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The only application I have on my Mac that works with PhotoStream is iPhoto. I'm wondering if my Mac grabs the images from PhotoStream constantly or if it only downloads them when I launch an application that uses PhotoStream (such as iPhoto).

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Yes! A process called PhotoStreamAgent runs at login, and idles in the background, downloading new photos when they're uploaded to your Photo Stream.

There exist both /Applications/Aperture.app/Contents/Library/LoginItems/PhotoStreamAgent.app and /Applications/iPhoto.app/Contents/Library/LoginItems/PhotoStreamAgent.app, indicating that this background-downloading behavior works no matter which application you use to manage your photo library.

(And as Asmus points out, photos are stored in ~/Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement/assets)

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    This is also why iCloud in System Preferences also requires you to have one of the two installed, instead of it being installed in /System/Library/ or the like. – jmlumpkin Mar 23 '12 at 21:53
  • That's good to know, but I assume that ~/Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement/assets only stores the Photo Stream photos (as opposed to photos contained in your iPhoto library) - which are limited to the most recent 1000. Say you don't start iPhoto for a long time, and you've snapped more than 1000 photos in the meantime: would you then miss out on some of the photos? Or do the agents perform ongoing imports from that location? – mklement0 Oct 4 '13 at 23:53
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The photos are "constantly" downloaded to your Mac, and stored in subfolders within ~/Library/Application\ Support/iLifeAssetManagement/assets/sub.

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