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How to overwrite iCloud & recover your lost iCal data

October 16, 2011, 2:30 AM

I’ve been using MobileMe for more than two years, so I’ve gotten used to having my calendars and my contacts synced all the time between my iPhone and my Macbook Pro. It was pricey, but except for a few problems in the beginning, it worked well. A few days ago, when Apple made available their new iOS5 and iCloud, I upgraded, anxious to try the new features and see what usability gems Apple have hidden all throughout their new products. In spite of the long time to upgrade (about two hours and half, all in all), it went well and everything seemed to sync properly between all my devices.

Today however, I tried syncing my 2Do app on my iPhone — I haven’t opened it much lately as I’ve gotten used just to iCal, but if you need something more, 2Do is the best task & reminder management app you can find. After syncing, some of my calendars had been duplicated. I checked the ones that had tasks and deleted the others that looked empty — big mistake: when I checked my iCal a bit later, the same calendars were gone with no duplicates left behind. Luckily, I had a complete backup from earlier today (I must’ve had a feeling something would go wrong). I imported the backup, but to my horror, as soon as the calendars would be back, iCloud would start syncing and promptly deleting the ‘new’ calendars. Unlike MobileMe, iCloud considers the data it has in the cloud as the main ‘mother’ source, and all the other sources are considered its ‘children’. You don’t have the option to merge or overwrite the iCloud data with the one on your Mac, as you had with MobileMe. Frustrated, I tried various ways of importing back the data but each time iCloud would reject anything that wasn’t already in the cloud. In the end, I was left with no calendars at all and just a useless backup file — Apple should seriously think about this, what good is the iCal Archive backup if it doesn’t work?

So, if you’ve lost your calendars like me, or if you had duplicates and you or iCloud deleted them (some seem to have this problem), here’s a way to merge local data with iCloud and repair the syncing between all your devices:

  1. Obviously, you need a back-up (an iCal archive or .ics files) — if you don’t have that, you could try getting back the data using Time Machine (if you have one, of course). You can learn how to do that here, but it might take a while if you had a lot of calendars and events.
  2. Open the iCal preferences and delete your iCloud account — a warning will inform you that all your calendars will be deleted, including the reminders (only ‘On My Mac’ calendars will remain). You have to press on the minus button, as you can see below.
  3. Go to your Mac’s System Preferences and in the new iCloud section uncheck the Calendars — this will make your iCall ‘free’ from the iCloud. You have the same option in the ‘Mail, Contacts & Calendars’ section, either is fine.
  4. Go to and delete all your calendars and reminder calendars manually — you might have to create a new ‘temp’ one as you can’t have zero calendars. Now you should have a clean iCloud, with just two empty calendars, the second for the reminders  (just to make sure, check on your iPhone too).
  5. Cut your internet and import your backup file into iCal — now you should have all your data back, but since the calendars are already set as iCloud ones, not ‘On My Mac’ types, they’d be deleted as soon as you go online again. You need to manually export each calendar as an .ics file.
  6. Unfortunately, for the reminders it’s a bit tricky, as you can’t export them as .ics files — you need to create as many ‘On My Mac’ Reminder calendars as you have for your reminders and copy all from each calendar and assign them to a new ‘On My Mac’ calendar. Be sure not to use the same names for the new calendars.
  7. Now, delete all the iCloud calendars and the reminder calendars except the ‘temp’ ones that are already online — you should be left with a clean iCal, similar to what you had in the cloud before going offline plus the ‘On My Mac’ reminder calendars.
  8. Import the .ics calendars one by one, choosing the ‘New Calendar’ option — this will create similar calendars as you had before, but instead of being ‘iCloud’ calendars, they are ‘On My Mac’ ones.
  9. Put the internet back on and check the Calendars option in the System Preferences — since iCloud thinks this is the first time you’re setting up your iCal to sync, it will merge the data from your iCal with what you had in the cloud (the two temp calendars, which you can delete after the sync). With a bit of luck, you might even have the same colours you had before the mishap.

That’s it, less complicated than it looks, you just need to follow the steps properly and you should have everything back, working nicely, in about 15 minutes. Let me know if you have more questions.

Good luck!


Later update:

Mr Gruber (Daring Fireball) points out that iCloud calendars are now type-specific, meaning they’re either event-based or reminder-based. This means that when you upgrade, your calendars get split into two calendars bearing the same name, one for the events and one for reminders. While this is no problem in iCal, if you’re using BusyCal or 2Do (and maybe other 3rd apps too), you will get duplicate calendars. If you delete those, you’ll lose data, just as I did. My solution was to rename all the reminder calendars. Read more on Daring Fireball.




