Sync files between Macs, sync files between Mac and PC

Sync files and folders between computers the easy way

Sometimes we need to work on more than one computer and sometimes we work with other people on projects and they have their own computer. How do you keep all the files in sync? Let’s see.

Why might you work on more than one computer? Well, you could have a desktop computer like an Apple iMac or a Mac mini and a laptop like a MacBook for when you are away from the office or home, working on the go at Wi-Fi hotspots in cafes or hotels.

You could have a Mac on your desk at work and a Mac at home and you may want to access files on the other computer, such as work files from home or files at home from work. How do you keep your files in sync between your Macs?

You may need to collaborate with other people on work or personal projects, such as ebooks, reports, documents, newsletters, magazines, websites, product launches, and so on. There are many tasks that involve working with others. Working together on the same set of files in the same folder is much better than being isolated and having separate files. It is better to share files and folders and keep everyone in sync.

What if one computer is an Apple Mac and the other is a Windows PC? Your home computer could be a Mac and your work computer a PC, how do you sync files between Mac and PC? When collaborating with others on work projects, you may have a Mac, but some colleagues could have PCs. A mixed group of Macs and PCs is awkward when you need to keep everyone’s files in sync and working on the same project.

Let’s look at these scenarios and see how to share files and folders and sync between computers.

Sync files between your own computers

If you own two or more Apple Macs, and they can be iMacs, minis, Studios or MacBooks, the most obvious way to keep them in sync is by using iCloud. This is by far the simplest way to make your work available everywhere and you can see the same files and folders on every computer you use.

Just sign into iCloud using the same Apple ID on every computer. Open Finder and click iCloud Drive in the sidebar. The folders and files displayed in Finder are exactly the same on every computer. Files on iCloud Drive can even be accessed on the iPhone and iPad, which is useful.

If you are working on a document, graphics and artwork, collecting resources for a project, just create a folder in iCloud Drive and put all the files in there. They will be available on every Mac you use. It is easy.

Sync Mac Desktop and Documents with iCloud

It is possible to go a step further and the the whole contents of the Desktop and Documents folders can be synced across all your Macs.

Apple iCloud preferences
Enable iCloud Drive and click Options

Sync desktop and documents between Macs

  1. Go to System Preferences
  2. Click the Apple ID icon
  3. Make sure iCloud Drive is ticked and you are signed into iCloud
  4. Click the Options button to the right of iCloud
  5. Tick the Desktop & Documents Folders checkbox
  6. Click the Done button at the bottom
  7. Wait for it to sync your files and folders
Apple iCloud sync preferences
Sync the Desktop and Documents folders between Macs

It could take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours to actually sync your Desktop and Documents folders and it depends on the number and size of files stored in them.

Increase iCloud storage

Syncing the Desktop and Documents folders could use a lot of iCloud storage and your subscription plan must have sufficient space to store all the files they contain. Open your home folder in Finder, select the Documents folder and press Cmd+I to see how much space it is using. It is next to Size in the Folder Info window.

Upgrade your iCloud storage plan if you do not have sufficient online storage.

With iCloud Desktop and Documents sync, it is all or nothing, which is a problem when space is limited, either online in iCloud or locally on the computer’s disk. One of your Macs may be an iMac with a 1 TB drive and the other could be a MacBook Air with a 256 GB drive. It may not be the best method for syncing computers.

Turn off iCloud Desktop and Documents syncing and just create a folder in iCloud for files you want to use on all your Macs if space is limited.

Sync files between your Mac and PC

If you have a Mac and a PC and you want to share and sync files between them, there are several ways to do this, such as iCloud, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Mega, Box and others. Let’s look at some of these.

Sync files between Mac and PC with iCloud

The iCloud app for Windows PC has the ability to access iCloud folders and files created on the Mac, provided both Mac and PC are signed into the same iCloud account. That’s fine if you own both Mac and PC.

