The most recent versions of MacOS have an iCloud feature which allows the Desktop and Documents folders on a Mac to be synced to iCloud Drive. This allows a Macs desktop and documents folders to be accessed from other Macs, iOS devices, or iCloud. A fair amount of users turn this feature on when updating or installing MacOS High Sierra or Sierra, but later some Mac users may wish to disable iCloud Desktop & Documents folders.
Warning: you should have a local backup of all of your files made before proceeding. If you do not have a ton of bandwidth and a very high speed internet connection (and patience), do not casually turn this off and on. If you do not want to use iCloud Desktop & Documents do NOT toggle this setting on in iCloud System Preferences on a Mac and then off again. Even quickly toggling on/off will immediately attempt to upload every single item in your Desktop and Documents folder into iCloud Drive. Disabling this will require you to download every file from iCloud to your local Mac. This is very bandwidth intensive and requires a high speed reliable internet connection to use. Do not casually enable or disable this feature without understanding the ramifications of any of this. If in doubt, do not change any of your settings.
How to Turn Off iCloud Desktop & Documents on MacOS?
1. Go to the Apple menu in Mac OS and choose “System Preferences”
2. Go to ‘iCloud’ preference panel
3. Look for ‘iCloud Drive’ and click the “Options…” button next to it
4. Uncheck the box next to ‘Desktop & Documents Folder’ to disable iCloud Documents & Desktop in Mac OS
5. Confirm that you want to disable iCloud Desktop & Documents by choosing “Turn Off”
* Note the language in this dialog states the files will be kept on iCloud…. this is important.
iCloud Desktop & Documents will be now be turned off, but you’re not done yet if you want your files to be kept on your Mac.
When you turn off iCloud Desktop & Documents Folders, you’ll find those files are now stored in iCloud rather than locally. That’s a bit counterintuitive which is perhaps why it leads some users to believe they have lost their files – but chances are good that you didn’t lose any documents or files, you just have to copy them from iCloud to the local Mac.
* Note the language in this dialog states the files will be kept on iCloud…. this is important. iCloud Desktop & Documents will be now be turned off, but you’re not done yet if you want your files to be kept on your Mac. When you turn off iCloud Desktop & Documents Folders, you’ll find those files are now stored in iCloud rather than locally. That’s a bit counterintuitive which is perhaps why it leads some users to believe they have lost their files – but chances are good that you didn’t lose any documents or files, you just have to copy them from iCloud to the local Mac.
Getting All Files from iCloud Desktop & Documents Back from iCloud to the Local Mac
1. Open the Finder in MacOS and go to “iCloud Drive” (navigate via Finder or select “iCloud Drive” from the ‘Go’ menu)
2. Locate the “Documents” folder in iCloud Drive
3. Open another new Finder window and navigate to the local “Documents” folder
4. Select every file from the iCloud Drive Documents folder and manually transfer it to your Mac local Documents folder with drag & drop
5. Repeat the same process with “Desktop” on iCloud to get all contents from “Desktop” on iCloud to “Desktop” on the local Mac
Since this requires downloading all of the files from iCloud Drive to the local Mac, it may take a very long time, depending on the number and size of the files. For example I have a 55GB documents folder and it takes multiple days of nonstop downloading to complete that file transfer on my internet connection, this requires the computer to always be on and connected to the internet to accomplish. If you have just a handful of files in Documents or Desktop folders it would be a lot faster, however.
You can either copy or just move the files from iCloud Drive, that is up to you. Note the difference between copying to and from iCloud Drive and moving to and from iCloud. Copying a file means the same file is stored in both iCloud Drive and locally, whereas moving the file to/from iCloud means the file is only stored either remotely in iCloud or locally. This is important to differentiate so you do not misplace files or lose anything.
The iCloud Drive and iCloud Desktop & Documents features really require a constantly on, highly reliable, high speed internet connection to use. This is because every file in iCloud Drive must be downloaded to access locally, then uploaded again if it is saved or changed. If you have anything less than a great internet connection, or if you just don’t want to have your files dependent on a cloud service, you may not want to use the service as a place to store your important documents or desktop items. Just remember if you do turn this off to download your files from iCloud so that you have them locally again.
Related: How to Backup iPhone 7/7 Plus on Mac
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