Recover Data Lost Because of iCloud Sync Problems

I have been trying out Realmac Software’s Clear, recently, to keep task lists on my Macs, and sync them to my iOS devices. I like the app; it’s minimalist, easy to use, and avoids the cruft that many list and to-do apps add.

But then I lost data.

Clear syncs to iCloud, using Apple’s CoreData mechanism. I’ve seen problems with this in many apps in the past, and I’ve come to distrust it. I shouldn’t have even started using another app that syncs with iCloud, but I did.

The problem with Clear is that it doesn’t make automatic backups. If it did, I would have been able to restore from a backup. Fortunately, I sync my iOS devices to my Mac regularly, and my iPhone, Sugaree, had a backup from last night.

Itunes backup

The data loss occurred some time in the last 12 hours or so, after that last backup. So, with a couple of tools, and a bit of grunt work, I was able to find my missing data.

Clear lost one of my lists; all the others were intact. So I needed to find the data from that list – which was a list of articles I’m planning to write for this website – and copy its data. It wasn’t long; just about ten article titles. But it had a lot of important ideas.

To start out, I used iExplorer to access my iTunes backup. (It’s a coincidence that iExplorer is my current sponsor, but I chose to offer the developer a sponsorship because their app is so useful for this kind of troubleshooting.) In the backup, look for a folder with the name of the app whose data you want to recover. In this case, the folder is named AppDomainGroup-group.clear.

Iexplorer backup

Clear stores its data in an .sqlite file; for some apps, data may be stored differently, or in multiple files, depending on whether or not it syncs to iCloud. Right-click on the .sqlite file and choose Export to Folder. Save the file where you want.

Since it’s an .sqlite file, you can’t just open it in a text editor and access its data; you need a utility that will let you view that data. I used DB Browser for SQLite. Open the file and click the Browse Data tab. Each app will have different data structures, but for Clear, it was easy to find what I was looking for: a table named “tasks.”

Sqlite browser

The data I needed was in the “title” field; I double-clicked each one and copied the data, then plugged them into a different app. (For now, I’m trying ToDoist.)

That’s all I needed to do.

So, there are a couple of morals to this story. First, don’t trust iCloud. I don’t blame Realmac; it’s probably not their fault. I find it interesting that the data loss occurred overnight; I may have looked at my Clear list on my iPad yesterday evening, but I don’t recall doing so. If I had, I would have spotted that a list was missing. So my guess is that the data loss is due to iCloud itself.

Second, don’t use an app that doesn’t offer backups. I looked in my local folders and couldn’t find any readable files that I would have been able to recover from Time Machine backups. There’s a locally-stored .sqlite file, but it doesn’t contain the same data.

I won’t be trusting any important data to iCloud any more. I am slightly concerned about my contacts; I’ve had issues with them in the past. I know there are local and Time Machine backups that I could restore if I ever need to. But for the rest, iCloud is simply too precarious.

20 thoughts on “Recover Data Lost Because of iCloud Sync Problems

  1. Glad to see you switching to Todoist. Great app! I really like it. Hope you like it too. It’s clean, easy to use and amazingly powerful if you need it to be.

    I don’t trust iCloud anymore since a couple of similar incidents happened to me last summer. Can’t believe Apple is still unable to fix all these issues.

    • The main thing I don’t like for now is the lack of font and size options. On my Mac, the font is a bit too small.

      • Interesting. For me, the font sizes look just fine – on both, my 13″ MBA and my 27″ Thunderbolt display. What Mac do you have? Retina MBP?

  2. Glad to see you switching to Todoist. Great app! I really like it. Hope you like it too. It’s clean, easy to use and amazingly powerful if you need it to be.

    I don’t trust iCloud anymore since a couple of similar incidents happened to me last summer. Can’t believe Apple is still unable to fix all these issues.

    • The main thing I don’t like for now is the lack of font and size options. On my Mac, the font is a bit too small.

      • Interesting. For me, the font sizes look just fine – on both, my 13″ MBA and my 27″ Thunderbolt display. What Mac do you have? Retina MBP?

  3. I love Apple’s computer hardware, think the OSes are (mostly) grand, can take or leave many of the peripherals and apps, and am suspicious of its cloud offerings. I really did not want to have to use Google Calendar for my Mac and iOS calendaring, or Lightroom plus Flickr/G+ for photos, but I never felt comfortable or safe with Apple’s implementations.

    The calendar problems were especially bad – sync issued ended up both deleting some important events (which I ended up missing) and caused a few insane duplication issues were almost impossible to delete before respawning. Google Calendar is not pretty, and it’s fairly workmanlike, but it’s been bulletproof and works without incident on my Mac as a Fluid app and on my iOS devices with Readdle’s Calendars5. I had to manually re-enter all my items in GC around 18 months ago to get started, but I haven’t had a hiccup since.

    From what I remember RealMac has seemed to have had syncing problems with many of its apps – iCloud or not – so perhaps Apple doesn’t deserve the full blame here. People have complained about Clear and sync issues for more than 2 years, and I’m not sure who’s at fault.

