Carbon Copy Cloner Backs Up Cloud-Only Content

Originally published at: Carbon Copy Cloner Backs Up Cloud-Only Content - TidBITS

Worried about backing up your cloud-only files? The latest version of Carbon Copy Cloner can temporarily download, back up, and evict these files, ensuring your data’s safety. Learn about this ingenious feature that bridges the gap between local and cloud storage in your backup strategy.


Could this feature be used to migrate iCloud data to a different account?

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I don’t think so because Carbon Copy Cloner is managing the existence of the local files. I’d need to know more about what you were trying to achieve to be able to make a better suggestion.

A relative has two Apple ID’s, one w/ all the purchases, the other w/ iCloud. The iCloud account is which should explain a bit. Ideally, they would like to consolidate iCloud to the account w/ the purchases, but reassign the address to that one, and either close or just abandon the other. The reassignment of the addresses seems doable, but I have no idea about transferring the iCloud data. (I just say “NO” to iCloud.)

Apple is apparently adamant about not transferring purchases.

Thanks, Adam!

I personally own a laptop with a large enough drive to maintain all of my files. About a year and a half ago I made the mistake of turning on iCloud, and it removed quite a number of files from this laptop drive so that I do not have access to these files when I am off-line. This can happen quite often.

I have been using Carbon Copy Conner for years and I have backed up all the data on this laptop drive onto a separate drive on my network.

Is there a way that I may use Carbon Copy Cloner (or some other method) to maintain originals of all of these iCloud files on my laptop so my complete copy of files exists there, exists on iCloud, exists on my Carbon Copy Cloner back up, and is available for utilization with my iPhone iPad, and other devices, which do not have large drives so they can grab them as needed?


In theory, Apple fixed this bug in Sonoma. If you have Optimized Mac Storage turned off, all iCloud Drive files should exist on your Mac, but apparently, that wasn’t always true before.

There shouldn’t be any issue with doing this—it’s just work. They might look at these Take Control books for advice:

And no, purchases can’t be transferred.

That’s what I thought, Adam. I will recommend the TCO’s.


Do you know if FastSpring is sorted? My relatives patience is already thin.

Saints be praised! I open the file which I haven’t opened since 2000 and lo and behold. The information was there. So now my question is what does that little cloud icon with the “!" In the middle of it mean?


FWIW, I just purchased the TCO Apple ID book. It went through Paddle.

As you saw, Joe’s working on switching to Paddle—sounds like that’s just happened.

According to this page, you’re out of iCloud space.

Now that is odd. What am I missing?

I was afraid you were going to say that. :slight_smile:

I wonder if the ! icon also means that there’s some sort of sync error. What happens if you move the file out of iCloud and back in to force a resync?

Sorry for taking so long getting back to you. I was in the hospital for a tuneup and I’m doing well.

It appears most of these documents are really old ones. I moved one out of the documents folder into the downloads folder, which is not stored on iCloud, and then put it back into the documents folder, using command Z so it went back to exactly where it was. The cloud icon with the “!" blinked on and off for a bit however, after about five minutes, it stopped blinking and the cloud with the "!” remains.

In the left-hand column of the Finder, the iCloud Drive appears to be doing a synchronization. By that I mean I see a pie with a slice of it next to the title with the cut out of the pie getting larger oh, so slowly. My net work appears to be uploading anywhere from 15 to 20 KB per second. No wonder this is taking quite a long time.


Glad the tuneup went well—always good to get your oil changed every so often.

Doesn’t sound like an easy fix, but @glennf just wrote about a number of things that can unstick iCloud, so perhaps run through his collection.

Is there any other backup app that will backup the files stored directly in iCloud Drive?

Similarly, do any of the cloud backup companies like BackBlaze actually backup files from your Desktop if you have “Optimized Mac Storage” and some of the files are removed from your local storage?

Edit: I ask because my dad uses iDrive backup, and he’s running into errors on his automatic backup. Their support tells him the problem is files he’s marked to backup are not actually on his local disk because of this iCloud feature.

This will solve the problem of my daughter backing up her Dropbox Pro files which are online-only.

What I don’t see is a solution to the other half of her problem: backing up her iCloud Photo Library using optimized storage. That is hundreds of GB. Without that, this is yet another partial solution at best.

