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

Posted:
in macOS edited January 2014
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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    Bet this gets "fixed" pronto.
  • Reply 2 of 52
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post


    Bet this gets "fixed" pronto.





    You mean broken!



    I love it!
  • Reply 3 of 52
    bdkennedy1bdkennedy1 Posts: 1,459member
    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.
  • Reply 4 of 52
    29922992 Posts: 202member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post


    Bet this gets "fixed" pronto.



    unfortunately....
  • Reply 5 of 52
    cgjcgj Posts: 276member
    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.
  • Reply 6 of 52
    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.
  • Reply 7 of 52
    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.
  • Reply 8 of 52
    red oakred oak Posts: 668member
    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.
  • Reply 9 of 52
    DropBox is the next Groupon.
  • Reply 10 of 52
    sheffsheff Posts: 1,407member
    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.
  • Reply 11 of 52
    This is great,



    i'm going try to replace it with a symbolic hard link to my documents folder :-)
  • Reply 12 of 52
    irelandireland Posts: 17,616member
    This is easier than just using Dropbox
  • Reply 13 of 52
    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.
  • Reply 14 of 52
    timktimk Posts: 5member
    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.
  • Reply 15 of 52
    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?
  • Reply 16 of 52
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    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.
  • Reply 17 of 52
    timktimk Posts: 5member
    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.
  • Reply 18 of 52
    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 :-)



  • Reply 19 of 52
    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.
  • Reply 20 of 52
    tylerk36tylerk36 Posts: 1,037member
    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.
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