    • Well, Apple changed the iCloud APIs for 3rd party developers significantly several times in the last couple years. Depending on what kind of app it was, it could be very difficult for devs to get their stuff running smoothly with iCloud Sync.

      That being said, there are many apps in the App Store still having serious issues with iCloud Sync and iCloud Drive. Together is just one of them.

      I don’t know much about the details and why some apps work just fine and others don’t, but in my opinion Apple should do much more to clean up the mess.

  4. I love Apple’s computer hardware, think the OSes are (mostly) grand, can take or leave many of the peripherals and apps, and am suspicious of its cloud offerings. I really did not want to have to use Google Calendar for my Mac and iOS calendaring, or Lightroom plus Flickr/G+ for photos, but I never felt comfortable or safe with Apple’s implementations.

    The calendar problems were especially bad – sync issued ended up both deleting some important events (which I ended up missing) and caused a few insane duplication issues were almost impossible to delete before respawning. Google Calendar is not pretty, and it’s fairly workmanlike, but it’s been bulletproof and works without incident on my Mac as a Fluid app and on my iOS devices with Readdle’s Calendars5. I had to manually re-enter all my items in GC around 18 months ago to get started, but I haven’t had a hiccup since.

    From what I remember RealMac has seemed to have had syncing problems with many of its apps – iCloud or not – so perhaps Apple doesn’t deserve the full blame here. People have complained about Clear and sync issues for more than 2 years, and I’m not sure who’s at fault.

    • Well, Apple changed the iCloud APIs for 3rd party developers significantly several times in the last couple years. Depending on what kind of app it was, it could be very difficult for devs to get their stuff running smoothly with iCloud Sync.

      That being said, there are many apps in the App Store still having serious issues with iCloud Sync and iCloud Drive. Together is just one of them.

      I don’t know much about the details and why some apps work just fine and others don’t, but in my opinion Apple should do much more to clean up the mess.

  5. I am disturbed to hear that you have lost data using iCloud. I have become very dependent upon it, at least for the Apple applications. While I have yet to actually LOSE anything, I have had a lot of aggro with synchronizing Numbers files. Sigh, maybe I should re-think this part of my backup strategy and go back to using Dropbox. for my cloud files.

  6. I am disturbed to hear that you have lost data using iCloud. I have become very dependent upon it, at least for the Apple applications. While I have yet to actually LOSE anything, I have had a lot of aggro with synchronizing Numbers files. Sigh, maybe I should re-think this part of my backup strategy and go back to using Dropbox. for my cloud files.

  7. Never was a fan of Clear anyway – seemed a little too bare bones and the color striations seemed gimmicky. Take a look at GoodTask, which sits on top of the Reminder data and offers a list-making superset that does tasks on a calendar (which I really like) and allows for recurring tasks and list items. http://goodtaskapp.com/

    For repetitive taks I used to use Recur, which is a favorite of Adam Engst’s: http://tidbits.com/article/14589

    Todoist is pretty good. I also like FInish (which was Apple Student Award winner a year ago), the similar Begin app (which hasn’t been updated in over a year), DOOO, the very popular Anylist, the also-popular Any.DO, and Google Keep.

  8. Never was a fan of Clear anyway – seemed a little too bare bones and the color striations seemed gimmicky. Take a look at GoodTask, which sits on top of the Reminder data and offers a list-making superset that does tasks on a calendar (which I really like) and allows for recurring tasks and list items. http://goodtaskapp.com/

    For repetitive taks I used to use Recur, which is a favorite of Adam Engst’s: http://tidbits.com/article/14589

    Todoist is pretty good. I also like FInish (which was Apple Student Award winner a year ago), the similar Begin app (which hasn’t been updated in over a year), DOOO, the very popular Anylist, the also-popular Any.DO, and Google Keep.

  9. Numbers….aargh. I don’t know how many files have disappeared, I’m only aware of the one important one with many months of weather data. It wiped it from every device before I noticed and haven’t been able to locate any in backups as I never used the iCloud enabled version on the Mac. Calendars and contacts seem to have been working normally once I figured out that iPhone syncs were the cause of multiple duplications.

  10. Numbers….aargh. I don’t know how many files have disappeared, I’m only aware of the one important one with many months of weather data. It wiped it from every device before I noticed and haven’t been able to locate any in backups as I never used the iCloud enabled version on the Mac. Calendars and contacts seem to have been working normally once I figured out that iPhone syncs were the cause of multiple duplications.

  11. It’s alarming that not even Apple’s own apps sync reliably via iCloud. For document syncing I switched back to Box.com and Dropbox. I’ve never lost something there. In case of conflicting syncs they produce duplicate files sometimes (2 versions). No big deal for me.

  12. It’s alarming that not even Apple’s own apps sync reliably via iCloud. For document syncing I switched back to Box.com and Dropbox. I’ve never lost something there. In case of conflicting syncs they produce duplicate files sometimes (2 versions). No big deal for me.

Leave a Reply to Thomas Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.