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How to Restore Data from iCloud

“What is truth?” This question has bedeviled philosophers and theologians for centuries, but in an age of distributed digital data storage you also need to know the answer to the question, “Where is truth?” This is not a philosophical question but a practical one: if you have a bunch of devices, all with copies of your personal information — your contacts, calendars, and so forth — where do you find the one true copy of your data, the one on which all of your devices can rely?

In the context of data shared among multiple devices, “the truth” is a technical term that refers to where devices with conflicting data go to get their conflicts resolved. If you’ve always wondered what Steve Jobs meant by “The truth is on the cloud,” now you know. And if, like me, you store your contacts, calendars, reminders, and other stuff in iCloud, iCloud is where you go to resolve data discrepancies. That’s where the truth lies. What you have on your devices is not the truth, but merely a reflection of it, copied from iCloud. Even if you could find the files on your devices
that contain your information, you couldn’t fix any problems there by whipping out some sophisticated file fiddling tool and twiddling bits, because that is not where the truth lies.

iCloud, however, much like real clouds, is notoriously opaque. It’s hard to see just what you have stored in it. Nonetheless, Apple has made it easy to fix some truth-related issues in iCloud, and you can do it with a readily accessible tool: a Web browser on any Mac or PC. With it, you can revert to backups of your contacts, calendars, reminders, and shared bookmarks, and even restore files deleted from your iCloud Drive.

The first step is to go to in your browser and log in with your Apple ID and password.

Once you sign in, click the Settings icon on the launchpad page.

That brings you to the iCloud Settings page, which contains information about your iCloud account, a list of the devices that are signed into your iCloud account, and, way down at the bottom of the page, an Advanced section that provides some data restoration capabilities.

Here’s what you can fix, along with some caveats where appropriate:

  • Files: When you remove a file from iCloud Drive, whether you do it by dragging it out of iCloud Drive on your Mac or by deleting it from within an app on your Mac or in iOS, iCloud saves the file for thirty days before it goes away for good, much like the way deleted photos are stored in the Recently Deleted album in the Photos app. Select the files you wish to put back into their respective iCloud Drive folders and click Restore to have them reappear in iCloud Drive.

  • Contacts: iCloud keeps track of when you make changes to Contacts and stores an archive of that data from the day before. iCloud retains these archives for about a month. If your contacts get messed up or muddled on your devices, you can restore them from an earlier day’s version: click Restore to the right of the archive you wish to restore. Note that restoring an archive restores the contacts on all of your devices (remember, the truth is in iCloud, not on your devices). An archive of the contacts you just replaced is also stored in iCloud, so you can revert to it if you desire.

  • Calendar Events and Reminders: Like Contacts, iCloud notices when you make changes to your calendar events and reminders and stores an archive of your Calendar and Reminder data as they were on that day before you made any modifications. Also like Contacts, iCloud retains about a month’s worth of Calendar and Reminders archives. Select Restore by the entry for the Calendar and Reminders archive that you want to restore; doing so replaces that information on all of your iCloud-connected devices. Like Contacts, your replaced calendar and reminder information is then stored in an archive so you can revert to it if you want. Keep in mind, however, that calendars and reminders can be shared with others, so restoring
    from an archive has a couple of side effects: any shared calendars and reminders will have to be shared again, and any pending calendar event invitations you have sent out are removed and new invitations issued in their place.

  • Bookmarks: iCloud makes it easy to share the same Safari bookmarks and reading lists among all your devices, and it stores changes to those on a daily basis when you modify them on any device. As with Contacts, you merely need to click Restore by the bookmark archive you want to replace the bookmarks and reading lists on your iCloud devices (you have the previous month’s worth of archives to pick from). And, similar to Contacts and Calendars, the replaced bookmarks and reading lists are archived so you can restore those if necessary.

For old-time Mac users who like to see, touch, and manipulate the data on their computers, Apple’s move to managed data and cloud storage can be frustrating. However, Apple has at least provided some easy-to-use tools that give users back a little control over their stuff. The level of control may not be complete, but it’s far better than nothing.

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