I have opened a ticket with Bombich today. I’ll let you know what I hear.

Mike from Bombich offered a nice, detailed reply which effectively said it’s not plausible, as I expected:

My daughter in particular … uses iCloud Photo Library “Optimized Storage” to deal with her rather large photo library.

This is actually one type of data that we can’t retrieve from the cloud. Photos doesn’t work like other applications with regard to iCloud. Rather than relying on placeholders, the Photos database keeps track of which files are cloud-only (and retains just a thumbnail preview). So when we’re copying the Photos library file, we can’t know if files are cloud-only because that application isn’t using placeholders.

  1. Do you have a solution for backing up an optimized iCloud Photo Library?

Not aside from “turn off ‘Optimized storage’”. There really isn’t a solution, and can’t be – not as long as the Photos library database is holding (hiding) the identity of the cloud-only files. I suppose in theory I could try to read that database and figure out which files are cloud-only, but without also making changes to that database (i.e. on the backup), I wouldn’t be able to produce a backup of the Photos Library file that actually recognized the downloaded content. I’d never try to do that, though, because that database changes every year, possibly multiple times a year. (and I looked just now – the level of complexity within the Photos Library has really grown out of control)

So this is too bad because it means the CCC solution doesn’t solve the problem of backing up an optimized Photo Library. A half-backup is not a backup. I love the solution he has, though, and I might try it for Dropbox. But the fault is Apple’s that Photos has no easy solution, and I’m not happy about it.

The thing about cloud storage is that the vendors will assure you there is no need for you to have a local backup–they have extensive backups to guard against loss. Of course, if you want quick local access to some files, or you will temporarily lose access, you can mark files also to be stored offsite.

In the real world, you may be skeptical of those claims, and Carbon Copy Cloner has provided a method for backing up most cloud contents. However, as I understand it, you must have enough local space on your main drive to temporarily store the backup files until they can be copied to the backup disk. The issue with photo and media libraries is that you may need more space to store the files temporarily.

Specifically with iCloud Photos, Apple provides an option to store a copy locally. You can even put it on an external drive. Carbon Copy Cloner would have no problem backing that up. However, if you can’t do that, you are in your daughter’s situation.

I have an iPhone, iPad, laptop, and desktop Mac, all using iCloud Photos. My collection of about 16,500 photos and videos takes a bit under 200GB. I have optimized on all devices except my desktop, which is backed up nightly.

So, you could use the following process to get a backup of the library:

  1. Move the local version to a drive large enough to hold the whole library and turn off optimization.
  2. You now have a backup.
  3. Turn on optimization on the computer and point back to the version on the home drive.
  4. Dismount the external drive.
    This procedure is time-consuming, and you may only want to do it infrequently.

So, the surest way to ensure your photo library is easily backed up is to have one regularly backed-up computer with enough storage to contain the whole library comfortably so that you don’t need to optimize photo storage for that computer.

At one point, I experimented with moving my photo library to an external HDD but found processing slowed significantly. So, I moved it back. I’ll put it on an external SSD if I run out of space.


Yes, and this is exactly what I do. I requires me to maintain a “server” (iMac) that has external drives to store my 1.5 TB photo library. This is not something people should have to do. But I put up with it.

But I have a family of 5, and my kids all have their own photo libraries. And what you described is not scalable to multiple people. I discussed this in another thread where I showed the problems: the other user needs an account with their own Apple ID; that account must always be logged in, even after reboots; that account must have an external drive, since Apple refused to allow iCloud Photo Libraries to reside on NAS devices like my Synology. At every step, Apple makes this implausible.

Not much. 2 GB max.

CCC attempts to retain no more than 100 files and no more than 2GB of temporarily-downloaded content at a time.

CCCs solution is really perfect, except for 2 big gotchas:

  1. it’s not designed with a NAS as destination. (Time Machine handles this fine) I want to back up my data to network attached storage (NAS) | Carbon Copy Cloner | Bombich Software
  2. it has no solution for Optimized iCloud Photo Libraries (Time Machine can’t solve this, and neither can anything else).

I speculated to Mike Bombich that really only Apple can provide a solution to making a low-footprint local backup of if your iCloud Photos, and the place they would do that is in Time Machine, where it should be. While they’re at it, they should also provide a backup for online-only files, as CCC has done. Apple created this problem; they might have to fix it.