I have had a baffling and very frustrating experience with Photos in the last few days.

A couple of days ago I asked Under what circumstances could Photos delete a large number of albums without warning or indication?

In short:

I added a large number of photos to Photos, and allowed it to upload them to iCloud.

At first, all was as expected, in Photos, on iCloud.com/photos, and on other devices attached to the same account.

Then multiple albums (not the photos in them, just the albums) disappeared, across all devices and iCloud.com/photos. In some cases I watched this happening before my eyes.

Since then, on one device (an ancient iPad running iOS 9.3.5) most of the missing albums have reappeared. On others and on iCloud.com/photos, a few missing albums have reappeared (but nothing has changed for about 24 hours).

What is the source of truth? If it's iCloud, why doesn't iCloud.com/photos show the missing albums, and why did the iPad find some of the missing ones before iCloud did?

What processes are occurring, and where? I don't see any sign of relevant activity in Activity Monitor, or in Photos, or on iCloud.com.

Is there some way of hastening the process of synchronisation, if that's taking place, or even finding out what is happening behind the scenes? What are the processes, that that mean albums can mysteriously disappear and reappear?

The one saving grace is that so far, all the actual photos seem to be safe, but I have lost a great deal of faith in Photos and iCloud over this.

  • You shouldn't be letting iCloud Photo Library be authoritative in the first place, Apple tells you that you should still be backing up your photos. iCloud is just a not-very-reliable sync service. Feb 1, 2022 at 16:23
  • How does one let (or not let) iCloud be authoritative? The only option I can see is to use iCloud photos or not; if I want my Photos shared between devices, I don't have much choice. Feb 1, 2022 at 17:40
  • One makes an authoritative backup of the photos. Maybe that's having a Mac that doesn't do optimize storage, and you back up the complete photo library to another storage. Or you add them to iCloud Photo, and additionally store them somewhere else. Feb 1, 2022 at 19:11
  • I don't use the "optimise storage on this Mac option" (though, it's not the photos that are missing, but the albums). I have my usual backups, and in the end I may need to perform a restore, to a library safely unconnected to iCloud. But if I do, I will still want to be able to connect the library to iCloud just as I did last time, and I don't want to have the same issue again. Feb 1, 2022 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


The source of truth is the iCloud in terms of past activity.

The situation you have described sounds like a configuration issue or a bug. It also sounds like it is a temporary situation that might resolve itself.

It is almost impossible for ordinary users to get any real insight into the processes that takes place when syncing across multiple devices and iCloud. This is similar to all the other major cloud-sync services such as DropBox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.

There's a real probably that this problem has occurred due to some issue in the iCloud server system. That won't register as activity in Activity Monitor. However, it is not a problem I have seen before, nor heard from others. So I gather it's at least not common.

There's also a chance that something got "corrupted" on a local device and that synchronized to the other devices and messed up your albums. For example if the clock has been off on one device, it might be that an iPhoto library without albums would have been seen as "newer" than other ones where you had already created the albums - and that "newer" state then got synchronized on top of the others.

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