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Hidden "Drop Box" feature in Mac OS X Lion lets you sync files across Macs

post #1 of 53
Thread Starter 
While Apple advertises iCloud's 'Documents in the Cloud' service as a way of keeping iWork files in sync across devices, its been discovered that Mac OS X Lion users can also leverage the service to sync all types of files across multiple Macs.

Hidden in the ~/Library of Macs running Mac OS X 10.7 is a Mobile Documents folder that Apple users to sync iWork files between multiple devices registered to the same iCloud account. However, Macworld discovered that the feature is not limited to iWork documents -- any file can be placed in the folder and will be synced to the same folder on every Mac connected to the same iCloud account with Documents & Data syncing activated.

What is of use is that any files put into the ~/Library/Mobile Documents folder will automatically upload to iCloud and push to any other Mac you have that is signed in to the same iCloud account and has the 'Document & Data' iCloud preference checked. Lion even notifies you of version conflicts and allows you to resolve them when you open the document.

The feature is similar, but much more limited, than the popular Dropbox cloud-based file sharing service that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs unsuccessfully attempted to purchase for a reported 9-figure sum before ultimately beginning Apple's own cloud initiative.

Currently, the hidden feature lets users sync files only between Macs, as files are not pushed to iOS devices.

Still, the discovery offers concrete proof that Mac OS X Lion already includes the architecture required for Apple to not only replicate services like Dropbox that offer more advanced sharing privileges, but also to allow third party developers to have their applications easily work with iCloud by saving their data.

To enable the feature, you must activate the "Documents and Data" setting in iCloud's setting preferences. Navigating to the ~Library folder, you'll find a folder named "Mobile Documents." (If you don't, create and save an iWork document ). You should now be able to make an alias of the "Mobile Documents" folder (or a subfolder in that folder) on your dock or Finder sidebar favorites for drag and drop syncing.

How to use iCloud to sync files across Macs:

Step 1: Enable iCloud "Documents and Data" syncing.



Step 2: Navigate to ~/Library/ in your Home folder.




Step 3: Find folder "Mobile Documents."



Step 4: Make folder alias or drag and drop "Mobile Documents" to sidebar or dock.



Step 5: You should now be able to drag and drop files into "Mobile Documents" and sync with all Macs associated with your iCloud account.
post #2 of 53
Bet this gets "fixed" pronto.
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post #3 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

Bet this gets "fixed" pronto.


You mean broken!

I love it!

Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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Life is too short to drink bad coffee.

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post #4 of 53
Awesome! I get my iDisk back.

I imagine that this is a hidden feature until iWork.com comes out of public beta and the new version of iWork is released.
post #5 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

Bet this gets "fixed" pronto.

unfortunately....
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post #6 of 53
I uploaded a file to this folder. It took about 30 seconds for it to arrive at iCloud.com and was soon appearing in Pages on my iPhone. This looks pretty neat.

Also, if you have Numbers, Keynote and Pages documents already stored in ICloud, you can access them there.
post #7 of 53
Could this be used somehow to replace MobileMe's keychain syncing or other kinds of data syncing between Macs? I'm thinking, data in the drop box and aliases on the Macs in the locations where the data is normally.
post #8 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Magic_Al View Post

Could this be used somehow to replace MobileMe's keychain syncing or other kinds of data syncing between Macs? I'm thinking, data in the drop box and aliases on the Macs in the locations where the data is normally.

It'd be a manual dealio for now, but sure, I don't see why you couldn't copy keychain files back and forth.

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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post #9 of 53
Nice. It appears Apple architected this for flexibility and with a lot of service hooks. It will be very interesting to see how this evolves.

I'm a huge Dropbox fan. The website and mobile apps are first rate. That said, it looks like Apple has the ability to roll out a very similar service very quickly.

