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More Problems with iCloud Photo Library Uploads

The largely opaque combination of Photos and iCloud Photo Library is out of control. I can’t guarantee these issues will apply to everyone, but consider yourself warned.

I recently wrote about how enabling iCloud Photo Library causes Photos to monopolize your Internet connection as it uploads your photos to iCloud, and I offered a way to mitigate the annoyance (see “How to Throttle iCloud Photo Library Uploads,” 20 May 2015). It took over a week for my 27,000+ photos to upload, and that’s using an Internet connection with 5 Mbps of upstream bandwidth, throttled to 3.5 Mbps.

Luckily, unlike many people, I don’t have a data cap for my Time Warner Internet connection, so at least that wasn’t a problem for me, as it might be for you. Where I did run into trouble is with my iPhone, on which I’m using the Optimize iPhone Storage option to reduce the amount of data transferred and stored. Tonya, Tristan, and I now share 2 GB of data on our family plan, and before last month, we had never come close to using that much, since we’re still accustomed to having only 250 MB each. So you can imagine my surprise shortly after I enabled iCloud Photo Library when AT&T texted me to say that I was approaching my 2 GB limit. I looked through the cellular data usage screen in Settings > Cellular, and pored over the app-specific information in DataMan Pro, but all I was able to determine was that lots of data had been used in the Documents & Sync category of System Services.

There are no settings to prevent iCloud Photo Library from working over cellular, and while I disabled cellular data for the Photos app, that made no difference. I could turn off cellular data in general (and I did once or twice, but that’s a hard thing to remember every time you leave the house), but by the end of the billing period, AT&T had hit me with $30 of overage charges for two $15 blocks of 1 GB of additional data.

This is shockingly poor design on Apple’s part, and I hope to see it fixed in iOS 9. The entire point of iCloud Photo Library is to transfer huge quantities of image data, and it’s disrespectful for Apple not to provide a switch to prevent iCloud Photo Library from chewing through cellular data.

Nevertheless, I wrote the $30 off as a one-time expense, figuring it would never happen again. But there is some concern that iCloud Photo Library could be a recurring expense, not to mention the time babysitting iCloud Photo Library uploads. Here’s why.

A question was recently posed on the discussion page for the iCloud chapter of Jason Snell’s massively popular “Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course,” asking if repairing the Photos library (by holding down Command-Option at launch) would force everything to be uploaded to iCloud Photo Library again.

I couldn’t imagine that this would be the case, and said so initially in my reply while I was waiting for my test repair to finish. And when I looked at the iCloud pane of Photos’ preferences window at first, there was no notable activity. A few minutes later, though, I looked back, and it said that it was uploading 27,552 items. Not good. However, some apps, like CrashPlan, report that they’re doing more than they are, because they’re actually analyzing the data, not uploading, and they eventually realize that no new data needs to be uploaded; I hoped briefly that this was the case here too.

Unfortunately, when I looked at the Network view in Activity Monitor, the nsurlsessiond process had clearly started sending a large quantity of data. And some spelunking in Console revealed this log entry:

6/19/15 11:06:56.470 AM cloudphotosd[29598]: Reset Sync Requested! Reason: Database was rebuilt

Although I was initially concerned that Photos would upload my entire library again, and that iCloud Photo Library would download it all to my iPhone again, potentially incurring additional overage charges, it appears now that the situation isn’t that worrisome.

Over the course of several days, Photos counted down from the initial 27,552 items to upload. It did impact my Internet performance until I enabled Network Link Conditioner to throttle it, but even so, the upload process worked much faster than the initial seeding to iCloud Photo Library. In the end, the nsurlsessiond process sent 7.67 GB of data, and a another process called cloudd also uploaded several gigabytes that might have been related, but that’s nothing compared to the 111 GB size of my full Photos library. Even better, as far as I can tell, my iPhone hasn’t had to download any notable amount of data again. Hopefully, others will share my experience.

However, Spotlight (in the form of the mds process) has been going nuts on my Mac for many hours after the upload. There’s no way to know exactly what it’s doing, but a commenter on this article also noted that Photos uploaded a lot of data to iCloud Photo Library after he restored his Mac from a Time Machine backup. Spotlight indexing data isn’t backed up by Time Machine, so that points to iCloud Photo Library relying on Spotlight in some core fashion.

Regardless of what’s happening behind the scenes, the takeaway message is that certain actions, like repairing a Photos library or restoring from backup, can trigger a significant, if not complete, iCloud Photo Library upload. Those actions often aren’t optional, but beware that they have additional consequences when iCloud Photo Library is enabled.


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Comments about More Problems with iCloud Photo Library Uploads
(Comments are closed.)

Justen  2015-06-19 23:45
Based of years of Mac focused IT consulting where I saw the behemoth size many users let their iPhoto Libraries swell to combined with the current state of our internet connections - both cellular and broadband - I think iCloud Photo Library is the Newton of our day. It's premature in the extreme. It's hard enough to deal with a 178GB iPhoto Library on a local drive; moving it to the cloud verges on insanity. I get it conceptually and my isn't it wonderful, just like so many promises of tech in years gone by. We're only now catching up to the dreams sold as reality 10 years ago in my opinion. The practical fact is that the pipe today is just too small for that much data to be pushed back and forth on a regular basis. Photo Stream is ok because it puts a major cap on things. Apple is selling as much as 200GB, which may as well be no cap. Anyone with more than a few gigs of data should resign themselves to an unhappy iCloud Photo Library experience for years to come.
Nathan Jones  2015-06-20 13:26
This one of many reasons I have not yet upgraded to Photos. iPhoto and Aperture fit my needs perfectly, and I don't mind having to connect my iPhone to my Mac in order to get everything everywhere. As a family of four, each with cameras and our own iDevices, last year alone I alone took more than 100GB of pictures (I split libraries each year); I don't need all those pictures everywhere, nor do I want those pictures everywhere. I like being able to pick and choose. It's almost a zen-process for me, and it gives me a chance to clear my mind and memories as I go back over the photos (generally over the week of the New Year) and separate out the "5-star" photos. It's a tedious process, yes, but in the end I can get better results with no cost to me other than time. And I don't want to pay the cellular companies one cent more than I have to.
bollen642  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-06-22 05:01
I confirm the same behaviour after a complete Time Machine re-install. After the re-install I noticed Photos had to rebuild the library, and this morning my system is indeed re-uploading my 99 GB Photos library again ... just like you indicate in your article.
The Time Machine re-install was done after I changed the SuperDrive for a 250GB SSD and turned it with the 2TB HD into a FusionDrive. Besides this unpleasant side effect with Photos, this SSD/HD Fusion has really rejuvenated my almost 6 years old imac, just unbelievable!! (Late 2009 27" iMac i7, now ready for another 3 years at least :-)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-06-22 10:55
Oh interesting - I wouldn't have expected that, but perhaps there's some sort of Spotlight cache that's lost in restores as well as rebuilds.
Guy Kawasaki  2015-06-23 08:45
Not that they do the same thing, but I've been really happy with Google Photos. The best thing about it is that it helps you rediscover photos and builds stories and animations that I would have never seen.
Steve Nicholson  2015-06-24 09:51
My upload speed is 400 kbps. The local company that's working on providing high-speed Internet says it will be five to seven years. I'm confident Apple will have all the bugs worked out by the time I'm able to activate iCloud Photo Library in OS X 10.18.