Do not use “Documents & Desktop in the Cloud”

TL;DR: the title says it all: if you use iCloud Drive a lot—as I do—just do not store your Documents & Desktop folders in it, just don’t, it will only cause you troubles.


Today’s article will take the place of the one I wanted to write yesterday, but I was blocked by this most annoying syncing issue with iCloud.

How this started

It all started a few days ago when I decided to upload all my music books and scores to Apple Books. To do so, all those PDFs had to be converted to EPUBs because that is the only format that Apple accepts. Direct conversion does not exist or, at least, it yields poor results, so I used Adobe InDesign to build new documents and export to EPUB (Fixed Layout) from there.

It all seemed to go well except that, sometimes, the result was not pleasing, and I had to edit something. By default, InDesign exports the EPUB and opens it in your EPUB reader app of choice, on macOS that is Books. By default, again, Books is syncing your books to iCloud so, as soon as they are exported, they start uploading to iCloud and sync across your iCloud-enabled devices. To avoid getting duplicate books, I deleted the wrong ones before exporting again, selecting the options “Remove Everywhere” and “Remove from iCloud”.

This wreaked havoc somewhere as the Finder got stuck on this very situation:

The “112 items” stayed the same, while according to the usage of my iCloud Drive, the “3.0 MB of 3.0 MB” rose exponentially to up to 2.5 GB!

What I learned here?

First, do not let InDesign open your EPUBs automatically. To do so, in the Export EPUBs panel, Viewing App page, uncheck the system default app and any other app that syncs to iCloud.

Second, if you can, work locally and then sync to iCloud only what you are sure you need to be sync’d across your devices.

What I did to solve this?

Restarting, both in regular and Safe mode, didn’t help.

I wanted to avoid calling Apple Support because of how long the procedure is between getting someone online and actually getting something done. After some consulting with the magnificent Howard Oakley of the Eclectic Light blog, it was clear that something was very wrong. I even had a “Library” folder inside my iCloud Drive > Documents folder with root access!

Using Howard’s words, “something has gone terribly wrong here!”

Try to uncheck Documents & Desktop in the Cloud

Assuming the use of macOS Monterey, I went to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud > iCloud Drive, clicked on Options and unchecked “Documents & Desktop Folders”. This prompted the warning that everything in those folders would be uploaded to iCloud Drive and then removed from them. I accepted (having made no less than three backups previously) and waited: nothing happened, actually the checkmark on that option was once more added.

It was clear something was very wrong here.

Deactivate iCloud Drive

Always making sure that, on iCloud.com, I was seeing all my files, and after making yet another backup on another external support, I unchecked “iCloud Drive”. The following prompts were very informative:

  1. macOS asked me whether I wanted to keep a copy of those files or to erase them. I chose “Erase” (knowing I had plenty of backups)
  2. macOS perceived the syncing issue and told me “There are 112 items not currently synced”, what do you want to do? I chose the option that said to keep a copy of the non-sync’d files and remove all the rest.

To my surprise, ALL the files in the iCloud Drive folder were showing some kind of issues and were ALL moved to my Home directory, under “iCloud Drive (Archive)”.

Restart & Pray

I restarted my Mac and, thereafter, reactivated iCloud Drive. This was a most stressful event because macOS doesn’t give you a single sign of life. Thankfully, I needed to get to school to teach all afternoon and let the Mac do its job, making sure to have checked this option in System Preferences > Battery > Power Adapter:

When back home in the evening, it was everything better as it was downloading everything from iCloud Drive to my internal SSD. For some reasons, the “Optimise Mac storage” option got unchecked, and I decided not to fiddle with it until it had finished doing its work.

I then moved the “iCloud Drive (Archive)” folder outside the Mac and checked the “Optimise Mac storage” option, now sitting at 75 GB free out of 500.

But why shouldn’t you use D & D in the Cloud?

The reason for not using Documents & Desktop in the Cloud is actually pretty simple, and I wonder why on Earth Apple engineers have not considered this or, worse, considered and ignored it.

Most of the apps you launch create some folder inside your Documents folder, in which they like to store some settings, backup documents etc. As soon as I launched Adobe Premiere Rush yesterday evening it asked me permissions to access my Documents folder and, then, I realised that it no longer had access to the iCloud Drive Documents folder.

Fortunately, most apps are well-designed and will just recreate the needed folder, all the while plunging into the User’s Library to fetch the needed settings. Still, what use are those files to your second Mac? Or to your iPad? Or to your iPhone? Absolutely nothing! They take a lot of space in iCloud and clutter your working folders.

Besides, iCloud Drive is a syncing folder, not a real one. What you see in the Finder labelled “iCloud Drive” is, in reality, a mirror of User > Library > Mobile Documents > CloudDocs; so imagine how clunky it is for an app to go fetch its settings from inside there instead of just Home > Documents!

Decluttering to the rescue

This year seems the “Year of Decluttering, 2021AD” for me: every time I have something improper, I get destiny knocking at my door. Still, I’m grateful that macOS is 10x more optimised than Windows and that I didn’t have to erase the disk and start from scratch (even if occasionally that can be good).

Yesterday evening I have moved everything not essential to be sync’d out of iCloud Drive (for example my coding exercises, which are already backed up on GitHub so what’s the problem?!) and rearranged some other files here and there.

Bottom Line

And there you have it! I hope this short article will be useful to all you Mac users out there and that you will have success in your everyday activities!

I hope you found this article helpful, if you did, please like it and share it with your friends and peers. Don’t forget to follow me on this blog and to let me know what you think.

If you are interested in my music engraving and publications don’t forget to visit my Facebook page and the pages where I publish my scores (Gumroad, SheetMusicPlus, ScoreExchange and on Apple Books).

You can also support me by buying Paul Hudson’s Swift programming books from this Affiliate Link.

Thank you so much for reading!

Until the next one, this is Michele, the Music Designer.

Published by Michele Galvagno

Professional Musical Scores Designer and Engraver Graduated Classical Musician (cello) and Teacher Tech Enthusiast and Apprentice iOS / macOS Developer Grafico di Partiture Musicali Professionista Musicista classico diplomato (violoncello) ed insegnante Appassionato di tecnologia ed apprendista Sviluppatore iOS / macOS

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