Can you exclude folders from iCloud Sync on Mac?

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Once you’ve turned on desktop and document sync in iCloud settings on a Mac, your files are available on other macOS, iOS, and iPadOS devices as long as you have available cloud storage. But what if you don’t want each folder to sync?

iCloud’s all-or-nothing approach

You can enable desktop and document sync by launching System Preferences (System Settings) and clicking Apple ID followed by the “iCloud” section in the sidebar. Next to “iCloud Drive” there will be an “Options” button, which you can click. Below here, you can toggle iCloud Drive for the “Desktop and Documents” folders at the top, plus other apps like Shortcuts, Automator, and Maps.

Desktop and document synchronization

With this enabled, launch Finder to see that both the Documents and Desktop folders now appear in the “iCloud” section of the sidebar, below your “Favorites” and above the “Locations” section that lists drives and pictures mounted disks.

Anything you put in your Documents folder or leave on your desktop will now be sent to iCloud Drive and stay in sync across all your devices. You can access these files using the Files app for iOS or iPad, or from another Mac that’s linked to your Apple ID. When you delete or move something from these locations, it disappears from all devices.

Access desktop and documents using Files on iPhone

It’s not possible to exclude a single folder from this process, which can be a problem if you have a large folder that you want to keep in one of these locations that you don’t want to sync to the cloud. Data stored here will count against your available iCloud storage, so make sure only your most important (and light) documents are sent to the cloud.

The solution: Move files to another place

That means the only way to exclude a file or folder from iCloud syncing is to move it somewhere else. Your home folder, accessible at /Users/username it’s a great place for larger files, and you can drag folders from here to the “Favorites” section in the Finder sidebar for quick access.

To quickly move a file on macOS, copy it using Command + C and then move it using Command + Option + V. Be careful not to just copy and paste (Command + V), as you’ll be duplicating the file instead of moving it. If you’re successful, you’ll see a warning notifying you that you’re deleting the item from iCloud Drive.

Remove folder from iCloud Drive warning

It’s easy to forget that everything syncs, and you’ll quickly run out of iCloud storage space (or use up a lot of it) without realizing it. You can always check how much space you have in System Preferences (System Settings) > Apple ID by clicking “iCloud” and then clicking the “Manage” button in the iCloud Storage section at the bottom of the window.

This will list exactly how much space each app and location is using, so you can figure out if you need to buy more iCloud storage or just free up cloud space.

Smart use of your iCloud storage space

If you’re paying a monthly fee for iCloud storage, whether it’s for backup purposes, to store your media in the cloud, or as part of Apple One, you need to use your available space wisely.

One thing Mac owners shouldn’t do is rely solely on iCloud Drive as a form of backup.