How to create iCloud-stored iWork files on OS X


Update: We’ve received some reports that this hack may cause a user’s documents to be deleted. As with any hack, proceed at your own risk.

When I wrote about Documents in the Cloud, one of my chief complaints was that the only way to upload and download files on my Mac was through the iCloud web interface. I made a casual mention in that post that while there is a setting in the iCloud System Preferences to sync Documents and Data, I admitted I didn’t know where they went to. A helpful reader posted that “on a Mac your iCloud data files are accessible at ~/Library/Mobile Documents.”

I wondered if I could access the files directly on my Mac using that folder, and create files there, then have them sync to iCloud. The answer, blessedly, is yes. Here’s how.

  1. Make sure Documents and Data is checked in iCloud System Preferences.
  2. Make your Library folder unhidden. There are two ways to do this. The easiest is in the Finder go to the Go Menu and choose “Go to Folder” and type in “username”/Library, where “username” is the name of your user folder. That will bring you to the Library folder. The other way, the one I recommend, is to go to the Terminal app and type in chflags nohidden ~/Library/ to unhide the Library folder. I’ve found this makes it easy to find the Library folder backups in Time Machine.
  3. Go to the Library folder and find the Mobile Documents folder. Drag it to your Sidebar to make it easier to access.
  4. From here, you can navigate to any of the three subfolders for each iWork app. In each, you must then did one level down to find the “Documents” folder. If you create a document in this folder in iWork it will show up on your iOS device. You can also create subfolders within this directory to modify the folder structure in your iWork apps for iOS. Any subfolders you create on the desktop must contain at least one document to show up in mobile iWork, however.

Note that the original file on the desktop, after being transferred to and opened on your iOS device, will prompt you to save it elsewhere on the desktop or delete it if it remains open on your Mac. Working backward from iOS to Mac doesn’t work, since iCloud changes the document format, but at least it lets you start on the desktop.

Also note that you can use this method to create and edit documents in Microsoft Office (or other document editors) on your Mac, and make them available to the iWork suite on your iOS device. I strongly encourage you maintain your own backups of this directory in case of accidental file deletion, or in case Apple for some reason closes this loop. For now, however, this makes working with Documents in the Cloud much easier and more rewarding.

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