Photos for macOS stops syncing? Here’s one way to fix it

You may need to force a full iCloud Photos resynchronization.

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Apple

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It’s easy from the perch of writing the Mac 911 column to appear as if I have all the answer. Dear readers, I do not. I am always delighted to research on your behalf, but sometimes problems fall into my lap that I know will help you all, because I’m unable to find a ready solution and nobody in any forum or on any blog has found an answer, sometimes across many years.

Photos for macOS is a bugbear for many of you, one of the most regular sources of questions. But I encountered a sync problem that no one has written in about, yet I can find a history of frustrated people across the Internet trying to solve it. I did find a solution—but you might not like it!

My problem emerged a few weeks ago, when I noticed that Photos for macOS on my office computer, an iMac running Mojave, was out of date. I checked my laptop Mac, my iPhone, and iCloud.com: photos were synced and up to date in each of those locations.

This has happened before, and I go through a series of escalating troubleshooting steps:

  • Quit Photos and re-launch it.

  • Using the Terminal to “kill” certain Photos-related background agents and jobs. (This is a little tweaky and can cause problems, so I hesitate to recommend it. In any case, it didn’t help.)

  • Restart my Mac.

  • Rebuild the Photos database by holding down Command-Option while launching the app and following prompts.

  • Disabling iCloud Photos and re-enabling it in Photos > Preferences > iCloud. This can force a re-sync, though often it’s relatively fast as Photos and iCloud seem to bypass pictures that are in both places.

None of this worked. After reading years’ worth of posts of people trying to overcome the problem, I tried one suggestion: deleting a deeply nested folder in the Photos library that tracks iCloud synchronization.

Warning! Apple doesn’t advise making these kinds of low-level changes. I strongly recommend making a full backup of your Photos library, if not a fresh full clone of your drive or forcing a Time Machine update, before proceeding.

Find your Photos library and Control-click it, and then select Show Package Contents. Now traverse down to:

private/com.apple.cloudphotosd/CloudSync.noindex

mac911 photos private icloud delete IDG

Deleting a nested folder can solve a Photos sync woe. But beware the bandwidth consumed.

With Photos not running, I deleted the contents of this folder, which required entering an administrative password. I then-relaunched Photos.

Photos and iCloud apparently had a behind-the-scenes confab and decided my copy of Photos had never synced with iCloud at all. This led Photos on my Mac to re-upload about 45,000 images and videos, even though they were identical in my library at iCloud.com.

Fortunately, I have gigabit Internet service with no cap on usage and no overage fee. (The local legacy wired telephone company has rolled out fiber like mad and charges a relatively low amount for it—even less than slower service via a cable ISP.)

If you have more normal broadband service, even in the 50Mbps to 100Mbps range, or get throttled, blocked, or charged overage fees above a certain amount of monthly data, this won’t seem like a good solution to you at all. (Although during the pandemic, a number of ISPs with home broadband service have removed caps and overage charges, including AT&T and Comcast.)

The resync took about two days and showed steady progress. At the end, all my media remained in exactly the same state, but my Mac’s Photos library was finally up to date with other devices in its iCloud account set.

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