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In the past, it was possible to sync (i)Books bookmarks, highlights, etc., through the cloud, without turning on iCloud Drive for the Books app, or uploading personal epubs (not purchased from Apple) to iCloud Drive. Has this been removed from iOS?

Using iOS 9.3.6 for example, it was possible to do this by turning on Settings > iBooks > Sync Bookmarks and Notes, and Sync Collections, while having Settings > iCloud > iCloud Drive > iBooks turned off. Books were not uploaded to iCloud Drive. The highlights etc. were synced using the Apple ID used for iTunes/AppStore/iBooks purchases, which is not necessarily the same as the Apple ID used for iCloud. Books could be synced from the Mac with a cable, with Books disabled in iCloud Drive. The Mac's Books Preferences > General > Sync: "Sync collections, bookmarks and highlights" is checked, and highlights and bookmarks were synced through the cloud, in real time.

I got a new device with iOS 15, and there is only Settings > Books > iCloud Drive, and Reading Now. Below this, it says "To enable syncing across devices, sign in to iCloud and turn on iCloud Drive in Settings". I haven't done that, but I think it will trigger the books that I synced with a cable from the Mac, to be uploaded to iCloud Drive, which I don't want. But I can't see how to get the highlights and bookmarks to sync without that - none of the books on the new device have their bookmarks.

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Yes, it still works, though getting the settings right is tricky and it's not always a 2-way sync. I have it working with 3 devices iOS 9.3.5, iOS 15.6.1 and macOS 10.15.7 with no epubs stored in iCloud.

Need to be signed in to the iBooks/Books Store with the same Apple ID on all devices.

Settings on iOS 9.3.5

  • In iBooks: Sync bookmarks and Notes - On
  • In iCloud drive: iBooks - Off

Settings on iOS 15.6.1:

  • In Books: Reading Now - On
  • In Books: iCloud Drive - Off
  • In iCloud: Books - on

Settings on macOS:

  • In Books: Sync collections, bookmarks, and highlights across devices - On
  • In options of iCloud Drive: Books - off

With these settings, I have a 2-way sync between the Mac and iOS 15.6 and one-way sync from iOS 9.3.5 -> Mac and iOS 15.6.

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  • This works for me as described, thanks! The tricky part is on iOS 15-16, in Books, setting iCloud Drive off (which corresponds to the old iCloud Drive - iBooks setting, preventing books being uploaded), but in iCloud, setting Books on, which corresponds to the old iBooks "Sync bookmarks and Notes". They've switched places, but the latter is not actually an "iCloud" setting; Books uses the Apple ID you use for purchases, not your iCloud Apple ID, which can be different. The synchronization of bookmarks and reading position happens through Apple's cloud servers, but it's not "iCloud" per se. Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 3:58

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