Thank you this was a huge help I lost everything and was able to retrieve it all from an ical archive I had created earlier in the day.

I’m glad you’ve found it useful, John.
Thanks for reading, cheers!


thank you, thank you! I have been looking all week for help with this – perfect! I adjusted your directions because my android phone had all my ‘clean’ calendars which uses mark/space to return my data through entourage and now it’s all beautiful again!

Well, I wouldn’t have thought it could be of use on Android as well, but since it’s an iOS ‘inspired’ platform, it might just work :) Glad to be of help, thanks for dropping by.


5 northernspider
November 14, 2011, 7:21 AM

Wow, I’m impressed you figured out how to do that. It worked for me!

What does “Cut your internet” mean? Does it mean close the browser, close the iCloud website, or turn off your internet connection?

It means turning off your internet connection completely — either by turning your Airport off or by unplugging your Ethernet cable. Good luck, thanks for reading.


You saved me! Thanks so much for posting this. I thought I’d lost my calendar forever.

Glad to be of help, Emily. Thanks for reading!


Thanks for that explanation, I managed to delete my calendars by mistake this evening (a word of warning, don’t use the Nike running app without locking the screen as somehow whilst my iPhone was in my back pocket my derrière must have activated the screen and somehow got to the calendar app and the rest as they say, is history!) but I did have a backup from my time machine which I have now restored. So thank you again!

And one last thing, why isn’t there an option to choose which way to sync between iCloud and iCal??????? Ridiculous!

Happy to help, Clint. Hopefully, Apple will iron out many of the problems iCal and iCloud still have. Personally, I’m waiting for true free editing on iPhone, as right now you’re not exactly PC-free as they say, you still need a mac or at least a PC web browser if you want to create and modify calendars.

Happy holidays!


Hi Iancul,
I too have deleted the duplicate calenders during the move to iCloud. Problem is that I have no backup other than the calendar which is on my iPhone. I realise that if I connect that to sync with iCloud then it will wipe my only remaining copy of the calendar.
Have you any idea how I can get that calendar off my iPhone and onto my macbook and iCloud. It has lots of useful historic data which I could do with keeping if possible.

Hi Gary,
if you still have them on your iPhone that means your iPhone doesn’t currently sync with iCloud, otherwise you would’ve lost everything by now. You can’t merge iPhone iCal data with the one on the iCloud, but since your data on your phone is not synced with the one in iCloud, maybe you could get this option when you set it to sync for the first time. You should however phone the guys at Apple (or visit a store) to check this solution, it would be a pity to loose everything.

Hope that helps.
Thanks for reading, best luck!


Thanks Iancul,

As soon as I realised what happened on my macbook, I switched off the sync option on the iPhone, that’s how I’ve managed not to delete it (so far !!)

I’ll pay a visit to the store and see if they have any suggestions, and leave you a post if I manage to recover it.

Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Regards – Gary

Hi Iancul

Just a quick update to let you know how my issue was resolved.

I contacted apple support through the website and they called me back immediately and talked me through the following process.

Disconnect iPhone from the mac.
Open iTunes and select preferences in the iTunes tab in the top left corner.
In preferences, select devices and then check the box to prevent iPods,iPads and iPhones automatically syncing.
Connect the iPhone to the mac.
In iTunes the iPhone should appear on the left under devices.
Right click on the iPhone description and select backup.

Once you are sure that the backup is complete (Double check in iTunes preferences that your backup is listed), then with the iPhone connected to the mac, select the iPhone in iTunes and then select ‘info’ in the top list of options between ‘summary’ and ‘apps’.
Check the box ‘sync ical calendars’ and uncheck the box ‘do not sync events older….’ if you want to keep all old events.

Then click apply on the bottom right and this should restore the lost calendars to the mac.

Now here is the tricky bit, in my case I already had 2 mobile me accounts so I just selected the one which I had not already transferred to iCloud.

I then transferred the mobile me account to iCloud and hey presto it uploaded all my calendars from the macbook !!

I didn’t risk trying with the original iCloud account, but as I have the iPhone backup on my mac, it wouldn’t be a disaster if iCloud did delete the calendars as I could restore the iPhone and then create a new iCloud account. In my case this was worth it as I had so much historical data which I refer to a lot.

