Alternatives to iCloud Drive sharing?

When sharing an iCloud Drive folder with others, I find that any file that a recipient opens up/views is downloaded to the recipient’s computer (for certain) and, if they are using a tablet or smart phone instead, (maybe) to their device.

While I use and like iCloud Drive for many things, file and folder sharing is not one of them. I liken its behavior to inviting a neighbor over to view your TV and, while he’s watching your TV, you’re taking all your storage boxes out the back door and putting them in his garage. He’s involuntarily, unknowingly storing your goods. You aren’t being a good neighbor, and neither is iCloud Drive in this scenario.

I have no problem with the recipient downloading files if and when they choose, but I do have a problem with a download ocurring simply because the recipient wanted to view a file to see if it was important enough to keep.

Hence my question. Are there any good alternatives to iCloud Drive for sharing? In my case there are about 90GB of files and folders to share with 40-50 people, some of whom have only a limited hold on computer technology, others of whom are very impatient and will immediately start opening all sorts of files as their fancy strikes.

Are there alternatives that don’t penalize just viewing a document?


I have no idea how tech savvy you are. But this is what I set up. Works great, total control, cheap, (no subscription). I bought a Raspberry Pi 4, and a small potable SSD. Then loaded Raspbian OS. Then loaded NextCloud. On the Pi.

This is secure, easy to maintain, and took about 2 hours to set up.

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Dropbox and Google Drive both have free options, IIRC.

It seems to me like you’re asking for the impossible. If someone wants to see the contents of the file, they need to get the contents onto their computer, which means downloading the file. Dropbox is going to work the exact same way, and I would expect any other file-sharing service would. If the recipient is pressed for storage, they can remove the download.

I’d guess the best suggestion might be to tell the recipients to view the file through though the only difference there is going to be that the file will be downloaded to the browser’s cache.

There may be a misunderstanding here, but I’m afraid I agree with @chirano. Where would the recipient be while viewing the file? If he or she is on their own computer, then the file being viewed has to be there too. If they are watching your TV (to use your analogy), then they’re watching your TV, not theirs. But it’s entirely possible we’re missing something, so feel free to straighten us out if so. :slight_smile:

I think what @nstory really wants is iCloud Drive to present the Finder view of all the files, but all in remote form. When the user wants to read or work with a file, they’d click it and it would download on the spot.

That’s actually possible (we’ve discussed it and I’ll be writing more soon) but it’s tough for non-technical users. In essence, once someone has accepted the shared folder, iCloud Drive will download all 90 GB, assuming there’s enough local space. (If there isn’t, that’s actually better, since it will just present the icon placeholders.) Once everything is downloaded, the user has to Control-click the folder and choose Remove Download. That deletes all the local files while maintaining the visual hierarchy of icon placeholders in the Finder.

Can anything else do that? I could maybe imagine a MacFUSE hack with some cloud sharing service, but that’s probably too hard for his audience too.


You can do it with Microsoft OneDrive. If you share a folder, and the recipient also has a OneDrive account, the shared folder will be added to his account. He can choose to sync that folder to his local computer.

Microsoft Support: Add and sync shared folders to OneDrive for home.

OneDrive can be configured to automatically download everything or just download files on-demand. I think on-demand is the default configuration (at least it is on Windows - I’ve never installed the app on my Mac).

Dropbox can with its Smart Sync feature.

I installed OneDrive on my Mac once and signed into the account I have through one of the schools I teach at. I ended up with a folder with a long unwieldy name that apparently couldn’t be changed to something shorter. I wonder if it has changed since then, or perhaps the name would be much shorter with a personal Microsoft account.


According to Microsoft OneDrive Mac support, with a personal account, you will by default get a folder named “OneDrive” in your home directory.

If you are using a business OneDrive server (e.g. from your employer), then the folder should be named “OneDrive - Employer”, where “Employer” is the name provided by your employer when they set up the server (typically the business name).

I’ve found (at least on Windows) that if you add an employer server to a system using a personal OneDrive, then the personal OneDrive folder gets renamed to “OneDrive - Personal”.

You should be able to configure the folder name/location when you first set up a OneDrive for an account. It is possible that your employer provided a setup-script that skipped this, creating the big name you saw.

From a practical standpoint, you should be able to just drag/drop the folder (whatever its name) it to your Favorites list in the Finder, so you can just get there with a single click. Since this Favorites list is also available in file open/save dialogs, this makes usage far more convenient than it would otherwise be.

I thank everyone for their comments; there’s a wealth of information here. I’m stuck somewhere between chirano’s impossible and ace’s finder view. I like the Raspberry Pi/be your own host idea, but I often work from a place where bandwidth and connectivity are a real problem.

As to general behavior for viewing remote files locally, I’m quickly moving into territory where I am ignorant. I’m able to read files that are on my network without them ever being on my computer, at least I think so. When the network connection is severed, I have no way to see that document. Similarly, I can read a web site document, think it’s not worth saving, dismiss it, terminate the network connection, and I can’t find it on my computer. I don’t think a local copy has been made. (I confess I don’t really know what is kept in the cache.)

Dropbox manuals suggest, if not outright say, that the share recipient is viewing the document itself remotely, without a local copy being made. That’s exactly what I would want for the recipient. And perhaps that is impossible. But a number of Apple support people, including senior advisors, have told me nothing is being downloaded to the recipients unless they choose to do so.

I have confirmed with more than one recipient that once they accepted the sharing invitation, the 90GB folder was downloaded to their computer. I had them shut down, reboot, turn off their network connection, and go to ~/Library/Mobile Documents.Their iCloud Drive files were all there, including my 90GB folder, and they could bring up any document within it.

The mention of OneDrive reminds me that I’ve only been able to test this on recipients with Apple operating systems. I don’t know what happens to Windows, Android, etc., except that they have to get an Apple ID and, in the case of Windows, download iCloud Drive for Windows. That makes me think the results are the same.

I really do not understand what is happening. I very much appreciate this discussion.

When I used Dropbox, I shared a few folders with others to make it easy for me to get files to them. I found that a local copy of every file is made on their computer. That said, at the time, Dropbox didn’t have its Smart Sync feature, so maybe the default behavior has changed since then.

I experimented with sharing a folder from the iCloud drive this morning, and the entire content of the folder was downloaded onto the recipient’s computer as soon as the invitation was accepted. This behavior is what you and Adam both described. The downloads happen regardless of whether the files are viewed or not. I can totally understand why you would not want this to happen especially with a 90-GB folder.

The Apple support people are just plain wrong here unless “choosing to do so” means simply accepting the sharing invitation.

Your question prompted me to also look into Google Drive, and it appears to work the way you want. The recipient has to explicitly save a file for offline access to have it stored on their computer. I haven’t actually used the Google Drive desktop app yet, so I’m not exactly sure how it works in general.

In any case, it looks like you have at least three options you can try out: Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive.

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Thank you, chirano, for your reply. I do have some alternatives to look at now.

In a test of a 4.89GB shared folder I just reran, I noticed that the recipients had some files and sub-folders downloaded immediately, but only a fraction of the total was on their local disk and the rest had not (those still had a cloud with a down arrow next to them). I’ll leave that test running and see if over time more is downloaded. I have no idea how the operating system decides what to download immediately.

Adam, I tried the control-click to remove a download and, interestingly enough, highlighting a file name and control-clicking doesn’t remove the download, or maybe it does momentarily but then it immediately reloads. However, just control-clicking without highlighting does remove the download.

I thank everyone for their kindness and help. I leave it to wiser heads than mine to figure out how it all works, but I know it’s a complication I don’t want to impose on my recipients. I hope that in the future Apple’s network engimeers will be able to make it so that share recipients are able to view documents remotely without having to download them locally unless they choose to do so.

Interesting. What I suspect is happening is that the selection is telling iCloud Drive that you want to download the file again, immediately after you’ve removed it. Selecting an enclosing folder and choosing Remove Download should work.

I would just use Google Drive. The native client might automatically download stuff, but the Web app won’t, which I think is what most people use.

Thank you. I will look at Google Drive.

I tried it out last night and found the desktop client does not download stuff automatically. In fact, your Google drive appears as a network volume, which is quite different than how Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud, and Dropbox fundamentally work. Nothing is downloaded unless you explicitly request it.

Thank you so much. That’s where I will start my evaluation. It looks like you have saved me a lot of time. I am most appreciative.

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MS OneDrive is decent at this. It renders the files in browser for common applications like office and pdf so your recipients don’t need to download and you can prevent download on the share panel when you create the link. You can also revoke access at anytime. You don’t need the OneDrive app installed, but if you do have it installed you can select what to download where it is permitted.

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Thank you; I will check into it. I wonder if these kinds of solutions are that difficult for Apple to engineer. I’d prefer staying with iCloud Drive for this, but I can’t wait.