How to use iCloud Drive’s new Desktop and Documents access in macOS Sierra

Roman Loyola
27 July, 2016
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iCloud Drive, mac, ios, macworld australiaWith macOS Sierra, iCloud Drive has the ability to automatically save files saved on your Desktop and in your Documents folder to the cloud. Apple says these are the places where most files are saved, so this feature will be very useful for anyone who uses multiple devices.

If you want to rely on this feature, make sure you have enough iCloud Drive storage space. All files saved to Desktop and Documents count against your iCloud Drive storage allocation. For example, if you have 1GB worth of files in your Mac’s Documents folder and you want to save it to iCloud Drive, your allocated storage will take a 1GB hit. Apple provides 5GB of free iCloud Drive storage per Apple ID, and it may not be enough. Here are the prices for iCloud storage upgrades (US prices):

  • 5GB: free
  • 50GB: US$0.99 per month
  • 200GB: US$2.99 per month
  • 1TB: US$9.99 per month

Apple has instructions on how to buy more iCloud storage.

How to turn on iCloud Drive Desktop and Documents access in macOS Sierra

Here’s an overview on how iCloud Drive’s Desktop and Documents access works. I used a 13in MacBook Pro running the macOS Sierra Public Beta 2. (I’ll update this article if changes are made in beta updates and the official released version.)

  1. In macOS Sierra, got to Apple Menu > System Preferences > iCloud.
  2. iCloud Drive appears at the top of the list in the main section of the window. Check the box for it and click on Options.
  3. In the Documents tab, there is a section labelled, ‘Apps that store documents and data in iCloud will appear here’. At the top of the list will be a new Desktop & Documents Folders listing. Check the box to activate it.

sierra icloud drive desktop documents option

That’s all you have to do to activate it. iCloud needs a few minutes for your files to save to iCloud; how long depends on how many files you have.

Desktop and Documents: iCloud website

When you go to your iCloud Drive through the web, there are now Desktop and Documents folders.

icloud website drive foldersicloud drive desktop file website access
The files you saved to these folders on your Sierra Mac are accessible through the iCloud Drive website. If you save files to the website, they will be synced to you Sierra Mac. If you delete files on the website, they will be deleted from your Sierra Mac.

Desktop and Documents: Access from iOS

Your iOS device can access files in the Desktop and Documents folder if you have iCloud Drive turn on on your device. This can be done in Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive, and then turn on the Show on Home Screen setting.

Tap on the iCloud Drive app on your Home screen. You’ll see the folders you can access, including Desktop and Documents. Tap on a folder and you can get to the files.

icloud drive desktop documents ios

Desktop and Documents: access from another Mac

To get to the iCloud Drive Desktop or Documents folders from a different Mac, iCloud Drive access first need to be turned on through the iCloud system preference (Apple Menu > System Preferences > iCloud).

iCloud Drive will appear under Favorites in any Finder window. If you’re in the Finder, you can also click on the Go menu and select iCloud Drive or you can press Shift-Command-I.

When the other Mac is running Sierra

If you’re using another Sierra Mac, then the files will automatically appear in that Mac’s Desktop and Documents folder, provided that that Mac has internet access.

In Sierra, you may notice that in a Finder window, Desktop and Documents appear in the right column under iCloud, and not in Favorites as in previous versions of OS X.

sierra documents desktop icloud finder

When the other Mac is not running Sierra

If the other Mac you are using doesn’t have Sierra, you can still access the Desktop and Documents folders that were created by the Sierra Mac. You will need internet access.

In a Finder window, iCloud Drive appears under Favorites. Also, in the Finder, you can click on the Go menu and select iCloud Drive or press Shift-Command-I. Go to the iCloud Drive, and you’ll see Desktop and Documents folders. You can access the files from the Sierra Mac this way.

However, there are a few things to note:

  • Your Desktop and Documents files on your non-Sierra Mac’s local storage device won’t be automatically saved to iCloud Drive. Files from your non-Sierra Mac need to be manually saved to the Desktop and Documents folders on iCloud Drive if you want your Sierra Mac to access those files.
  • As of the Sierra Public Beta 2, the default action when dragging and dropping from the iCloud Drive Desktop or Documents folders is to move the file, not copy it. Here’s the warning you’ll see:

icloud drive move non sierra mac

To copy files from the iCloud Drive Desktop or Documents folders when using a non-Sierra Mac, you have to hold down the Option key while dragging and dropping, or right-click the file and select Copy, then on your non-Sierra Mac, right-click on the destination and select Paste Item.

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