February 18, 2020

Mac OS downloads on iCloud drive

iCloud Drive integration on Mac OS and iOS is handy for Documents and Destkop, so I want to see if I could get Downloads sync to iCloud Drive on my Mac too.

[UPDATED] This was missing the step about actually (spoiler alert!) symlinking the Downloads folder.
[UPDATED, again] Fixed instructions on how to delete the old download folder.

Having Documents and Desktop stored on iCloud Drive and readily available on my Phone when on the go kinda grew on me. At times I fired up iCloud Drive on my phone just to realize that the file I was looking for was in my Downloads folder on my Mac and not available on iCloud Drive and my phone.
Maybe it's just me, but one of my most frequently used folders is the "Downloads" folder.

I'm currently working on switching to the latest version of Mac OS - Catalina. A recent iOS version introduced a "Downloads" feature for Safari, and added a dedicated "Downloads" folder to iCloud drive, which is used for stuff you download using Safari.
I assumed that new Downloads folder would be supported by Catalina as well, but while setting up my new system I realized I was wrong. The Downloads folder on my Mac does not sync to iCloud Drive out of the box.

Make it sync

While the system's default Downloads folder (the one at ~/Downloads) is not sycned to iCloud Drive, everything stored on iCloud Drive is available, including the new Downloads folder used by iOS.

All is lost

One way to start using the synced Downloads folder is to delete your old Downloads folder and replace it with a symlink to the iCloud Drive synced Downloads folder. I didn't try that, because there are some reports out there that using a symlinked Downloads folder breaks things like AirDrop. Meh.

The alternative is not much better: changing the default download folder of all apps (browsers, mail, etc.). And there's a catch, again tied to AirDrop: it seems you can't change the folder AirDrop downloads files to.

The Internet is wrong

Eventually I just gave symlinking a shot, and who knew, 🎉 it works even with AirDrop.

This is what I did:

  • Delete the ~/Downloads folder:
    • Open Terminal.app
    • Run the following command to delete the old Downloads folder.
      Warning! This is permanent and can't be undone! Make sure you move everything you want to keep out of the Downloads folder first. It will ask for a password, enter your login password and press enter.
      sudo rm -rf ~/Downloads
  • Remove the old Downloads folder from the Dock by dragging it off the Dock.
  • Symlink the iCloud Drive Downloads folder to ~/Downloads, so the iCloud Drive's Downloads folder takes the place of the old Downloads folder:
    • Open Terminal.app
    • Run this command to create a symlink of the iCloud Drive Downloads folder in your home folder to replace the original Downloads folder:
      ln -s ~/Library/Mobile\ Documents/com\~apple\~CloudDocs/Downloads ~/Downloads
  • Drag the iCloud Drive Downloads folder to the Favorites Sidebar in Finder.
  • Drag the iCloud Drive Downloads folder to the Dock

Done!