually get rid of it in
both places if your have Optimize Mac Storage turned on in both places. So you can have Optimize Mac Storage turned
Off on your iMac and it will never do this. Every file will be there all the time. Or you can opt to have it turned On and it
will make decisions for your iMac and your MacBook separately of which files it thinks
it should have. Over time it may do this for lots of files. It’s not just due to the file size, it’s also
due to the age. So if you haven’t accessed file B, even though
it is pretty small, but you haven’t accessed it in a long time then it may actually kind
of, you know, have that as a holo file there not taking up any space and you can easily
get it back by just going to open the file. You may not even notice that it is downloading
if you have a fast connection and it’s a small file. If you go to download it then suddenly it
appears there and now since you’ve used that file recently it’s probably going to stay
there for a little while. So you can easily get back to having all your
files there by turning off the Optimize Mac Storage if you want. You can turn it On and Off at any time. It doesn’t effect what’s on Apple’s iCloud
Server. All your files are always going to be there. It just effects what’s stored locally. You can’t have any direct control over that. So you can’t tell a file, like, I don’t need
you so you can basically offload right now. It’s all decided automatically by Mac OS. So using Optimize Mac Storage is the way to
use iCloud to virtually get more hard drive space on your Mac because only the files that
you recently used, that it thinks you’re going to need, are there stored on your Mac. Everything else is stored on the iCloud Server
but will be automatically be downloaded as you need them. So turn that function on if you’re running
short on hard drive space. But you can leave it off if you’ve got tons
of hard drive space and would rather have complete copies of every file stored in iCloud
also saved to your hard drive.

Dereck Turner

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