How to use OneDrive Files On Demand for Mac. Easy guide

Microsoft OneDrive online storage works great with the Apple Mac and it enables you to access work and personal files. Here’s how to use Files On-Demand with the OneDrive app on macOS.

Here is the problem: You can have up to 1 TB of online storage with OneDrive for your work or personal files and even if you don’t have the top of the range subscription, you could still have tens of gigabytes of online files. Some Apple MacBooks have as little as 128 GB drives. Clearly you cannot sync the OneDrive folder on the Mac with your OneDrive folder online if the drive is not big enough.

Hopefully, you have a bigger drive in your Mac, but there still may not be sufficient free space to sync all your online files and have local copies on the Mac’s drive. Another problem is that syncing so many files can use a lot of internet data.

There are two solutions to this problem and one is to sync only some of the folders on OneDrive online with the OneDrive folder on the Mac’s drive instead of all of them. This works, but is inconvenient when you need to access files in folders that are not synced. A better solution is to use the Files On-Demand feature.

What is Files On-Demand?

This is a feature of Microsoft OneDrive that replaces local files in the computer’s OneDrive folder with links to the online files. Opening a local file (link) automatically downloads it first.

Basically, it looks like the file is on the Mac’s drive, but really it is a link to the inline version. Any attempt to access it, such as by opening it in an application, triggers a download. The file then opens as a local file on the Mac’s drive.

The file remains on the Mac in case it is needed again and is automatically synced with the online version, but there is an option to replace it with a link again.

Does OneDrive use up drive space?

It is possible to sync all the files on OneDrive and keep a mirror copy on the Mac’s drive. The drive space on the computer is then the same as the space used on OneDrive online.

By enabling Files On-Demand, all the files on the computer can be replaced with links to the online files, and this uses almost no drive space on the computer, while still providing access to all the files. If you are familiar with making an alias for an app on the Mac, it’s like that. Each file icon is basically an alias.

You can choose to have some files online and some offline, so it is up to you how much drive space is used.

OneDrive Files On-Demand on macOS

This step-by-step guide assumes OneDrive is already installed on the Mac. If you are downloading and installing OneDrive for the first time, you will see all these screens, but possibly in a different order. If you are having problems with OneDrive Files On-Demand, work through these steps.

1 Show the OneDrive menu

Access the menu in the OneDrive app on the Apple Mac

Click the OneDrive icon in the menu bar on the Mac and then click the More button at the bottom to show the menu. Click Preferences to go to OneDrive settings.

2 Enable Files On-Demand

Enable Files on Demand on the Apple Mac OneDrive app

The Preferences window appears and the Preferences tab opens by default. Down at the bottom of the window, click the button, Turn On Files On-Demand. It may take several minutes for this to complete, so be patient.

3 OneDrive account settings

Choose the folders to sync using the OneDrive app on the Apple Mac

Select the Account tab and at the bottom, click the Choose Folders button. This enables you to select the folders in OneDrive online to sync with OneDrive on the Mac.

4 Sync all folders and files

Choose the folders to sync using the OneDrive app on the Apple Mac

No matter how many gigabytes of files you have online in OneDrive, sync them all. Files On-Demand is enabled, so this will take hardly any drive space on the Mac and there is no reason not to sync everything. Tick the checkbox Make all files available.

5 Free up space with Files On-Demand

Free up space with Files on Demand in Finder on the Apple Mac

Ctrl+click any folder on OneDrive or even the whole OneDrive folder itself, and select Free up space. This replaces each file on the Mac’s drive with a link to the real file online. It can take several minutes to do this, so wait before continuing.

6 Check OneDrive space usage

View folder info in Finder on the Apple Mac

In the previous step, the Work folder was selected and the Free up space option selected. When the folder is now selected and Cmd+I pressed to open the folder info panel, you can see that there are 9.01 GB of files, but only 762 KB of disk space is used for 5,441 items. That is a huge space saving thanks to Files On-Demand.

7 Open a file in OneDrive

Access a file on OneDrive using Files on Demand

Here are some images in the OneDrive folder on the Mac’s drive. Notice the icons on the right are cloud icons, showing they are online. Double clicking one of the .tif files to open it in Preview downloads it and changes the icon to a circle with a tick. That means it is on the drive.

That Downloading… notification can be enabled or disabled in OneDrive preferences. It is useful to show it, but it can be hidden. As soon as downloading is complete, the file that was double clicked opens in Preview as normal.

8 Advanced Files On-Demand features

Manage apps that can access OneDrive Files on Demand

Return to OneDrive preferences and now there is a new button at the bottom of the Preferences tab. Click Manage Apps.

9 Block apps using Files On-Demand

Manage apps that can access OneDrive Files on Demand

Files On-Demand makes it look file files are on the Mac’s drive even though they are really online. It is possible to prevent apps from automatically downloading files by clicking the plus button and adding them to the list here. It probably isn’t a feature you need, but it is there if you do.

10 Enable OneDrive Finder extensions

Enable OneDrive Finder extensions in macOS on the Apple Mac

If you are having problems with enabling OneDrive Files On-Demand or any of the steps above, open System Preferences, click Extensions and make sure that OneDrive extensions are enabled. It probably won’t work if they aren’t.