Optimize Mac Storage can make your files go poof. Ask me how I know

Getty Images/Nguyen Duc Quang

It recently became clear to me that there is a serious architectural problem with how Apple manages files on the Mac with iCloud, and that design flaw can lead to extensive data loss.

If you have more data in your iCloud Drive storage than you have space on your Mac’s internal SSD, you stand a good chance of losing files, even if you back up with Time Machine.

Also: How to easily back up your Mac onto a USB drive (and feel like James Bond doing it)

Why is that? What is actually happening to your data?

Strap in. We’re going for a ride.  

A gentle introduction to iCloud drive

In 2014, Apple introduced iCloud Drive, part of its iCloud (now iCloud+) service offerings. Like Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive, iCloud helps keep folders on multiple machines in sync, and provides cloud storage.

Apple’s iCloud is specifically integrated into the Documents and Desktop folders (as well as Photos). When you enable iCloud Drive on your Mac, iCloud moves those folders out of the Users/[yourname]/Documents and Users/[yourname]/Desktop directories and into its own space managed under the directory Users/[yourname]/Library/Mobile Documents/com~apple~CloudDocs.

Also: The best external hard drives you can buy

In general use, you won’t notice the move, because MacOS sets up symbolic links between where the old Documents folder lived and the new folder that is now tucked under the hidden Library directory.

Two years

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