Windows survivor - after a long, epic and painful struggle. Very long AAPL

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Windows survivor - after a long, epic and painful struggle. Very long AAPL

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post #10 of 53
DropBox is the next Groupon.
post #11 of 53
This would be awesome, especially if non windows and Linux sync becomes a reality through web or client, but even as mac only this is awesome as well.
--SHEFFmachine out
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--SHEFFmachine out
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post #12 of 53
This is great,

i'm going try to replace it with a symbolic hard link to my documents folder :-)
post #13 of 53
This is easier than just using Dropbox
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #14 of 53
Here's a screenshot of an app I wrote for browsing the file system:



Notice the path bar just above file list. Normally, it shows the path to the current folder, just like the regular Finder path bar. But, once we enter the Mobile Documents folder it changes to "iCloud > Document", with an iCloud icon in place of the regular folder icon. And the iCloud icon is greyed out.

I suspect that Apple intends (or intended) to display a special iCloud virtual folder in Finder, using that iCloud folder name and icon. That would be a huge blow to Dropbox.
post #15 of 53
That Mobile documents folder appears on my 2010 Macbook Pro, but not on my late 2006 iMac (Intel Core 2 Duo, system 10.7.2). Looks like it is new machines only, like Airdrop.
Dropbox, on the other hand, works on everything I've got.
post #16 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Timk View Post

That Mobile documents folder appears on my 2010 Macbook Pro, but not on my late 2006 iMac (Intel Core 2 Duo, system 10.7.2). Looks like it is new machines only, like Airdrop.

Sounds more like it would be anything iCloud because iCloud can't work without it

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
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post #17 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

Awesome! I get my iDisk back.

I don't see iDisk coming back and there is no need for it. With iCloud's APIs you can use a 3rd-party solution.
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Dick Applebaum on whether the iPad is a personal computer: "BTW, I am posting this from my iPad pc while sitting on the throne... personal enough for you?"
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post #18 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Sounds more like it would be anything iCloud because iCloud can't work without it

Not sure what you mean, but iCloud, or at least what exists of iCloud at the moment, works fine on my old machines, as long as they are running 10.7.2.
post #19 of 53
I had some luck, but the sync stopped..

On my new imac I pointed the Mobile Documents folder to my Documents (ln -s )

and later on my old macbook with all the documents...

Only 1 folder syncde :-(

with another test - with a normal directory - multiple files almost instantly synced...strange




Quote:
Originally Posted by rickertb View Post

This is great,

i'm going try to replace it with a symbolic hard link to my documents folder :-)
post #20 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by rickertb View Post

This is great,

i'm going try to replace it with a symbolic hard link to my documents folder :-)

I'm not all that good with Macs, but this sounds interesting, can you explain what that means?

Also, related to this article, I use Goodreader, It shows up in this folder, I found I can now use this like iDIsk, all my documents are in this folder, if i add to it, or delete etc it shows up right on my iPad and iPhone, working a bit like dropbox does. I also added the folder for goodreader to my dock, so I'm now going to treat this as my main documents folder.
Are there any issues with doing this?

Neil.

P.S First post here, so hi everyone.
post #21 of 53
Interesting. Nice little tidbit. Although I don't have iWork I will get it and then try this. I didn't see the Mobile Documents in my ~library folder but I am assuming the when I install iWork and then save a document I will then have that folder there. We will see.
An Apple man since 1977
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An Apple man since 1977
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post #22 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerk36 View Post

Interesting. Nice little tidbit. Although I don't have iWork I will get it and then try this. I didn't see the Mobile Documents in my ~library folder but I am assuming the when I install iWork and then save a document I will then have that folder there. We will see.

Do you have iCloud setup on my Mac?
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Dick Applebaum on whether the iPad is a personal computer: "BTW, I am posting this from my iPad pc while sitting on the throne... personal enough for you?"
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post #23 of 53
Frankly, Apple obviously did not offer enough for Dropbox.

And Apple pays its iCloud people obviously too much. (They're about as impressive as the guys who did Apple's biggest embarrassment, MobileMe.)

This type of having to jump through hoops to do basic stuff is stupid, unnecessary, and un-Apple-like.
post #24 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerk36 View Post

Interesting. Nice little tidbit. Although I don't have iWork I will get it and then try this. I didn't see the Mobile Documents in my ~library folder but I am assuming the when I install iWork and then save a document I will then have that folder there. We will see.

