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How To Sync Files Between Macs Via iCloud

You can sync files across iCloud-equipped Macs by using an unofficial feature tied to a little known folder hidden in OS X. We’ll walk you through exactly how to get this set up, allowing you to sync files and folders across Macs seamlessly, but first make sure you meet some basic system requirements.

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Requirements:

After you’ve sure you have the latest version of OS X installed and iCloud configured to use the same account on all Macs you want to sync between, you can proceed. This is a great little trick that was first noticed by a reader submitted tip to a sister publication of MacWorld, but oddly they didn’t bother to test the tip to make sure it works. Nonetheless we and others did test it and can confirm it syncs files and folders perfectly.

Share & Sync Files Using iCloud Between Macs

Complete the following steps on all Macs you intend to sync files with:

  • Open “System Preferences” on all Macs from the  Apple menu
  • Click on “iCloud” and be sure the checkbox next to “Documents & Data” is checked

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  • Go to the Mac OS X Desktop and enter into ~/Library/ either by holding Option and clicking on the “Go” menu or using another method to access user library
  • Locate the folder named “Mobile Documents” and right-click on it, choosing “Make Alias”

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  • Copy the alias of that folder to the OS X Desktop

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  • Test iCloud syncing by dragging a file into that directory

Wait a few seconds, and check the same directory on the other Mac, you should see the files.

Of course, the finding isn’t terribly surprising. The trick simply uses the iCloud documents storage but it’s noteworthy because it indicates Apple has the backend file syncing infrastructure in place.

With iCloud, Apple retired some of the less popular MobileMe services, including iDisk which enabled Mac and Windows machines to mount their MobileMe cloud storage as a local drive. Per conventional wisdom, it would be prudent if Apple introduced a file syncing solution for Macs (possibly including iOS devices) down the road. It wouldn’t be hard to make this trick standard across all home folders, making a true Dropbox replacement – perhaps even allowing for the home folder roaming via the iCloud.

When Dropbox founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi turned down an $800 million Apple acquisition offer, Steve Jobs reportedly fixed his gaze on the young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, telling them with a mischievous smile that Apple was going after their market, dismissing their offering as “a feature”. Fancy that.

Officially Unsupported
Keep in mind this is currently an unsupported feature of iCloud and Mac OS X, so you shouldn’t rely on this 100% to sync files reliably. You’ll want to keep a copy of files elsewhere and then copy them into that folder so you can prevent any potential data loss. It does work, but until it’s officially supported you should be wary of depending on the feature.

Syncing with GoodReader & iOS
Testing was also done by MacStories, who discovered a variation of the trick can be used to sync things between Macs and an iPhone or iPad with the iOS app GoodReader. If that interests you, check it out.

DropBox Competitor?
This whole thing was initially noticed after Yahoo/Business Insider found it and went on to assume that Apple might be prepping a competitor to DropBox. This is a possibility, and Apple did attempt unsuccessfully to buy DropBox years ago, but more likely this is just a feature of iCloud that hasn’t found it’s way into an official feature list yet, for whatever reason.

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