Microsoft's OneDrive Files On-Demand brings better sync options to Windows 10

Microsoft ditched its use of placeholder files in Windows 10 in favor of selective file and folder syncing, and Windows users weren’t happy. After more than two years on from that decision, Microsoft is announcing OneDrive Files On-Demand today. The new on-demand feature lets OneDrive pick out data from the cloud when it’s needed, without having to sync full files and folders to a device. It’s similar to Microsoft’s placeholder files, but it's not exactly the same.

OneDrive Files On-Demand will only download files when you need them. Microsoft is implementing new status icons in File Explorer that show if files are available locally or if they'll need to be downloaded from the cloud. If you've opened a file online then it will be synced and available offline, but otherwise you'll still need to select entire folders for syncing offline or individual files. Any files you open will be automatically synced offline until you run out of disk space.

OneDrive's new on-demand files

Microsoft is delivering this new feature as part of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, expected to debut in September. This on-demand nature of syncing should decrease the amount of space required for these files, provided you're mostly always using your device online. Instead of syncing entire files, you can simply pull them individually when required. That's an improvement over the existing method of syncing entire folders or individual files, and a return of the placeholders concept that many Windows fans were fond of.

Update, 12:20PM ET: article updated to clarify offline file sync.


Looks great!

I wish this worked in the reverse order. I have plenty of space on my hard drive to store the files, but limited space (free 15GB) in OneDrive to store them. I’d much rather have the file always sit on my laptop and only be in the cloud when I need it.

I understand that this could never really work, but Microsoft announcing this feature makes me wish we lived in a world where the cloud worked in reverse. Oh well, still seems neat.

They’re whispering at you to get more cloud storage cloud pshspshsh clouddddd

Unfortunately, what this doesn’t do is store files for offline usage.

Well of course not; that’s the whole point of having "placeholders". The benefit is being able to browse your cloud storage from within File Explorer, without first having to download all of the physical files.

This new method improves upon Windows 8.1 by making on-demand syncing a feature of the underlying file system driver, rather than a Windows shell extension. This will make it much more robust and compatible, even for older apps or from the command shell.

It took them a while to bring this back, but it seems that the result will be worth it.

OneDrive sucks, its terribly slow. I don’t have high hopes for this at all.

Slow? Not really sure what you mean. OneDrive is pretty darn fast for me, both uploads and downloads as well as syncing across machines (that is, changes in a file sync across my devices within seconds). Maybe your computer or your internet is slow?

I’d asume user error also, especially when discussing any cloud systems.

Yes. Or a bad connection or a machine that’s full of spyware and bogged down. If you’ve got relatively modern hardware and a good internet connection, all the major cloud storage providers work pretty well and it comes down to pricing/ecosystem choices.

Welcome back!

I literally started paying for Google Drive even though I had a TB in OneDrive just because they deleted this feature. They could have done this earlier though.

The other cool thing that it seems they’re bringing is the ability to sync files regardless of where they are on your computer, no need to have them in the onedrive folder.

This is a feature that is a callback to something called Live Mesh from like 2006, back when they had 3 or four different cloud solutions that were all competing with each other. It was something I wished all cloud solutions did, instead microsoft shut it down and everyone forced you to use their folder to sync a file.

Windows Live Mesh was the fucking best. I was so sad when they got rid of it. The fact that I could sync files directly from computer to computer with no cloud storage requirement was excellent.

That 90s File Explorer… Microsoft WTF?

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