I don't think it makes any difference whether you have iWork installed or not. I don't have iWork on my Macbook, but the Mobile Documents Folder is there in the Library.
post #25 of 53
I can't find this folder. Running 10.7.2, iCloud is on, Documents & Data is on in the iCloud control panel, via a Terminal command my ~/Library folder is visible, but the Mobile Documents folder is nowhere to be found (it's not in the /Library folder either).

I show a MobileDevice folder (Money and Mirrors are the other adjacent ones), but no Mobile Documents.

Any ideas?
post #26 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

Frankly, Apple obviously did not offer enough for Dropbox.

And Apple pays its iCloud people obviously too much. (They're about as impressive as the guys who did Apple's biggest embarrassment, MobileMe.)

This type of having to jump through hoops to do basic stuff is stupid, unnecessary, and un-Apple-like.

This isn't even a proper feature. It is there (probably) for Apple's testing purposes which somehow ended up in a final release.
post #27 of 53
Hi Neil, good to have you onboard!

A symbolic hard link is a "shortcut" to a folder or file like you would know from windows and macs.

But the big difference with a normal shortcut is that the operating system doesn't check where it redirects to. so you can "fool" the system by thinking its communicating with the Mobile Documents folder, but instead its the "Document" folder in the user directory.

Unfortunately, i haven't got it working 100% yet.
In the beginning I did with a normal directory in stead of using a system directory such as "Documents".

So it needs tuning, let's hope someone knows the answer!

Regards,
Rick


Quote:
Originally Posted by neildradford View Post

I'm not all that good with Macs, but this sounds interesting, can you explain what that means?

Also, related to this article, I use Goodreader, It shows up in this folder, I found I can now use this like iDIsk, all my documents are in this folder, if i add to it, or delete etc it shows up right on my iPad and iPhone, working a bit like dropbox does. I also added the folder for goodreader to my dock, so I'm now going to treat this as my main documents folder.
Are there any issues with doing this?

Neil.

P.S First post here, so hi everyone.
post #28 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by macinthe408 View Post

I can't find this folder. Running 10.7.2, iCloud is on, Documents & Data is on in the iCloud control panel, via a Terminal command my ~/Library folder is visible, but the Mobile Documents folder is nowhere to be found (it's not in the /Library folder either).

I show a MobileDevice folder (Money and Mirrors are the other adjacent ones), but no Mobile Documents.

Any ideas?

What computer is it? My guess is that the Mobile Documents folder only turns up on new computers (ones that support Airdrop)
post #29 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Do you have iCloud setup on my Mac?

I have iCloud and 10.7.2. Still no folder there. I have the Golden master OS 10.7 but was able to update to 10.7.2 with iCloud Dev pre. Still ran Software Update and no 10.7.2 needed. I figure that I have everything needed. Oh well. When I install iWork the folder may appear then.
An Apple man since 1977
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An Apple man since 1977
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post #30 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Timk View Post

I don't think it makes any difference whether you have iWork installed or not. I don't have iWork on my Macbook, but the Mobile Documents Folder is there in the Library.

Maybe it has to do with a Mobile device only. My Mac Pro doesn't have it.
An Apple man since 1977
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An Apple man since 1977
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post #31 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerk36 View Post

Maybe it has to do with a Mobile device only. My Mac Pro doesn't have it.

How old is your Mac Pro? My guess is that the Mobile document folder will only turn up on computers that support airdrop.

AirDrop supports the following Mac models, which have the right airport card:

MacBook Pro (Late 2008 or newer)
MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
MacBook (Late 2008 or newer)
iMac (Early 2009 or newer)
Mac mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
Mac Pro (Early 2009 with AirPort Extreme card, or Mid 2010)
post #32 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I don't see iDisk coming back and there is no need for it. With iCloud's APIs you can use a 3rd-party solution.

