2 Ways to Copy Files to iCloud Drive from Mac OS X Finder

Jun 19, 2015 - 30 Comments

Copy files to iCloud Drive from Mac OS X

iCloud Drive supports direct file transfers from the Mac, meaning you can take just about any file, folder, document, or item stored in OS X, and copy it over to iCloud Drive, where it will be stored and accessible by your other Macs and iOS devices using the same Apple ID. Using iCloud Drive this way is kind of similar to how many users store files on other services like DropBox, OneDrive, and Google Drive, except it has the distinct advantage of being built directly into modern versions of OS X and not requiring any third party downloads or logins.

It’s important to note that copying files to iCloud Drive as described here is different from moving files to iCloud Drive, the latter of which is the default behavior, and what happens if you simply are dragging and dropping a file into the iCloud Drive folders – it will actually move that file or folder to iCloud from local storage. Rather than moving the files to iCloud, we’re going to show you two ways to copy them to iCloud Drive instead, meaning the original file will stay on the origin Mac in it’s original location, in addition to uploading it to the iCloud Drive service.

We’ll demonstrate two ways to copy files to iCloud Drive from a Mac, this works with just about any conceivable file type, but we’re going to use two particularly obvious looking files in this demonstration.

Copying Files to iCloud Drive with Option Drag Drop

As mentioned, if you simply drag and drop a file from Finder into iCloud Drive, it will upload the file there and remove it from the local location, effectively moving it to iCloud. That’s not what we want to do in this example though, so instead we can tell the Finder to copy the file to iCloud Drive by using a simple variation of the standard drag and drop trick in the Mac finder:

  1. Select the file(s) or folder(s) as usual in the Finder of OS X
  2. Open a new Finder window and choose ‘iCloud Drive’ from the sidebar
  3. While dragging the selected file to iCloud Drive start to hold down the Option key
  4. Drop the file into the destination on iCloud Drive as usual, releasing the Option key afterwards

How to copy files to iCloud Drive from the Mac with a drag and drop trick

You’ll find the files appear in iCloud Drive with a ‘Syncing’ indicator below them and a progress bar on the icons themselves, when those are gone the file has completed uploading and has been successfully copied to iCloud Drive from the Mac.

Files syncing, indicating upload to iCloud Drive

For the unfamiliar, the Option + Drop key modifier actually works to copy files between anywhere in Mac OS X, even folders or the same folder.

Copying Files & Folders to iCloud Drive with Copy & Paste Keyboard Shortcuts

Much like the ability to cut and paste files elsewhere in OS X Finder, you can use that same function to copy a file or folder to iCloud Drive:

From the Mac Finder:

  1. Select the file(s) or folder you wish to copy to iCloud Drive, then hit Command+C to copy it to the clipboard
  2. Navigate to iCloud Drive and the desired location, then hit Command + V to paste the copied item and upload it to iCloud Drive

You can also use the Copy & Paste menu items, as shown in this brief demo video demonstrating uploading a few copied files to iCloud Drive this way:

Just like the drag & drop trick, you’ll see the ‘syncing’ progress bar indicating the file is being uploaded, this can take a short amount of time or quite a while, depending on the size of the file(s) and the speed of the internet connection.

Being able to directly interact with iCloud Drive and files like this is quite different from when iCloud first debuted, which would only allow saving to iCloud from an app which supported iCloud saving, and iCloud file management was very clunky, indirect, and not particularly obvious, whereas now the feature behaves a bit like DropBox. The modern incarnations of iCloud Drive are much more useful as a result, particularly if you pay for an upgraded iCloud Storage plan from Apple. This is even more useful in the latest versions of OS X (Yosemite & El Capitan) and iOS (iOS 9 in particular), as direct access to these files becomes easier.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. hamzeh says:

    Nice tutorial. I was wondering if I can choose a folder in my Mac, lets say iTunes Media -> Music.. and whenever a new song is added it will be uploaded automatically to that folder in iCloud without having to copy and paste the same folder every time a new song is added.. I hope that makes sense.. Thanks

    • woteva65 says:

      Yes you can automatically make a copy of a new file to iCloud using an app such as Hazel.

      Issue I am finding is that documents you place inside your own folders on iCloud are not searchable on IOS devices unlike the documents placed inside the IOS app created folders. Hopefully this will be sorted out by Apple.

  2. Michelle says:

    Can you please tell me how to transfer photos off my iPhone 6plus to an external hard drive such as Lacie? My iPhone storage is full (16gb) and I increased by iCloud storage to enable transfer, but when I delete a photo from the phone it sends a message stating that the item will be deleted off ALL devices including the iCloud. Please advise me! I can’t be the only one with this problem! I tried uploading to Google photo, but get the same message about deleting off device will cause the cloud to delete as well. My mac book only has 4gb ram

  3. Anne Clark says:

    Great article. Very helpful. Thank you.