  1. Go to the Microsoft Store in Windows and search for iCloud
  2. Install the iCloud software on the Windows PC
  3. Start iCloud and sign in with your Apple ID
  4. Tick the iCloud Drive checkbox
  5. Wait a while and then open iCloud in Windows Explorer
iCloud for Windows app
Enable iCloud Drive on Windows PC

Folders and files in iCloud on the Mac appear on the PC and can be accessed in Explorer. Apple has followed Microsoft’s lead and like OneDrive, not all of iCloud files are downloaded to the PC. It looks like all files and folders are present on the PC’s disk, but actually, files can be kept online in a similar way to the Files on Demand trick that OneDrive uses.

Accessing iCloud files and folders using Explorer on Windows PC
Apple Mac iCloud files in File Explorer in Windows

Click a file to access it on the PC and it is either loaded immediately if it is on the disk or it is downloaded and then opened. You can see which files are on the PC and which are online with the icons in the Status column. It is a great way to save drive space on the computer.

Sync files between Macs, Mac and PC with Google Drive

How do you sync files between Macs without iCloud? Google Drive provides ways to sync files between computers and it does not matter whether they are Macs or PCs or a mixture of both. You can access all files online in Google Drive or choose one or more local folders on the Mac’s disk to sync.

Go to drive.google.com and click the gear icon to get Google Drive. It is on the menu and it automatically downloads the PC or Mac app as needed. The features are the same across operating systems.

Google Drive app sync settings on the Mac
Stream or mirror files with Google Drive

Files stored on Google Drive can be accessed by any Mac or PC you own that has the Google Drive app installed. You have a choice of streaming them or mirroring them. Streaming uses no disk space. You can see the files in Finder, but they are really online. Ctrl+click a file or folder in Finder and there is an option to make it available offline.

Mirroring copies all online Google Drive files to the Mac and you need the local disk space to store them all.

Google Drive app settings on the Apple Mac
Sync any folder with Google Drive

You can also sync any folder on the Mac’s disk with Google Drive. For example, you could create a Gdrive folder in your home folder on the Mac or PC and place files there that you want to access on other Macs and PCs you own.

Sync files between Mac and PC with OneDrive

Another way to sync files between Macs and sync between Mac and PC without iCloud is with OneDrive. It can sync files between the computers you own.

Microsoft OneDrive is great for syncing files and folders between multiple Macs and PCs. It is built into Windows and can be installed on Macs from the App Store. New users get just 5 GB of online storage space, so you might need to subscribe if this is not enough.

OneDrive settings in the Mac app
OneDrive settings

The app on your Mac can sync all of OneDrive or just the folders you select. Click the menu bar icon on the Mac and then the gear icon, followed by Preferences. Use the Files on Demand feature. It works very well and only files you access are downloaded. You see all OneDrive files in Finder, but they are really online. Open one and it is automatically downloaded and then opened.

Sync Mac and PC files between different users

If you and someone else need to work on a project and have access to the same set of files, this presents problems because you will have different Apple IDs and different iCloud accounts, so you cannot see each other’s files. How do you collaborate with others on projects and share files between computers?

It is the same situation if you have a Mac at work and sign in to a company account and a Mac at home and have a personal account. Your work and home Macs will not be able to see each other’s files.

Invite people to a shared folder on iCloud
Share a folder on iCloud

Folders on iCloud can be shared between different users and this solves the problem. Open Finder, select iCloud in the sidebar, Ctrl+click a folder, select Share and you can invite people by Mail, Messages, AirDrop or by copying a link.

Folder sharing properties on iCloud on the Apple Mac
A shared folder on iCloud

Other ways to share files between users

This method is also used by OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and other online storage services. They are all very similar, so I will not repeat the process.

Basically, you Ctrl+click a folder in Finder and select the Share menu for OneDrive, Drive, or Dropbox. You can then invite people to the folder by email or by copying a link, which can then be sent using a messaging app or something else. The user needs an account with the service, but a free one will do. Most people have Microsoft and Google accounts anyway.

Apple has been behind third party apps when it comes to sharing online files between different users, but it has mostly caught up. However, OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and others are still better at handling multiple users across different platforms.

Summing up

Although Apple provides features for syncing between Macs you own and syncing between Mac and PC, third party tools like Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and others are better in some ways and they have more features.

You can use multiple methods, such as iCloud and OneDrive or Google Drive for example. So if you use Office and OneDrive on a PC at work, you can put OneDrive on your Mac at home and access all of your OneDrive Office documents and files.


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