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I have two computers that are both using iCloud Drive. One is a 2018 MacBook Pro and the other is a 2020 M1 Mac Mini. Both are running macOS Monterey 12.5.1.

I frequently alternate using these two machines to edit files stored in iCloud.

The problem is that the files I update on one machine are not automatically syncing on the other machine. The problem goes in both directions.

I've only found two ways to force a sync:

One is to reboot one or the other machine. (Or log out and log back in.) The other is to manually download the files from iCloud.com and replace the stale files with fresh copies. Obviously, neither approach is practical in the long term.

If I don't reboot, the sync never seems to take place. (I have waited as long as 2 days.)

I'm completely stumped. At the moment I only see three alternatives:

  1. Pin down the source of the problem, if it's fixable.

  2. Switch to a different OS.

  3. Incorporate an alternative syncing mechanism to iCloud (such as cloud storage by Microsoft, Google, Syncthing, etc.).

I have no idea how easy it is to replace iCloud with cloud services from other companies.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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  • Unfortunately it's a hassle, but have you tried disabling and re-enabling iCloud Drive? If you haven't, take it very slow at each step and expect it to take hours to reinitialize.
    – Ezekiel
    Sep 11, 2022 at 15:00
  • Secondly, I'm using iCloud Drive on Ventura and they've made some improvements to the Finder UI elements and I assume the underlying sync engine as well. It's worked consistently well for me all summer. If you can make it to October (or if you're interested in running the public beta, but do so at your own risk) OS upgrades always have potential to help out.
    – Ezekiel
    Sep 11, 2022 at 15:00
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    I have my mac mini shut down using the schedule functionality in the system preferences at 01:00 and reboot at 01:30. So outside of my normal use times, and that works for me, if you don't like the idea then fine.
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 11, 2022 at 15:52
  • @Ezekiel As for Ventura, I look forward to seeing if it helps, but one of my machines belongs to my work, so I can't change OS version until IT is ready.
    – Addlai
    Sep 17, 2022 at 16:24
  • @Ezekiel I've been too afraid to disable iCloud, even though I have (I hope) backups of the data. I'm going to call Apple Support on this one before I do that.
    – Addlai
    Sep 17, 2022 at 16:26

3 Answers 3

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You experience is uncommon - it's not how iCloud works for most others. Therefore I would suggest pinning down the source of the problems and fix them.

It sounds likely that your issue is that the iCloud synchronisation program does not realise that your file has changed. Another possibility is that it does know that it has changed, but does not start synchronising it for some reason.

The iCloud synchronisation program uses the same method for detecting file changes as the Time Machine. So it would be an easy way of finding out more by checking whether Time Machine works properly.

Also make sure you have not yourself changed the system in terms of for example disabling the fseventsd or bird daemon or similar. You should also check whether you have moved about the iCloud folder itself, or you are using symbolic links for the files or folders that you have problems with.

You can check what the syncronisation program is doing by running the following command in the Terminal:

brctl monitor -i

If you add or modify a file in your iCloud Drive, you should see that it instantly recognizes the change - and you should also upload progress, etc.

As I understand it, you can pinpoint a single file and to say that this file has not been synchronised properly. You can also use the same tool to get specific information about that file like this:

brctl diagnose --doc filename

Here you must replace "filename" with the path and name of that file. An easy way to do that is to open Finder and drag the file into the Terminal - the path and name of the file will be pasted.

After running the command, you're presented with a compressed diagnostics archive for sending to Apple for further scrutiny. You can unpack that and look at the file document-info.txt, which contains information about your chosen file - including previous versions, synchronisation status, etc.

You can also look at the log output from the synchronisation program by running the following command in the Terminal:

log stream --predicate "processImagePath contains 'bird'"

When you save the a file to your iCloud Drive, you should see log messages shortly thereafter indicating that the change has been detected and that it will be synchronized. Similarly you can run the command on the receiving end to see when/if it downloads the changed file.

You can try looking into the system activity and whether or not the system has realised your files have changed - by using for example the free FSEventsParser command line program.

If you rather want a GUI approach, you can get a free 14-day trial of the FSMonitor program.

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  • 1
    "You experience is very uncommon ..." Is that your opinion, or do you have some facts to back it up? On Stack Exchange, there are currently over 5700 hits for "iCloud sync" and under 2200 hits for "OneDrive sync". Considering that Windows marketshare is vastly larger than OSX, I think that says something.
    – Addlai
    Oct 2, 2022 at 22:18
  • And tell that to the developers who had to wait months for this fix: appleinsider.com/articles/22/01/26/…
    – Addlai
    Oct 2, 2022 at 22:21
  • As for monitoring OS daemons, I'll take a pass until Apple hires me onto its kernel development team. In the meantime, I think I've done more than my share, spending many, many precious hours of my life trying to fix their problems already.
    – Addlai
    Oct 2, 2022 at 22:23
  • @Addlai You have provided the facts yourself, I would say. Only a part of those 5700 hits on Stack Exchange are people experiencing problems... If this was a very common problem, it would affect almost every Mac user - we would have seen huge numbers of posts about files vanishing and never synchronizing.
    – jksoegaard
    Oct 2, 2022 at 23:01
  • @Addlai The developers you're referring to are using a completely different system than the one this question is about. It has no relevance to this question.
    – jksoegaard
    Oct 2, 2022 at 23:02
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I have moved my files over to Microsoft OneDrive and so far this seems successful. OneDrive has so far kept files synced essentially instantly. It also has a force sync button (which iCloud lacks), but so far I haven't needed to use it.

The online web interface of OneDrive is surprisingly responsive and well laid out. It is worlds beyond Apple's web interface to iCloud, which I regard as something of an embarrassment to Apple, and really almost unusable.

I initially had a small issue with having to rename a number of files whose names contained characters that iCloud allows but OneDrive does not.

Another initial issue was having to explicitly give Emacs full disk access and open files inside OneDrive using the menu. Once that was done once, access to OneDrive files and folders was transparent.

The basic OneDrive account for 2 dollars a month in the US gives 100GB of storage. Apple's iCloud gives 200GB for the same price. Given how much better OneDrive is than iCloud, I think it's well worth the difference in price.

I haven't attempted to sync my calendar and other accounts with OneDrive, and I doubt that's even possible, so I'm only talking about file storage.

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On the machine that is not getting the updates from iCloud, open Activity Monitor and find the process title "bird" (the BIRD daemon) and stop it (the circle with the X in the toolbar)

It will start again all on its own and when it does the files that are waiting in iCloud should update on your machine.

At least they do on mine.

This is the only way I have found so far to force iCloud to sync. I have 4 Macs: a 2011 iMac, a 2013 MB Air, an M1 Mini and an M1 MB Air. Only the later (the newest) machine exhibits this problem.

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  • Restarting bird did not work for me (Mac mini - 14.2.1). Deleting a file kicked off the process of downloading two new files. Jan 28 at 1:10

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