    Under “Copying Files & Folders to iCloud Drive with Copy & Paste Keyboard Shortcuts,” step 2 says “Navigate to iCloud Drive and the desired location, then hit Command + P to paste the copied item and upload it to iCloud Drive.”

    Command + P for pasting is wrong. It should be Command + V to paste.

  4. Ric Steinberger says:

    On my Mac, I am simply not able to create folders of files in the iClod Drive. The OS is preventing this, and I have no idea why.

    • pablo says:

      Visit the iCloud Drive folder (choose it from the sidebar in Finder), and hit Command+Shift+N to create a new folder, assuming you have iCloud setup there should be no issue to create a folder or copy anything to it. This requires OS X 10.10+ of course.

      • Ric Steinberger says:

        I’ve got OS X 10.10.3 installed. In Finder, when I select iCloud Drive, “New Folder” is grayed out and CMD+Shift+N doesn’t do anything. I’ve checked the System Preferences->iCloud area and everything seems OK. So I’m not sure what’s preventing me from creating any new files or folders here.

        • Cheryl says:

          I have the same 10.10.3 and mine has a gear icon on top bar that gives the dropdown option to create New Folder.

  5. JJDuru says:

    Lame article. In fact, you’re creating another folder with your contents, effectively duplicating your info, and without automatically keeping them in sync. So your article is about a glorified copy-paste operation.

    It wouldn’t been nice if Apple would’ve allowed users to “mark” folder for synchronization with iCloud, without moving or copying them.

    • DoltDoltJ says:

      Actually, copying or backing up a file or folder into iCloud is useful. What do you think a backup is if it’s not a duplicate of a file? Have you ever copied a file to a remote server before? Apparently not, since you have no idea what you’re talking about.

      What a lame comment, JJDuru is a lamer who does not understand servers and cloud.

      • timmacman says:

        What I believe JJDuru is getting at is that iCloud drive files are stored locally automatically. So the copying to iCloud drive option described here would in fact make a duplicate of the file locally in addition to the server side file resulting in 3 copies of the file.

    • BB says:

      Completely agree. This article will cause potentially a huge amount of space to be wasted on your Mac by copying your local files locally again. It is a misleading article. The iCloud Drive folder is a LOCAL folder, this article reads as if the iCloud folder is a remote view of what is in iCloud. This is wrong. Anything put into the iCloud folder is local to your Mac. Anything put in there will then be automatically copied (not moved) to iCloud.

      So by copying the files you have doubled up the files stored locally on your Mac for no reason as well as the iCloud version (3 copies of your files). This is madness. Many people may actually blow their hard drive space following this article.

      This article should have said to MOVE your files into the iCloud Drive folder, NOT COPY. This will achieve ONE local version of the files on your Mac and ONE iCloud copy of the files. This is the purpose of iCloud Drive. i.e. syncing your local Mac files with an iCloud copy.

      iCloud Drive is not like Crashplan and other such file sync applications. Those style apps let you flag files to sync. iCloud Drive is not a folder that holds flags, it holds actual files. iCloud Drive is like Dropbox – the files in the cloud folder are physically on your computer.


  6. Ogulcan says:

    Does this mean I can access my iCloud Drive, even if there isn’t an internet connection because, iCloud Drive files are actually downloaded and saved?

    • brahma says:

      yeah u can access iCloud even if there is no internet but the changes made to any file will be saved only after you connect it to internet.

    • BB says:

      Yes. Just like Dropbox if you have used that before.
      Files you put into the iCloud folder are local files. The only difference is that it’s a special folder that tells iCloud to copy anything in there up to iCloud.

  7. brahma says:

    i have a doubt regarding iCloud i have stored some folders that like you showed but the question is if i format my macbook pro will it delete the folder in iCloud drive (i know that if it is automatically updated it will not i.e., by syncing automatically such as notes and reminders) but will that be same for if you drag some folder into it or copy some folder into it.

  8. Antonio says:

    Do you how to change the icon from Alias folder?
    Do you how to create iCloud Drive folder on Desktop able to synchronize?



  9. Peter says:

    Good tutorial & files copied to iDrive. However, Mac still does not sync with iOS devices (I’m trying to sync notes, reminders & contacts between devices).

  10. Kevin says:

    Wondering how to move a copied folder to iCloud Drive and NOT have the duplicated data show against my available HD space. I have a 50gb account and I cannot see the files using iCloud app. When I “COPY” it appears to pull available local HD space for the files within iCloud Drive.

    Any idea?

    • raspberry says:

      Consider using DropBox, which actually works as a drag & drop file system for cloud storage and what iCloud Drive should be

      Apple has always struggled with iCloud though, look at the mess that is how it handles photos… takes up space on your iPhone and everywhere else, what’s the point of that?

