iCloud Drive Desktop folder on a MacBook Air running CatalinaSource: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore

As part of an effort to help you save space on your computer while keeping you connected to everything important to you, Macs running macOS Sierra and higher support Desktop & Documents Folders syncing in iCloud Drive.

With Desktop & Documents Folders iCloud Drive syncing enabled, every photo, file, and folder you save to your desktop will automatically save in iCloud. You can access it from your iPhone, iPad, another Mac, and even a Windows-based PC via iCloud Drive, the Files app, or iCloud.com.

It also means that every file, folder, or document that is usually stored in your Mac's Documents folder will also automatically save in iCloud.

No matter where you are or what you do, your most important files can be stored in the cloud, making it possible for you to access them from anywhere.

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Should you use Desktop and Documents Folders syncing on your Mac?

When you first set up your Mac, you will be prompted to turn on Desktop & Documents Folders syncing. However, you can hold off on enabling the feature and manually turn it on at a later time if you choose. Why would you choose to wait? Mainly, iCloud storage space.

You can't choose Desktop OR Documents folders so consider how much space both will use in your iCloud storage.

If you are on Apple's free 5 GB iCloud Storage plan and have no intention of upgrading, you probably shouldn't turn on Desktop & Documents Folders syncing in iCloud. It does count against your storage and can potentially eat up a lot of it. Even if you don't have very many files or folders on your desktop, the Documents folder is usually where your Mac automatically stores files from third-party apps and programs, and it might be very big.

If you are paying $0.99 per month for the 50 GB tier of iCloud storage (or any of the higher tiers), you are probably free and clear to start using Desktop & Documents Folders iCloud syncing. I use iCloud to store my entire photo library, all of my iBooks, and content from about a dozen third-party apps. With Desktop and Documents Folders stored in iCloud, I use up about half of my 50 GB of storage.

If you are nearing your iCloud storage limit, at any tier, and don't plan on upgrading, it might be better to hold off on using Desktop & Documents Folders in iCloud until you've freed up space in your storage. It can take up anywhere from just a few GBs of space to a few dozen GBs, depending on what you have in your Documents folder and what you keep on your desktop.

How to manually add Desktop and Documents Folders to iCloud on Mac

If you didn't enable Desktop & Documents Folders syncing in iCloud when you first set up your Mac, but later decided you wanted to use the feature, you can still add them to iCloud storage manually.

  1. Launch System Preferences on your Mac.
  2. Select Apple ID in the upper right corner.

    Launch System Preferences, click Apple IDSource: iMore

  3. Click the Options button next to iCloud Drive.

    Click Options next to iCloud DriveSource: iMore

  4. Check off the box for Desktop and Document Folders.

    Check off the box next to Desktop and Documents FoldersSource: iMore

  5. Click Done in the bottom right corner of the window.

    Make sure the checkbox is green for Desktop and Documents Folders in iCloud, then click the green Done buttonSource: iMore

Your files and folders will be added to iCloud, where you can access them from your iPhone or iPad using the Files app, another Mac, or even a PC via iCloud Drive or iCloud.com.

How to access your Desktop and Documents Folder on iPhone and iPad in the Files app

Once your desktop and Documents folder are stored in iCloud, you can access and even edit them on your iPhone or iPad.

  1. Open the Files app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Tap the Desktop or Documents folder.
  3. Tap the file you want to open.

    Launch Files, go into Desktop or Documents folder, tap file you want to openSource: iMore

You can even edit some documents right inside the Files app, without having to open another app.

How to remove desktop files from iCloud Drive

Whenever you move a file from your desktop to another place on your Mac, like a folder stored in your computer or Dropbox, it will be moved to the new location and deleted from iCloud Drive. It will no longer be accessible from your other devices.

All you have to do is drag-and-drop it from your desktop into a new, non-iCloud location. You will see a pop-up asking you to confirm the changes. Click move to continue.

Drag a file to a non-iCloud Drive location and click Move to confirm that you want to move it out of iCloud DriveSource: iMore

How to stop syncing Desktop and Documents Folder to iCloud Drive on your Mac

If you decide that syncing your desktop and Documents folder is not for you, you can always revert back to the old way by disabling the syncing feature.

  1. Launch System Preferences on your Mac.
  2. Click Apple ID at the top right corner.

    Launch System Preferences, click Apple IDSource: iMore

  3. Click Options next to iCloud Drive.

    Click Options next to iCloud DriveSource: iMore

  4. Un-tick the checkbox for Desktop and Documents Folders (so it should be OFF).

    Un-tick the box for Desktop and Documents FoldersSource: iMore

  5. Click Done to save your changes.

    Click Done in the bottom right cornerSource: iMore

Keep in mind that disabling Desktop & Documents syncing with iCloud doesn't mean that your files will automatically move back to their original locations. They will still remain available in your iCloud Drive in the Documents and Desktop folders. You'll have to manually move the contents back to your Mac's local disk from iCloud to revert to the way things were before turning on Desktop & Documents syncing.

Any Questions?

Do you have any questions about syncing your desktop and Documents folder in iCloud? Drop them in the comments, and I'll help you out.

November 2019: Updated for macOS Catalina.

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