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How does the option “Optimize Mac Storage” for iCloud Drive interact with Spotlight and Time Machine?

As far as I understand, the option causes macOS to remove your Mac’s copy of old iCloud Drive files. In iCloud Drive in the Finder, those files are then shown with a download icon. But I don’t understand what happens to those files in Spotlight and Time Machine.

Can you still search the contents of those files in Spotlight? What happens to those files in Time Machine backups? I assume existing backups will still have the local copy, but what about new backups?

Also, what happens if you edit those files on an iPad? Will the files be automatically downloaded again to the Mac? If not, can you search the new contents of those files in Spotlight? Will new Time Machine backups have a local copy with the new contents, the old contents or no local copy at all?

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Can you still search the contents of those files in Spotlight?

Yes, for a while. Spotlight doesn't purge the files from the index (./Spotlight-V100), however it doesn't particularly ensure they remain.

Therefore, when macOS stores a file in iCloud and removes it from your home folder, the Spotlight index retains an index of the contents, but doesn't actively refresh the index. For example, resetting your Spotlight index will remove the file contents from the index. To add the files back, download them from iCloud, at which point Spotlight will index them once again.

What happens to those files in Time Machine backups?

Time Machine does not back up files in iCloud. They are ‘presumed safe’ in the cloud. They will remain on any older backups, but new incremental backups will observe the files as having been deleted.

If you restore a Time Machine backup on to a new Mac, you will log in to iCloud as part of the Setup Assistant, at which point the files will be accessible once again as normal.

Also, what happens if you edit those files on an iPad? Will the files be automatically downloaded again to the Mac?

Optimize Mac Storage attempts to keep your recent files available on your Mac. Therefore, when a file is edited by any device, your Mac will download the file locally, in case you want to continue editing there.

If not, can you search the new contents of those files in Spotlight?

Since the files are downloaded on editing, the new contents will be made available in the Spotlight index when the index is updated.

Will new Time Machine backups have a local copy with the new contents, the old contents or no local copy at all?

If a backup takes place whilst the file is downloaded, the new contents will be backed up. If the file is only in the cloud when Time Machine performs a backup, the file will not be backed up.

  • I was wondering whether you have any sources for this answer or whether it's based on personal experience? In any case, thanks for posting the most comprehensive answer to this question so far. – Rinzwind May 22 '17 at 21:39
  • @Rinzwind It's all personal experience. As part of writing my answer, I did try to research whether I could find sources to confirm what I thought, but Apple's KB articles are extremely lacklustre and other people's account of how it works doesn't seem to be up-to-date with how iCloud Drive interacts with using the Optimise Mac Storage option. As far as I'm aware, this answer represents my experiences. This is a very interesting question and I don't know how I only just found it now! – grg May 22 '17 at 21:54
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How does the option “Optimize Mac Storage” for iCloud Drive interact with Spotlight?

Spotlight shows files on iCloud. enter image description here

  • Thanks for providing some feedback on the Spotlight-part of my question. But this answer only seems to be about searching for a file by name, while my question is specifically about searching for a file based on its contents. – Rinzwind May 17 '17 at 21:24
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For the name and kind of the file, it will show up in Spotlight. As for the contents, it seems like it is working with regular iCloud storage, but I couldn't find any information if it works with Optimised Storage. My guess is that it does work since macOS only moves the file and doesn't change the properties to not be included. It would be logical for the contents to be searchable, but I am only 99% sure. The best way to find out is in my opinion, to try it yourself and see if it works.

If you were to back up with Time Machine, it should include a "symlink" to the file but you will still probably need to sign in with your Apple ID to gain access to it.

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