Today I encountered a problem in which none of my files on iCloud could be opened. The issue (almost certainly self-inflicted after I’d been poking around in iCloud’s underbelly…) was peculiar in a couple of ways.
Although all files refused to open, Quick Look had no problem displaying every file’s contents (shame that we lost the ability to cut and paste from Quick Look in El Capitan, as that would have presented me with an option for recovery). Another oddity was that iCloud files that were currently open could still be saved to, but once closed, refused to open, showing the dialog above. Yet more worrying was that neither copying and pasting a file to another location outside of iCloud with the Finder nor trying to restore from Time Machine worked.
Logging out and logging back in again also did not resolve the problem, as I’d hoped. However, I was prevented from just trying a full restart as I had critical processes running elsewhere on the computer.
One option that I successfully employed was to use the ditto tool on the command line to copy a Pages document to another location (note that the Pages format is actually a directory rather than a single file, so ditto is a good tool for this). However, while this might be useful in an emergency, it’s hardly a practical solution to repairing the whole of the iCloud Drive.
Instead, I took the seemingly scary option of unlinking the mac from iCloud Drive in System Preferences > iCloud. You’ll get a warning like this:
I then re-enabled iCloud in the hope that this would refresh whatever it was that had become out-of-sorts. Unfortunately, that still didn’t work. I next tried unlinking again, logging out and re-linking after logging in. Still no dice, and by this time I was sufficiently worried that there was nothing for it but to halt all my other activities on the computer and try a restart. Possibly the system holds something in a memory cache that needs to be flushed, I’m not sure. In any case, I took the step of unlinking iCloud first, then restarting, then re-linking after reboot. Success (and relief)!
I don’t fancy trying to reproduce the issue to see if the reboot alone would have solved it, but that would be my first step if the issue occurs again. Otherwise, the unlink, reboot, and re-link method seems to do the trick.
What’s wrong with using the cloud? The fact that you need an internet connection, a password to be accepted, to act in accordance with the T&C of your cloud provider, the fact that someone – government, corporation, hacker – could interfere with your data, lose it or just add unwanted stuff to it. Also, if you want to backup your whole system then the various free storage offers are not going to be big enough to do the job, and you’re going to end up paying a lot more than if you backup your system properly.
How about Time Machine? Yes, it’s simple and convenient and pretty much automatic, but its not secure. TM has three major problems. First, it doesn’t allow proper archiving so anything you delete from your HDD will eventually get deleted from TM. Second, it doesn’t tell you what it’s doing before it does it, meaning you are at the mercy of its automated decisions. Third, it’s not bootable. If your whole system crashes or your HDD just fails, Time Machine won’t help you. You’ll have to restore the system or replace the HDD before you can use your machine again.
But there is a much better way, and aside from you providing the hardware (a couple of external hard disks), one that’s also free. The most secure system is to run an hourly or daily scheduled cloner on one disk, and a weekly cloner on the other. You can use SuperDuper or, my own favourite, Carbon Copy Cloner.
If you want to read up on and understand the various backup options and what they entail, you can’t do better than to read this superb post by Apple Discussions member ds store.