Monday, October 22, 2018

Document Versions and iCloud

Howard Oakley:

As we work more collaboratively, not just with others, but across our own range of different devices, iCloud’s lack of support for document versions has become more than just a nuisance. I might work on a report on my iMac, then want to make some corrections when I am out and only have my iPad with me. It is galling that I can run the same app, such as Pages, on the same document, but can’t rely on document versions.


When that iMac is working on documents in iCloud which it owns, it continues to store generated versions in its local store. But when I work on the same document on my iPad, it doesn’t have access to those versions, so just sees the current document. Then when I return to access it using my iMac, the previous version stored there is from my last editing session on the iMac, not from my iPad.

It makes it impossible to switch seamlessly between platforms, and working on documents in the cloud becomes half-baked and clumsy.


When you edit a document using an app which has been built against the macOS 10.14 SDK, even though you may not be running it on Mojave, if that app uses Apple’s built-in support for document versions accessed using the Browse All Versions command, and you save your edits to a document stored in iCloud Drive, macOS will make its versions available to other macOS and iOS systems able to access that document in iCloud Drive.

Howard Oakley:

There appear to be two distinct issues causing these problems: the need to sync new versions, and duplication occurring between local and iCloud versions.

Ordinarily, with asynchronous tasks such as saving a new version of a document to cloud storage, each task would be added to a queue, and the syncs in that queue performed in sequence until the queue becomes empty. This doesn’t appear to happen when saving versions to iCloud Drive: if the next version is ready to sync, then prior version syncs for that document are cancelled or lost. If you overload the sync process, then only the last sync is performed, and versions which should have been ahead of it in the queue are never synchronised, and appear lost to other systems sharing that account. They are, though, still stored in the local versions database.


Users cannot (ordinarily) turn versions off in Apple’s iWork apps, nor can they stop the versioning system locally, or that in iCloud. Perhaps the best strategy is to see this as an added bonus, on which you cannot rely, nor can you disable or remove. Apple needs to address these issues if it intends users to edit iWork documents shared in iCloud Drive.

Howard Oakley:

Versioning is the cloud equivalent of Undo, at its best when you’re working in short bouts but require access to that document’s editing history.


When you view or retrieve those versions using the Browse All Versions… command, you are offered all locally-stored versions, and all those found in iCloud, delivering two copies of most.

Update (2018-11-09): Howard Oakley:

What I hadn’t tested until recently was version management when using Handoff. This doesn’t work through iCloud, but can be used to edit documents stored in iCloud, and appears to save versions reliably. Indeed, it poses a different problem for version management: what happens when the same document is open on two systems, and different changes are made in each?

The Handoff solution is to prompt the user to choose between the two versions, forcing them to delete one of them. There doesn’t appear to be any way, automatically or manually, of merging the changes. With autosave in operation, a user who is editing the same document on two systems will rapidly realise that is a bad idea. With existing non-matching versions on the two systems, it can only add to user confusion, particularly if the user closes the document on one system, then later opens it using the versions stored in iCloud.

At the moment, versions in iCloud and Handoff can lead to great confusion and missing versions. The bugs in the current implementation of versions in iCloud need to be fixed, and until they are, versions in iCloud simply can’t be trusted.

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

More to the point most users of macOS have Apples versioning built in if they use Time Machine. There's nothing like Time Machine for iOS and no way to access Time Machine data for even iWork apps running on the iPad. We talk of limits of an iPad Pro for features like automation, disk swapped virtual memory for large files, or even the apps themselves. What tends to get neglected is that pros require much finer grained backups and versioning.

Is anybody else seeing only OLD links on the archive page? I usually enter this site from there (via bookmark), but it's only showing links that are 4 weeks old now...

Weird. I loaded the tab again (Firefox) and now it's showing the entire archive. I haven't had a browser pull a site solely out of cache without checking for newer content in years. Not sure how that happened.

@BenG The main blog page did the same thing to me with Chrome a few months back.

Something is definitely wrong with this site. I'm seeing the old links (the SAME ones as last time, starting with Apple File System Reference post on Sept 21st) again on the 2018 Archive page, and refreshing doesn't help. AND this is after I have totally erased my MBP and reinstalled Mojave from scratch, and didn't transfer over any data from my old user folder. AND I'm seeing it on both Firefox and Safari (didn't try any other browser).

On the main blog page everything is fine.

Hopefully Michael sees this and can fix it.

@Ben Thanks for the report. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I see the same problem when viewing with a private Safari or Firefox window. But when I’m logged in I alway see the current posts, and it appears that they are super cached. (Maybe logging in to comment is what fixed it for you? I’ve just reset the cache, so it should be fixed, at least until the next new post.) So this is a bit of a mystery, as I thought there was only one WP super cache. I’ll try to figure this out later in the week.

Thanks! I'm glad I'm not crazy :) I thought it was super weird to see it again after I did a fresh install (for other reasons).

@eliterrell @Ben I made some changes to the caching that I think will fix this. Please let me know if you see any further problems.

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