How Apple iCloud Drive works and how to use it

Here's how to take complete control of iCloud Drive on Mac, iOS, and Windows.

Apple, iOS, macOS, iCloud, iCloud Drive, online, online storage, iPhone, iPad, Windows, Mac

iCloud Drive is Apple’s essential connection between all your devices, Mac, iPhone, iPad, even your Windows PC. While it is expensive in comparison to other online storage services, it works natively across all your devices – so you should know how to get the best out of it.

How iCloud Drive works

You can store documents, keep files and folders up-to-date across all your devices, work on items and access them from anywhere using iCloud Drive. Changes applied to a copy of a file on one device will automatically sync across all your other systems.

iCloud Drive is a real file system, so you can create and save items to your own self-created folders, which useful if you work across multiple devices. (You must use a Mac to create your own folders).

If you use iCloud Drive across multiple Macs then changes made to the Documents and Desktop files on both Macs will sync. The Mac you activate last will create its own folder for the contents of its Documents and Desktop, and this will also sync.

How to set up iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive is automatically setup on any current Apple device running the latest operating system. (More information is available here).

Apple’s macOS Sierra will automatically save files saved to your Desktop and Documents folders to iCloud, making all these files available across all your devices.

That’s useful but will eat your online drive capacity, particularly as (at 5GB) Apple still doesn’t provide sufficient free drive space.

You can buy more storage if you like, or disable the feature in System Preferences>iCloud>iCloud Drive Options – Uncheck Desktop & Documents folders at the top of the list.

Hint: iCloud Drive will sync data using your mobile connection unless you tell it not to do so. That’s fine if you can afford the data, but (particularly) if you travel abroad you may want to disable this. To do so open Settings>iCloud> iCloud Drive and at the bottom of the next page toggle ‘Use Cellular Data’ to Off (it’s Green – On – by default).

Online and on device

If you use Desktop & Documents then you will find everything you file there on iCloud Drive on your Mac or iOS device.

You can also access these files online through your account at, which means these files can easily be edited on a Windows PC.

iCloud for Windows

Apple also offers iCloud for Windows, which makes photos, videos, mail, files, and bookmarks are accessible on both your Windows PC and iOS devices. Any changes you make on any of these files on any device, online,  Windows or Mac, will be replicated across all your other devices. Files over 15GB in size are not supported.

Hint: You can also access these files from a Mac that is not running macOS Sierra. Open a new Finder menu, click the Go menu item and select iCloud Drive. If you work on files don’t forget to manually save those changes to the iCloud Drive, as they will not save automatically as they do on macOS.

iCloud Drive FAQs

Controlling apps: Many third-party apps want to use iCloud Drive to store their own data. This is useful for some apps you plan to use across all your systems, but may not always be what you want. To control which apps can store data to your online drive:

On iOS: Open Settings>iCloud>iCloud Drive and switch any app you don’t want accessing your drive off (toggle to white).

On Mac: System Preferences>iCloud> choose iCloud Drive Options.. and uncheck the apps you don’t want to support.

Time Zones: If you notice that emails and calendar entries have begun showing the wrong time zones its possible your account settings are incorrect.

To check, login to your account online at and tap Settings. At the top of the next page you should see Time Zone/Region which should state where you are. If it does not you can change this and the time zone problem will be resolved across all your devices.

Reclaim deleted files: If you accidentally delete something stored on iCloud Drive you can easily get it back again from All you need to do is login to the account, check Settings>Advanced and click Restore Files. Wait a few moments and you will be presented with a list of files that you have previously deleted in the Restore Files window. Tick the box beside the file(s) you want to restore and tap Done. Files are only available in this way for 30-days.

Version conflict: If you have files open on two devices at once modifications made on one device may be out of sync. iCloud Drive should warn you when this kind of version conflict takes place. When it does you can double-clock a version’s thumbnail to see its contents, and delete the other one.

I do hope this report helps you get more out of using iCloud Drive on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Windows PC.

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