Maybe YOU don't have a need for iDisk, but for those of us who used it regularly to access our documents from all of our devices with ease, Documents in the Cloud is a loss of basic functionality. I don't want a 3rd-party solution for something I already had with Apple. Has Apple provided (or is there to be found anywhere) an explanation as to why Documents in the Cloud can't offer an exact duplicate of iDisk functionality?

"Be aware of wonder." ~ Robert Fulghum

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"Be aware of wonder." ~ Robert Fulghum

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post #33 of 53
A symbolic link and hard link are two different things. Hard links are indistinguishable from the original file. A symbolic link is more analogous to a shortcut or alias - basically just a pointer. The -s option on ln creates a symbolic link, not a hard link.

Hard links aren't used often since delete operations could be really destructive. However, Apple has used hard links really cleverly in Time Machine - which is how it presents the same file over and over again through backups without being overly redundant.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbolic_link

Quote:
Originally Posted by rickertb View Post

Hi Neil, good to have you onboard!

A symbolic hard link is a "shortcut" to a folder or file like you would know from windows and macs.

But the big difference with a normal shortcut is that the operating system doesn't check where it redirects to. so you can "fool" the system by thinking its communicating with the Mobile Documents folder, but instead its the "Document" folder in the user directory.

Unfortunately, i haven't got it working 100% yet.
In the beginning I did with a normal directory in stead of using a system directory such as "Documents".

So it needs tuning, let's hope someone knows the answer!

Regards,
Rick

Quote:
Originally Posted by rickertb View Post

I had some luck, but the sync stopped..

On my new imac I pointed the Mobile Documents folder to my Documents (ln -s )

and later on my old macbook with all the documents...

Only 1 folder syncde :-(

with another test - with a normal directory - multiple files almost instantly synced...strange
post #34 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanaCameron View Post

Maybe YOU don't have a need for iDisk, but for those of us who used it regularly to access our documents from all of our devices with ease

I don't get why people are so adament about it having to be iDisk and not any other service that does the exact same thing except better.
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post #35 of 53
The article describes a method for navigating to your ~/Library folder in the Finder. There is actually a much easier way:

Hold down the Option key and select the Go menu in the Finder. The Library folder will be listed in the menu.
post #36 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by 2992 View Post

unfortunately....

Some of you guys worry way too much. I can't see why Apple would disable this. It's much more likely that within the next couple of updates it'll be a support option for any developer to use. This is nothing like Apple shutting off ways for third party developers to hack into the iTunes database or preventing jail breaking.
post #37 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by playdrums View Post

A symbolic link and hard link are two different things. Hard links are indistinguishable from the original file. A symbolic link is more analogous to a shortcut or alias - basically just a pointer. The -s option on ln creates a symbolic link, not a hard link.

Hard links aren't used often since delete operations could be really destructive. However, Apple has used hard links really cleverly in Time Machine - which is how it presents the same file over and over again through backups without being overly redundant.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbolic_link

Many thanks to you both for the thorough explanation and the link.

Neil.
post #38 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerk36 View Post

Maybe it has to do with a Mobile device only. My Mac Pro doesn't have it.


I think so... I don't have the folder, and when I log into iCloud and choose "iWork", it informs me that to use it I need to have iWork on a mobile device. I have multiple macs, and having iWork documents synced between them would be fantastic. But I don't need those apps on my iPod Touch.
post #39 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Was2Be View Post

I think so... I don't have the folder, and when I log into iCloud and choose "iWork", it informs me that to use it I need to have iWork on a mobile device. I have multiple macs, and having iWork documents synced between them would be fantastic. But I don't need those apps on my iPod Touch.

Nope, mine does.

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
Reply

Originally Posted by helia

I can break your arm if I apply enough force, but in normal handshaking this won't happen ever.
Reply
post #40 of 53
This can be nothing like iDisk until there's an HTML accessible public folder with a simple URL. Which will never happen.

With iDisk, I can post a picture on these forums, host a web site, share any file type with password protection, and no way for someone to get a directory listing. Can't do that with Dropbox. Can't do that with iCloud. I'll have to subscribe to a third party server service next year. I will miss iDisk.
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