I would strongly recommend contacting the apple support just in case I’ve missed something, or my setup is different to others with similar problems. I didn’t even have to pay as there’s an option to explain why you require free support.

Hope this helps



That’s great news Gary, glad you managed to solve the problem.
Thank you very much for taking the time to write about it.



Hi, a bit sad that Apple makes it only easy to join iCloud and almost impossible to leave. When you don’t have a dataplan for your iphone, this messes up using iCloud on your Mac and sync as before through iTunes. It results in double entries.

Trying to get off the iCloud is rather difficult.

How to succeed anyway:
1) DO Make a complete TimeMachine or Superduper Backup of your Mac
2) export each iCal calendar on your mac.
3) uncheck the iCloud sync for the Addressbook on the iPhone and delete the entries
4) uncheck the iCloud sync for the Addressbook on your mac and *keep* entries
5) uncheck the iCloud sync for iCal on your iPhone and delete entries
6) uncheck the iCloud sync for iCal on your Mac and delete entries
7) import your calendar .ics files into iCal, for the calendars to be on your Mac
8) iTunes preferences: do *not* automatically sync the iPhone
9) connect the iPhone
10) select ‘info’, check sync of Addressbook and sync of iCal
11) VERY IMPORTANT: check: push Addressbook and iCal data from the Computer (Mac) to the iPhone at the next sync
12) wait and check if you have everything.

With my iPhone I did the mistake to keep the iCal entries on the phone in 5) and then had double entries. Resetting the iphone did not work. I had to manually delete the entries in the iphone. Interestingly enough iCal did not delete the doubles but left just the one standing… odd.

Well, make sure to have a good backup.

All the best,


Thanks for taking the time to write the details Daniel, didn’t know about this problem as I’m always in sync. Wonder if it happens when you travel abroad too, though I’d be surprised for Apple not to think of this. Cheers!


19 Steve Spencer
February 17, 2012, 4:05 PM

Thank you for posting the method to recover calendars. It was very welcome! Panic Over!

Your article provided the necessary spark to fix the issue I was having! Thanks!

Glad to be of help — thanks for reading.


I have a clients account that has gone through the same issues… and followed up with the same attempt at repair.
Unfortunately we have had an open case with Apple for more than 9 weeks without resolution.

in order to get past the problem. We gave up on the old account and moved to a new account! iCloud has somehow brought in old data from the other account name and corrupted the data set.

I have hours on the phone with APPLE REPS… and it has been elevated to engineering with no successful outcome.

Summary: same as above… re-corrupted.
New account brought data in from .ics files (clean rebuild, new user)… the servers are
pushing old data from previous account to new account. Or somehow held on local machine but Apple can not fix the problem!
Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks

Dude… you simply ROCK!

You saved my day!

Thank you.

Followed the instructions turned iCloud of on iPhone and MacBook Air did the whole thing on my iMac but as soon as I got back to the merge thing with iCloud didn’t have any “On My Mac” Account in iCal which leaves me concerned that the whole lot will disappear again if I turn of iCloud.

Bit confusing this cloud at times but I may try the instructions for using iTunes to sync everything again manually as per Daniel above.

I don’t really want to be doing this every day.

BTW the reason I arrived at a problem was I discovered everything in the cloud ie. on the cloud website was a day back although they all showed on the correct day on all my Macs and iPhone strange calendar on cloud site had everything back one day ie. fridays appointments work schedule was on Thursday. Tried to fix it after backup off course and everything just disappeared. Anyway I have my Mac and iPhone calendars back up now thanks to you.

25 Jorge Dinis
October 6, 2012, 12:48 PM

Thank you!
I was starting to be panicking! I’ve clean all my Calendar with Bento and I was not able to get it back!
You saved me hours of work!

Thank you!

Excellent! Just one minor addition might be helpful: in step 7, it might be good to make it explicit that the quickest way to delete all your calendars is to repeat the earlier step 2 and delete your ical account again. alternate less good way to delete them would be one by one.

Thanks Paul, glad it was useful. Indeed, that would be a bit quicker, but I prefered the slow version, just to make sure it’s all gone. Sometimes you’d be surprised how iCal works.


This worked great…it saved the day!!

I’ve been struggling with iCloud sync for months. This tip saved my day too. Still works great with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and Calendar. Thank you Iancu! You rock!

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