  11. bruce says:

    Raspberry is spot on! iCloud is a nice concept for syncing across Mac programs but at a ridiculous cost of Local Hard Drive space. My MacBook Air has 250GB storage, if I put my audio collection on iCloud, I run out of Local hard Drive space. If I put my movie collection on iCloud, I run out of local Hard Drive space. What good is the Apple iCloud? I thought this article, since it is dated June of 2015 might shed some helpful inside into the problem of “shadow copies” being left or created on the local Hard Drive when I try to add files to iCloud. iCloud does not appear to be created to store my files, it seems to be created to sync and share my files across multiple apple apps and products. The caveat is: Keep your eyes on the MacIntosh HD Storage level, it is easily exceeded.

    • Joey says:

      I agree w/ your comment wholeheartedly, & in fact am more than a little exasperated over the implied/perceived/actual function of iCloud Drive. I came to this page exactly as you did, searching for precisely the same solution, & was…. Bemused, shall we say, to read the tutorial, being the exact opposite of what I (we) need. At this point after multiple days of scouring the web & available resources it appears that the ONLY option is a rather untenable & precarious one, that of a (Terminal) command line symlink workaround. I hope someone replies back to inform me that I am sorely mistaken… With included (PROVEN) instructions showing as such.

  12. CJ says:

    Quick tip for Dropbox like access:

    1. Open a Finder window and navigate to your ~/user/Home Folder.
    2. Open the ~/Library/ folder (it may be hidden by default, right-click anywhere inside your home folder and select “Show View Options”. Make sure “Show Library Folder” is checked.
    3. Inside your home library folder is a folder named “Mobile Documents”. This is the iCloud Drive folder used by OS X, iOS, Windows, etc.
    4. Open the “Mobile Documents” folder by double-clicking on it.
    5. Make certain “Show Path Bar” and “Show Status Bar” options are checked (Click “View” on the Finder MenuBar at the top and select “Show…” for each. As I work for Apple in marketing, I always have those options on as it greatly improves workflow).
    6. Finder windows should show the folder name and path at the top of the window and at the bottom.
    7. Click and hold on “iCloud Drive” in the bottom lefthand corner of the window and drag it onto the righthand side of your Dock to create a shortcut (“stack”)

    Now you can access and use “iCloud Drive” from the Dock, which treats the folder differently than accessing it via the Finder toolbar (sidebar). In-house OS X 10.12 beta development has added more functionality for this falls OS X release, with .Mac “iDisk” integration as “iCloud Drive” but without “iDisk’s” slow and near useless reputation. There will be an option to store files in “iCloud Drive” locally or simply in the cloud to save local space in addition to selecting folders and files to automatically sync between devices, “Dropbox” does take up space in Finder as well; any files you place in the “Dropbox” folder on your Mac sync to Dropbox but must remain in the folder. I have a free account as I’ve used it a great deal over the years, perhaps paying extra for more storage gives users the option to upload files to Dropbox via Finder without needing to be inside the folder. “iCloud Drive” does this now if you follow the instructions above by adding a shortcut to the folder on your Dock. OS X 10.12 will extend iCloud features and may bring back the ability to host websites again as many newly built server/data farms for iCloud are finally going live after 4-5 years (primary use has been for “Siri”, with ~4 years of learning and adapting to many dialects, languages, use, etc. will also go live as in house OS X 10.12 has been using Siri).

    Long post longer, iCloud Drive does offer more at the moment with much more to come very soon. The decision to hold back and not rush it was based on massive amounts of new server farms being built first in order to build out iCloud’s infrastructure, followed by analyzing massive amounts of Siri data in order to improve its understanding and functionality in addition to testing iCloud access, speed, and security to handle millions of accounts. A DDoS type situation was the major concern should iCloud servers not handle the load (as well as dealing with users who have used other similar services with free 1TB storage for games, movies, etc. that slammed Microsoft’s servers, forcing them to lower allowed storage size and media types per plan, something we don’t want to do with clients).

    Hope this helps!

    • Pajl says:

      Helpful indeed, thanks. Very interesting details too, have any other OS X 10.12 info you want to share?

    • narendrat says:

      This is perhaps the most informative document I have read over this three days of holidays searching around. I have bought extra space in iCloud. What I want to achieve is to hold a copy (Copy) in cloud to synch with local folder (for documents, spreadsheets, pdf, etc. documents) so that I can add or modify either locally or from another ‘computer’. Thus, I do not want to hold a third copy, but two, one local and one on cloud, synched. It appears come fall this may be possible. Hurrah. In the mean time, I am happy to have the third copy for a few months. Only thing is it does not explain how putting the shortcut in stake will work differently, but I will take at face value.

    • narendrat says:

      I would have liked to know whether there is any difference between copying in to the iCloud drive and ‘downloading’ in the same via webpage.

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