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I have about 110,000 photos and videos in my Photos library, synced to my Mac with iCloud with "download originals" turned on. Sync was working fine until a few days ago, about a week after installing Catalina.

I accidentally opened my Photos library from a networked Mac and closed it. It didn't appear to cause any problems, but the next time I opened Photos on the local Mac, it gave me a "repairing library" progress bar. That eventually completed and all my photos showed up. So far so good. But since then (five days ago), it has not downloaded any new photos from iCloud.

In "All Photos" view, at the bottom where it would normally say "Downloading x new items", instead it says "Restoring from iCloud...":

Restoring from iCloud...

The numbers are wrong. When I first open Photos for just a second it shows slightly lower numbers, which are the numbers of photos and videos actually in the library. Then the "restoring" message comes up and it switches to a higher number, which is still lower than the number shown on my phone and other iCloud synced libraries. The photos missing from this library show up fine on those devices.

The iMac has been on and attached to a fast and reliable internet connection the whole time. I assumed it would resolve on its own, but it has now been 9 days and it's getting inconvenient to not have access to new photos.

When I posted this I was running macOS 10.15.1. I have since upgraded to 10.15.2, and the problem persists.

I've tried restarting and I've tried turning "Download originals to my Mac" off and back on, to no avail.

Last night (day 8) I opened Photos while holding command-option to rebuild the library. It took about 9 hours, after which it went right back to the same "Restoring from iCloud..." message.

Has anybody else run into this problem? Anything I can do to get it back to normal syncing?

  • iCloud Photos can take quite a long time to sync your library. This is all dependent on the file size of the photos & videos, the time your Mac is awake and able to sync, and your internet connection. If you search here, you can dozens of similar questions. The only consistent answer is to wait, leave your computer awake, and try not to use it for anything else until the sync is complete. – fsb Dec 10 '19 at 20:21
  • @fsb I'm familiar with normal iCloud syncing. What I'm asking about here is the "Restoring from iCloud..." message specifically. If you can point me to other questions/answers that deal with that I would be grateful. – Robert Dec 10 '19 at 21:05
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    Which OS are you running? After I upgraded to Catalina I had a host of iCloud and iCloud Photos related issues. My advice to you is, if you've upgraded to Catalina, don't change anything. We may still be a few minor version releases away from the OS being stable and practically usable for most people. I decided to disable iCloud Photos entirely which led to a series of subsequent and new issues. – Harv Dec 11 '19 at 3:57
  • @Harv I am indeed running Catalina, so that's probably it. – Robert Dec 11 '19 at 8:12
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    Yup. I had the same issue, or at least identical symptoms. Apple's QA seems terrible these days. – Harv Dec 11 '19 at 15:58
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Since I ran into the same issue, I had to research this as well. From what I found, this seems to be normal. After a library repair, each photo is being verified against the iCloud library copy.

This Apple support document 1 states:

If you repair a library that's automatically updated with iCloud Photos, the entire contents of the library re-updates with iCloud after the repair ...

Just like a normal iCloud library upload, this can take a very long time. For my 20.000 photos, it's currently at 72 hours without an indication of being finished any time soon it took about 80 hours. Then, the Photos app showed Updating (only the word Updating without any additional information) for a few hours before now switching to Uploading 19,800 items.

It's re-uploading every single photo in my library. Due to my low upload bandwidth, this is a very slow process and it uploaded about 1,000 photos in the previous 4 days.

So for me the messages that showed up in the status bar were, in order:

  1. Restoring from iCloud (for about 4 days)
  2. Updating (for a few hours)
  3. Uploading x items (very slow, will possibly take many weeks to finish)

UPDATE Jan/10: I took the laptop to work because we have a very fast upstream connection there. Over the weekend, it uploaded all photos, downloaded the new ones and is now back to its old Updated Just Now status.

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    To make sure I understand: it started with the "Restoring from iCloud..." message, then after 80 hours switched to "Uploading x items", and counted down to zero? And it's now fully updated and syncing new images from iCloud? – Robert Jan 5 at 10:37
  • Unfortunately no. I’ll clarify my answer shortly. From “Restoring from iCloud” it went to “Updating” (without any number or additional info) and stayed there for a few hours. Then it went to “Uploading x items” and it’s uploading the full library again - every single photo and video. Due to my pretty sad upload bandwidth, it has so far uploaded about 1000 images over the last 4 days. – winternight Jan 6 at 11:13
  • @Robert I would be interested in the fate of your library! – winternight Jan 21 at 18:09
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    I gave up before the "Restoring" message went away. Turned iCloud off and back on, and it re-uploaded every photo very slowly. Now all good. Added an answer with slightly more detail. Thank you for your help! – Robert Jan 21 at 19:35
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My library is back to normal, but the question is still somewhat unanswered. After 12 days of "Restoring from iCloud..." I gave up hope and turned off iCloud Photos (both in the Preferences pane of Photos and in the system preferences under "Apps on this Mac using iCloud". One or the other told me that one unspecified item would be deleted, which in desperation I agreed to. Restarted and turned them both back on.

Photos thought for a while and then said "Uploading 11X,XXX photos". I left it open while it counted down agonizingly slowly for about a week. The first 50k took much longer than the rest, so maybe it does the bigger files (or more recent photos) first. When it finally got to zero, it downloaded the new photos that were missing, and everything has been working fine since.

If I get the "Restoring from iCloud..." message again, I'll probably skip right to turning iCloud off and back on, since it sounds like there's no way to avoid re-uploading every photo anyway. Of course if anyone has a better solution I would appreciate a real answer.

Update and warning:

When writing this answer I went back and turned off iCloud Photos in both places again, hoping to figure out which one triggered the re-upload. I was expecting it to give me a warning. THERE IS NO WARNING. Now my Photos app is back to "Uploading 11X,XXX" photos.

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