Problems with iCloud shared data: how to tackle them

If you have more than one Apple computer or device, it is very convenient to be able to share common information, such as your address book, calendar, and notes, using iCloud. No matter where you are, provided that you can get a mobile or wi-fi connection, your iPhone/iPad/MacBook can then access the latest through those shared services.

Like all of iCloud, this works well most of the time. But sometimes the information you are looking at seems out of date or incomplete, or you may not be able to see anything meaningful at all. Once you have run through the usual iCloud checks, what can you do?

Services such as Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and Reminders don’t work using regular documents, but use databases which are served by iCloud, when they are shared. Go back to iCloud System Status and check those services individually there, to ensure that specific service is operating normally. Although unusual, it is possible that iCloud Notes might be down, when everything else is showing green.

The next step is that widely recommended: on the Mac or device which is encountering the problem, open its iCloud control and disable that specific service. Wait a few moments, then enable it, and ensure that you give that device a few minutes to reconnect and sync (and remember it must have a good internet connection to enable that sync).

If your problems persist beyond that, or are not simply a sync issue, then you may be able to clear the database, build it fresh, and sync properly again. One way of doing this for Notes or Contacts is:

  1. export or otherwise save all wanted content in a different format (that is easiest in Notes, and not so easy in Calendar);
  2. disconnect all your Macs and devices from that iCloud service using the iCloud control;
  3. on each Mac and iOS device, open that local service and clear all its records;
  4. on one Mac, import the wanted content, then enable iCloud again on that system;
  5. one by one, add all your other Macs and devices to the iCloud share.

The principles behind this are straightforward. If you disable the service on all your Macs and devices, the existing database in iCloud should be purged fairly quickly. If you then manually purge the local records on every device, your local databases will also be completely purged. This should enable you to start from scratch with a clean and empty database, adding only what you really need. When you then share that in iCloud, the ‘clean’ data should be shared properly again across each of your Macs and devices.

Because these services don’t work through regular documents, there’s little point in inspecting your iCloud Drive using the Finder. However you might find it useful to keep a watch on your local database files. Their location varies according to the service:

  • for Notes, this should be stored in ~/Library/Containers/
  • for Contacts, in ~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook
  • for Calendars and Reminders, in ~/Library/Calendars.

But remember that, when that service is shared using iCloud, what you see there is only cached, and not the same data as that in iCloud.

I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has tried this approach, or had success with any other solution, please. There are quite a few Mac users who could benefit from your experience.