How to Move Special Folders on OS X to Cloud Storage

Special folders work well because they centralize where particular types of files are saved. Add in cloud storage, and suddenly you have automatic and effortless backups of your most important personal files.

It’s no secret we like the combination of special folders and cloud backups. It’s effective and efficient, taking much of the onus off the user. It is as backups should be but, of course, you still have to put in the initial work to set it up. Moving special folders to a Dropbox or OneDrive folder on Windows is an easy process. Simply, open its properties and move it to a new location.

The process on Mac OS X is a bit more complicated, requiring you to first move your special folder to the cloud folder and then create a symbolic link from the new location to the old one. It’s worth it, in our opinion, not simply for the backup angle we mentioned already, but to also share data seamlessly between different operating systems.

Moving and Linking Your New Special Cloud Folder

To begin, first open up the terminal. The easiest way to do this is to use Spotlight, hit “COMMAND + SPACE” and type “terminal”. Make sure you’re in your user folder (it should open there by default).

The commands we’re using looks like this:

sudo mv ~/Documents /Users/username/OneDrive/Documents

ln -s “/Users/username/OneDrive/Documents” ~/Documents

The first command tells us we’re moving (mv) the Documents folder in our current directory to our cloud folder (OneDrive), as a superuser (sudo). Why do we do this as superuser? Sudo temporarily grants a normal user root-like or administrator powers, where otherwise the system would tell us we didn’t have permission.

The second command “ln -s” means we’re creating a symbolic link (alias) to our old Documents location from our new location. When you hit “RETURN”, you will then be prompted for your account password before you can execute a command as superuser.

If successful, the terminal window won’t return any errors and you should be able to “Go” directly to your new Documents folder location from the Finder. If it doesn’t work, then you probably typed something incorrectly. Double-check your work and try it again.

From here on, any applications that use OS X’s Documents folder as a default save location will think they’re saving to the old location in the root of our user folder, when it’s actually saving them to OneDrive. Also, the shortcut in the Favorites sidebar will be gone so if you want it back, you will need to drag the new folder location and make a new Favorites shortcut.

We want to note that, when you create these new sidebar favorites, you lose the special fancy icons that come with OS X by default. If the loss of the fancy icons are bothersome, then you can consider using something like cDock to enable colored Finder sidebar icons, and then replace everything with custom icons.

Let’s try one more example. We’re pretty good about keeping all our photos on Dropbox, but OS X has it own Pictures folder. Let’s go through the steps we just performed and move the Pictures folder.

Our new Dropbox location is going to be “/Users/username/Dropbox/Photos/” (or whatever you want to call the final destination folder) and the commands we’ll use are:

sudo mv ~/Pictures /Users/username/Photos

ln -s “/Users/username/Dropbox/Photos” ~/Pictures

We hit “RETURN”, enter our password, and when we check our user folder, we see the Pictures folder is now an alias.

Double-click to open the folder, and it opens in our Photos folder in our Dropbox.

You can go through and safely perform this procedure on any of your user media folders. It’s not necessary or advantageous to move the Public or Desktop folders but everything else is pretty fair game.

Now, you can back up your iTunes library, movies, pictures, and other valuable media files to the cloud without thinking about it, and the the only downside is you lose a fancy sidebar icon. It’s a small price to pay for such convenience and peace-of-mind!



Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and dyed-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.