Intermittent but frequent OS X pauses may be from iCloud syncing

iCloudIconXWhen using your Mac running OS X Yosemite, you may find that at certain times during the day your Mac will begin to pause, showing the spinning color wheel repeatedly and quite frequently. When this happens, it interrupts all ability to type and interact with other applications, leaving you with the only options of waiting or attempting to restart your system to clear the problem.

This issue survives rebooting, Safe Mode, and also various maintenance tasks like disk repair routines. While these may help temporarily, once you continue your work the pauses will likely continue.

In general, if your Mac begins pausing, then it suggests a systemwide computing bottleneck has been encountered, such as a faulty piece of hardware. One example is if your hard drive has bad sectors or other major formatting issues, where the system will try again and again to access the sector and hold up most other processes that attempt to access the drive, including the virtual memory system which in turn can mean the entire system hangs.

For most such problems, the system console (in the Applications > Utilities folder) should show at least some indication of a hardware fault when pauses occur, such as repeated messages that mention the system “kernel” or other low-level process. Even if you do not understand the specific messages, you should be able to see a correlation between their occurrence and the problem at hand.

However, for this specific issue you may not see any such messages in the console, which could leave you at somewhat of a loss when attempting to diagnose its cause.

If you are unable to find the root of your Mac’s pauses, then one possibility is this problem could be stemming from how your Mac is syncing documents to and from iCloud. Apple has encouraged use of its iCloud services and has made some programs save documents to iCloud by default, so even if you have changed this behavior you are likely to have at least some of your files in iCloud Drive.

While there is no mention of it in the system console, the problem at hand does coincide with Apple’s handling of its documents in iCloud. This is apparent through the use of the tool “fseventer” which monitors what files on your hard drive are being accessed. Through this tool you can see the massive repeated creation and deletion of a temporary file called “etilqs_NUMBER” that correlates to the pauses, along with a large level of activity for CloudKit and other iCloud resources. The etilqs file is created by the “nsurlstoraged” background process, which is responsible for managing web storage.

iCloud syncing errors in OS X

This massive number of “etilqs” files, along with other Cloud Kit activity that coincide with the pauses, suggest the issue at hand is from iCloud syncing routines.

What this means is for some reason, to handle your documents in iCloud, OS X is launching processes that are the cause for the pauses. For some reason this happens more (or at least affects the system more) at specific times of the day, resulting in the pauses that can be so frustrating to deal with.

To fix this issue, you basically have three options:

Reset iCloud Drive

  1. Go to the iCloud system preferences
  2. Uncheck iCloud Drive
  3. Confirm you want to remove all local iCloud documents
  4. Re-enable iCloud drive

This is not guaranteed to work, but will hopefully re-write iCloud’s syncing configuration and allow it to work without causing the pauses.

Clear out iCloud documents

If you rarely use iCloud Drive but have it enabled for a few purposes, then consider removing any documents from it that you do not regularly access, as these may spur the syncing and checking routines that could be the basis for the pauses.

Disable iCloud Drive

While you may find yourself accustomed to iCloud, try simply turning it off to prevent it from constantly checking and syncing files. If you need to sync files between your systems, then consider alternatives like DropBox, MediaFire, or BitTorrent Sync to manage your documents. Many of these alternatives are quite mature and offer far greater organization options than iCloud Drive.

11 thoughts on “Intermittent but frequent OS X pauses may be from iCloud syncing

  1. A Mac User

    It still amazes me how much blocking I/O there seems to be in OS X. Back in the early 1980’s, it was about impossible to out-type a *NIX machine — true, you might wait 30 seconds to have some keystrokes echoed to the console/screen, but they never seemed to get “lost” because you typed too quickly.

    These days, we have multiple processors that are clocked at GHz instead of MHz … and I still out-type OS X several times a day while entering a password — and don’t even get me started about what happens when you try to enter your password when a machine has presented the dialog immediately after waking from sleep.

    The number of times we see the UI on OS X “locked out”/baulking/beach-balled/etc. because there’s a large disk copy (with large blocks) going on or because there’s some slow networking activity is seriously lame. I’d be ashamed if I was an OS X kernel developer and couldn’t get non-blocking, multi-threaded I/O to work any better than it does.

    Don’t get em wrong, there’s plenty to really like about OS X, but it’s overabundance of (what appears to be) blocking I/O is not one of them.

    1. gskibum

      I have the problem with entering my password on the lock screen after waking from sleep. Makes me crazy. Just turned off iCloud Drive. Hopefully that was the culprit.

    2. nmt1900

      About I/O bottlenecks and lockups – you might want to lookup the architecture and history of HFS+

  2. Sean

    Other causes of this may be MS Office. I deleted Office 2011 this afternoon and have not had any new 5 minute beach balls…

  3. Scott Bayes


    Me too! UNIX is naturally and cleanly multi-tasking, and any blocking IO should be in separate processes/threads.

    I have been encountering a problem since updating to 10.10.3 that matches Topher’s description almost to a T. Have gone around a couple times with Apple top-level support, finally got to “re-pave the system, restore manually from Time Machine, piece by piece”, not very satisfactory (a cop-out in essence). I happens when doing video capture on the HD Component output of my satellite STB with Elgato’s EyeTV 3 software and EyeTV HD hardware. Used to be smooth as silk on my 2010 Mini (10GB RAM, 100-350 GB available disk), even when copying files locally, and doing 180 Mbps copies of 10-25 GB mpg files over WiFi, but sometime around or after updating to 10.10.3, even when the computer is ostensibly doing nothing other than capturing video, it gets stalls and freezes that add up to > 1 minute of missed or stalled video/hour of capture. I also see pauses in the Finder populating Column views of folders on the boot volume, and egregious network (WiFi) slowdowns to about 30-40% of normal speed when copying multi-GB mpg files to my iMac.

    The app that seems to trigger the delays is doing a CloudKit sync in the background I believe.

    It’s got to be someone blocking in the kernel, and holding up the whole parade.

    I don’t think the problem is with EyeTV 3 app or the EyetTV HD hardware, nor with the app/service that seems to be triggering the delays (won’t name it till we’ve all had a chance to compare notes), but instead appears to be with the way Apple’s CloudKit APIs are working since 10.10.3.

    It’s been a frustrating few weeks.

  4. Dan Sczygelski

    I have been having infrequent pauses of this type for at least 6 months. (2010 iMac 27″ i5 with 500GB SSD and 4TB HD). They may occur only once a week, but it seems to stall most (but not all) activity. I also have EyeTV ver 3 installed, and the last two times it occured I was watching a video I had recorded. I am running OS 10.8.5, NOT 10.10.x so if the problem is not the OS, maybe it is eyeTV or the SSD, etc. My videos are stored on the 4TB HD, but I can play the video a second time and never have the issue. It is NOT repeatable and I see nothing I can identify in the logs. It does NOT occur on my 2012 Mac Mini (also with eyeTV).

    1. Scott Bayes

      Hi Dan,

      It doesn’t sound very similar to my EyeTV issue. I’m seeing pauses (in pairs quite often, a longer one, then a shorter one) about once every 60-90 seconds. These seem to sometimes be only display pauses, but in other cases they affect the video capture and playback shows repeatable jumps/skips.

      I’m thinking to burn my Mini to the ground, reinstall Yosemite, and then only reinstall from Time Machine the bare minimum to do the video capture and related tasks. I’ll build prefs from scratch rather than restore them.

      1. Scott Bayes

        Update: did a Recovery reboot, erased the boot drive, installed 10.10.3, downloaded one (1) app that’s not from Apple: EyeTV 3, the one that’s been giving me problems since the update to 10.10.3.

        In this minimal system, if I turn on iCloud (with about half the iCloud-y functions enabled), I see the stalls and pauses while running EyeTV. If I turn it off by signing out, no stalls or pauses, apparently pristine captures.

        I’ll muck around in the iCloud prefs, see whether there’s one guilty party, or whether iCloud itself is being evil.

        I don’t think EyeTV 3 uses iCloud itself.

  5. seika17

    How did you get fseventer running in Yosemite?

    “10.10 Yosemite is classified as unsupported till further notice
    Last usable os is osx 10.9 Mavericks (Oct 2013)”

    1. Scott Bayes

      “Support” has many shades of meaning in the computer world. It variously means “won’t install/load”, “won’t work”, “is suspected of incompatibilities”, “hasn’t been QA’d”, “hasn’t been tried at all”, “if you have a problem with it, don’t call us”, etc etc.

      fseventer “just worked” for me after I downloaded it. I suspect no/insufficient QA has been done on it in Yosemite. It may have problems in certain circumstances (IIRC, Spotlight issues were mentioned).

      But it may also work sufficiently well for a given purpose. In this case, it seems to have been reliable enough for Topher’s and my purpose.

      Of course, ALL software has bugs (having written lots of it, and fixed lots of my own and other people’s bugs, I can vouch for this). The real issue is whether they bite you hard enough to make using them infeasible or dangerous.

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