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iCloud syncing of Mail rules

I have a personal account setup on three different Macs—my own MacBook Air, an iMac that serves as our home server and the kid’s mini. In my account on the iMac, I had Mail running with an elaborate set of rules, including those related to spam handling.

This morning, I woke up to discover loads of unfiltered messages in Mail on my iPhone. I checked the rules panel in Mail on the iMac and discovered all my custom rules were gone.

I couldn’t understand how this happened, since I have Mail syncing disabled in the iCloud preferences. After some googling though, I discovered that it’s the “Data & Documents” that controls the syncing of Mail rules—a sync setting I can’t disable (since I need data and document syncing in other apps.)

This left me with three questions:

  1. How did I lose my rules?

  2. Can I restore my rules?

  3. How does rules syncing work? (So I can avoid this happening again.)

How did I lose my rules?

Two things happened this weekend which could have triggered the sync that caused this to happen, both related to installing Drive Genius 3:

  1. Drive Genius reported that the startup volume on my MacBook Air needed repairing. I rebooted from a bootable backup that Carbon Copy Cloner supposedly keeps up to date with a nightly backup.

The Air booted into a state from the past. Apps launched that hadn’t been launched in a long time, Dropbox didn’t realize it was installed, etc. — basically a mess. (So that’s another mystery to resolve, later…) Mail launched, but I didn’t think to check its rules setup.

  1. Drive Genius on the kid’s mini tried to send a mail, which opened in my account on the mini, for the first time. I suppose a sync could have happened in its setup.

I don’t know which of these was the culprit.

Can I restore my rules?

Someone in the Apple Discussion forums claimed you can restore lost Mail rules by restoring this file from a Time Machine backup.


Every time I restored this file (including other files I found in MailData that seemed related), they would immediately get updated once I launched Mail, leaving me with the same minimal set of rules.

So I guess I’m left with having to re-create them all, which motivates me to understand…

How does Mail rules syncing work?

The iMac ended up with about six Mail rules I had created long ago. When I checked my MacBook Air though—expecting to find its rules lost—they were all intact! So I thought I’d recreate the rules on the Air, but rules I add there are not getting propagated to other Macs.

So, how Mail rules syncing works remains a total mystery to me.

Update 2013-05-28

Michael Tsai suggests removing this file, so that my other restored files can overwrite iCloud:

@mhenders Did you check /Library/Mobile Documents/comapple~mail/Data/MailData/ubiquitous_SyncedRules.plist ?

— Michael Tsai (@mjtsai) May 27, 2013

Published inTechnology


  1. Marcel Marcel

    Hello Matt,

    Just found your blog on the signature and rules problem with mail and iCloud. I am having exactly the same trouble! I suppose that every RESTART overwrites the existing rules and signatures.
    I have one MacBook Pro, one iMac, one iPad and one iPhone and the account configs on these devices are absolutely identical.
    While my iMac retains the rules and signatures after closing and restarting Mail my Macbook comes up with cleared rules and signatures every time I restart mail.
    Did you find any solution for this problem?

    • Matt Henderson Matt Henderson

      Marcel, unfortunately, I didn’t find a solution. 🙁

  2. André André

    I managed to get back all my lost rules.

    1. Turned off iCloud in ControlPanel
    2. Followed the above described…..
      Replaced this file from time


    If I did not turn off iCloud the same happened to me:
    “Every time I restored this file (including other files I found in MailData that seemed related), they would immediately get updated once I launched Mail, leaving me with the same minimal set of rules.”

    1. When the rules are back; tun on iCloud an now it is NOT replacing SyncedRules.plist
  3. KiKKO KiKKO

    in 2015…i have the same trouble … have you find a solution?

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