How to use iCloud to migrate files between Macs

There's more than one way to transfer files to a new Mac, and Apple's iCloud offers a quick and easy option. Here's a walk-through of the process.

Image: Erik Eckel

Seasoned Mac users are likely familiar with iCloud Drive, Apple's cloud-based file storage feature that enables storing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, audio recordings, videos, and other files. Users less familiar with Macs, iCloud, and Apple IDs might enjoy learning that iCloud also permits sharing and moving such files among multiple devices, including iPads, iPhones, and Macs. Users only need to log in to iCloud on a corresponding device and enable iCloud Drive.

Here's a quick walk-through for those new to Macs or unfamiliar with iCloud.

SEE: Apple iCloud: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

iCloud requires an Apple ID

Before you can log in to and leverage an iCloud account to store files in the cloud and migrate files between Macs, you need an Apple ID, a personal account created with Apple that enables integrated operation of Apple's App Store, iTunes Store, iCloud, iMessage, FaceTime, and more on a Mac, as well as iPhones and iPads. Apple IDs are free.

One quick recommendation: Once you create an Apple ID, be sure to implement two-factor authentication to help keep the account secure.

Enabling iCloud on a Mac

Now that you have an Apple ID, enabling iCloud operation on a Mac is straightforward. Open System Preferences either from the Mac's Dock or by opening Finder, selecting Applications from the left-pane Favorites menu, and double-clicking System Preferences. Next, select iCloud. Enter your Apple ID credentials.


iCloud permits specifying which applications can access iCloud directly for file access and storage.

Apple, Inc.

With iCloud enabled, users can access files stored within the cloud via Finder. The iCloud Drive option appears within Finder's left-pane navigation window.

Using Finder, files can be migrated between Macs by dragging the files from an old Mac into the iCloud Drive directory, enabling iCloud Drive on the new Mac, and configuring iCloud to leverage the user's same Apple ID within iCloud on the new Mac. If a user commonly stores files directly within the iCloud directory, on the new Mac, a user just needs to enable iCloud, log in to iCloud using the same Apple ID on the new Mac, and the files will appear within the iCloud directory in Finder.

Alternatively, users may choose to only associate certain files and applications with iCloud. With iCloud open in System Preferences, clicking the Options button opens the iCloud options window, from which specific applications and services can be enabled (by checking the corresponding box) or disabled (by deselecting the corresponding box). Select the choices you wish to use, and then click the Done button when you're finished.


Using iCloud, Apple users can specify which applications and features receive iCloud integration.

Apple, Inc.

Additional iCloud information

In the event a Mac user wishes to access iCloud files using an iPhone, iPad, or Windows system, the process should be quick and easy; Apple maintains iPad and iPhone instructions and Windows system steps on its website. Any files created or edited by an iPad, iPhone, or Windows system that are stored within iCloud become available to a new Mac, once mated to the iCloud account, including for purposes of migrating files to the new system.

iCloud is a time-saving feature that simplifies file migration between multiple devices, while also adding cloud-based backup assurance. If a Mac's hard drive fails, for example, files stored in iCloud will be available on the replacement system, once mated to the corresponding iCloud account. With 5 GB of free storage, and 50 GB of additional storage space available for just $0.99 a month, iCloud offers compelling cloud services value that eases daily computer tasks, while also simplifying the burdens of migrating files and deploying new systems.

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By Erik Eckel

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...