How iCloud Drive works with multiple users on a single Mac

Fast user switching keeps users logged in and their activities running even though they’re not frontmost, including sync.

icloud icon 2015

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by Macworld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Apple introduced fast user switching years ago to allow easier shared use of a single Mac by multiple people. After logging into an account and switching away from it, all the activities that were underway continue on their merry progress even while another user has logged in or switched to the foreground.

This includes iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and other sync apps that carry out their operations in the background during a normal session. This can be useful if multiple people rely on synchronized files, preventing them from having to log in and wait for updates to occur.

Apple assures its third-party developers in fast user switching documentation that background accounts have no keyboard or mouse input, and apps that check on screen activity will receive a response as if the screen were asleep. That is a sort of guarantee that any app or service that’s running will reliably keep running.

If you’re wondering if it’s working in practice, there’s a way you can peep on switched accounts without changing the user on that Mac. If Screen Sharing is enabled for the account and you make a remote connection from another Mac using that switched-away account, you’ll be able to create a virtual session and interact with that account even as another user is working in the foreground. This can slow things down—sometimes substantially—for that user, however, as the background account has to generate all the display information just as if it’s working with a monitor.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Akhilesh.

Ask Mac 911

We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to including screen captures as appropriate, and whether you want your full name used. Not every question will be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon