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How to create iCloud-stored iWork files on OS X

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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(s aapl), 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 (s msft) (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.

16 Responses to “How to create iCloud-stored iWork files on OS X”

  1. Paolo Ceroni

    EasyCloud for OS X, their Utility app that allows Mac users to simply drag and drop data files into the EasyCloud Drop Window to have those files immediately available on all their Macs and iDevices. The app’s two functions, Drop and Mac to Mac, support the following file types via iCloud: .pages (iWork), .numbers (iWork), .keynote (iWork), .doc (Microsoft Word), .excel (Microsoft Excel), .ppt (Microsoft Power Point), .txt (TextEdit Application), etc. The Drop function sends files directly to all the user’s iDevices containing the matching app and via a common iCloud account. The Mac to Mac function enables both syncing and file sharing between Macs sharing the same iCloud account. A browser window displays all files available for sharing between Macs, files can be opened or deleted, and the list refreshed.

    • Jim Huls

      This is incorrect as I don’t have any iwork documents on icloud and I have the mobile folder on my MBPro at home. I don’t have it on my iMac at work though and both systems are configured with the same icloud account correctly.

  2. There is a bug in icloud right now that makes it useless. If you restart your iphone, all the iwork pages and numbers files are deleted from the cloud. Reported by quite a few people over on the Apple discussions.

  3. Our World

    Hi Mark,

    I already figured out the above from the same tip. But what I did while viewing the Library folder I pushed the mouse up to the top over the Library Folder ICON at the top of the Finder Window, grabbed it and dragged that Library icon to the left side Favorites column. I dropped it BETWEEN to other folders so I can now always find that hidden Library with one click.

    The other is I also have finally figured out how to upload and down using iCloud between Mac and iPad.


    You will have to log into iCLOUD via Safari first to make this work the first time.

    It may be better to also make and save a document on the iPad in Pages to populate this part of iCloud with something for you to see in your first time visit from the Mac.

    The trick is to open in Safari web browser, click on the Pages tab. You will see a grey screen.

    Drag any Pages compatible documents from Finder and drop them here to upload to the iPad and the Cloud. The exact same file less any incompatible formatting appears almost instantly in Pages iPad. It works both ways modify them on the iPad, close the document and a few seconds later you will see a little animation that Pages has be synchronized with the cloud. On the Mac you will see the image and data is updated and you can toggle a download to your Mac of that document.

    Hey it works for me and that is what I wanted was simple, I don’t care how it works, if it works!

    You can delete documents from the cloud this way too.


    There is a killer deal at Box.Net right now. 50GB of lifetime free storage if you download and use the iPhone or iPad version of Box.Net before Dec 2. If you already have Box.Net as soon as you log in after reading this they will automatically upgrade your account for FREE. Another bonus is Box.Net also increased the upload file size maximum from 25 MB to 100 MB per file which in my opinion is far more realistic with the size documents I create.

    GoodReader also makes a fine tool for dealing with DropBox, iCloud and as well as a dozen other online cloud services. I highly recommend GoodReader for Apple iOS users.

  4. So far, this is what I have settled on with the ibook & imac
    Open icloud on browser.
    Download document.
    Make changes.
    Go to icloud/browser, delete original and uploaded altered document. ( this avoids the altered one having the title altered to “title”2.
    Delete the one in the computer to avoid confusion.

    I hope they are planning to make like ios. On my ipod touch, this is the workflow.
    iwork, select document, make changes, close iwork. Done, and if the ipod is offline, that document is there in the ipod.

  5. link9454

    My opinion is that since iCloud can store documents on a mac, there is only one real possibility. Apple intends to update (or come out with a new version) of iWork that is iCloud compatible. This seems to be the most likely solution to this odd gap in the otherwise nice service, to come up with an iOS-esque document management for iWork on the Mac, so that Pages, Numbers, and Keynote handle the files themselves rather then use the Mac’s file system. Apple seems to slowly be trying to fade out use of the file system and Finder anyway, hence Launchpad, an alternative to keeping an Applications alias on the desktop or stack on the dock.

  6. Lynn Maxwell

    I was glad to see this. I got to my Library directory but there is no Mobile Documents folder and no Pages Documents folder.
    The document I created in Pages on the mac saved to the documents folder. The document I downloaded from iWorks Pages from my iPhone went into the downloads folder.
    This is certainly not seamless.

  7. Rick Mansfield

    While it’s clever that a way has been figured out to do this, it’s still such a kludge in my opinion. I don’t mean that as a criticism again the writer of this article, Mark Crump. Again, the fact that he’s figured out how to do this is impressive.

    Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem to me that this is the real fulfillment of what iCloud is supposed to be. I usually create Keynote files on my MacBook Air, some of which are quite large, and have to transfer them to my iPad. If iCloud worked the way it seems that it ought to, I should be able to create a new Keynote file, save it anywhere I want on my Mac and have it automatically appear on my iPad or iPhone.

    When 10.7.2 and iOS 5 were released a couple of days ago, I kept checking my software update, assuming there was going to be an update for the iWork for Mac apps–but nothing so far. The lack of this kind of integration for iCloud is really surprising to me.

    • Mark Crump

      When I found this workaround, at first I was convinced it was a way to be able to round trip files.

      Sadly, documents touched on iOS come down in an entirely different manner.

      I was doing the same update refresh you were doing but at this point, I think it’s gonna be a while before we see a solution. Which isn’t at all pleasing.

      • Suresh Kumar


        Theres a reason why Documents & Data is a setting in Lion, i think we will probably need to wait for updates for OS X versions of iWork in the AppStore.

        The current experience is incongruent with the philosophy of iCloud — which means this is not an oversight by Apple.

        Its just hasn’t been enabled yet.

  8. Suresh Kumar

    This is not an oversight by Apple. Clearly Apple isn’t ready (just yet) to enable iWork documents in Lion…. this hack might cause more problems than it solves in the short term…