Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How iCloud Drive Deletes Your Files Without Warning

Mark Jaquith (via Hacker News):

And let’s say that, on your shiny new Mac, you want to move these files from iCloud Drive to your local hard drive, or to another synced drive like Google Drive or Dropbox. Well, you can just drag their folders do the other destination, right? You sure can. Apple kindly warns you that your dragging action is moving that folder, and that the files will be moved to your Mac, and won’t exist on iCloud Drive anymore. Fine. That’s what dragging a file from one place to another generally does!

But what happens if there are files inside this folder that haven’t yet synced to your local machine? Well, the move operation will be slower, because your Mac has to first download them from iCloud Drive. But once they download, they’ll be in their new location. Right?

Nope. Those files are now gone. Forever.

In their place, is a file named FILENAME.original-extension.icloud. This file, only a couple kilobytes in size, is the placeholder that OS X uses to pretend that the file existed on your system. Your original file is gone. It’s gone from iCloud Drive, and it exists nowhere on your hard drive.

Cloud syncing is not a backup, and iCloud (still) doesn’t have good failure modes.

iCloud Drive FAQ (via eclipxe):

If you need to access a file that you recently deleted, you might be able to recover it from Sign in to, click Settings > Data & Security, then browse the list of files in the Recover Documents tab. Files will be removed from Recover Documents in 30 days.

This is non-obvious and seems to not preserve the folder hierarchy, which could be a serious problem, but it’s better than nothing. In my case, it showed a bunch of unsaved documents that I had discarded.


Apple doesn’t have the right organizational structure to support cloud services across apps to a level of consistency and quality that Google and Amazon does. Nathan Taylor explains this quite well.


Speaking as a former resident deep in Cue’s org, I believe this is common knowledge internally, but there isn’t alignment on how to address it. Even at the IC level, most people I spoke with are aware of Apple’s shortcomings in services. Services are not the favored child at Apple. iOS and hardware are, because of revenue. Services ICs know that, and it hits morale directly; I saw (and felt) this. There are attempts to fix it, too, but those manifest as reorganizations. I was subjected to four in a year and a half.

You hear pains from teams like Maps, who were moved from iOS to services during my tenure, and who immediately ran into serious organizational problems, dried up budgets, and so on. The gettin’ is good in iOSville, and once you leave iOS, it’s a whole ’nother Apple. There’s a common story about the origin of Maps at Apple where Maps was basically given a blank check, and they’re still mopping up some of that excess to this day. That doesn’t happen in services.

Meanwhile, organizationally, Siri is kind of outside the typical services structure for various legacy reasons and they’re off iterating like all getout and having a blast without the encumberance of the services organization. Every time I met with Siri I always came away with questions like, in this organizational climate, how on earth are they getting so much done?

Apple needs a serious Microsoftism on services. If you would have told me five years ago that Microsoft under Nadella would completely reverse course and embrace the living hell out of services while Apple meandered in the “let’s buy companies to implement our services strategy” grasslands, I’d have said the opposite is more likely, yet here we are.

Update (2015-07-16): Dan Moren:

[…] back in the iDisk era I encountered a similar data loss loophole.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter

I have tried other "cloud" file storage devices for somewhat dynamic file collections, and none of them in my experience works properly. Not only is there a high possibility of file collections getting out of sync, but also it appears to be commonplace to overwrite newer files with older files accessed from another device. I don't think that iCloud is unique in its "cloud" issues.

Agree with Greg Raven. File syncing is one of those things that every sophomore CS major thinks they've got figured out, but is actually ridiculously hard to get right. I'll spare you my sob story of loosing like 2/3 of my Dropbox folder effectively at random, but this is not a problem unique to Apple.

If you drag a file to another drive it will be copied, the cursor automatically changes to a green plus ("+"). You have to hold the command key to move the file, the source will be deleted. Dragging only works within the same drive (Finder, OSX). Normally.

@Yian Yes, that is not the case with iCloud Drive. It will move the file without the Command key.

That jsmthrowaway:comment really seems to confirm what many have suspected for years, no?

It's not that Apple can't do services right for some mysterious reason. It just that corporate simply doesn't care for some mysterious reason.

Dropbox can be flaky on uploading properly multiple files to a shared folder. I discovered this when sending review copies to our far flung reviewers as I will tell you, that all the tracks of an albu, are uploaded while it's still uploading them.

Close your MacBook down and these uploaded files that aren't there yet just vanish

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