Shared Albums: Why Only Available in the System Photo Library

Why Shared Albums are tied to your system Photo Library and what you can do about it? In this article, you will be given detailed answer to this questions and have a clear idea about this feature.

Demi by Demi Updated September 8, 2023
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Cannot start iCloud photo sharing

I have many Apple devices, all of which can access iCloud Photo Sharing, but not my iMac. When I go to Shared in Photos, I get a message, “iCloud Photos Sharing is only available in the System Photo Library.” Any ideas?

- Question from Apple Community

In the age of digital photography, sharing memories with friends and family has become more accessible and convenient than ever before. Apple's Shared Albums feature in iCloud Photos is a powerful tool for precisely this purpose. It allows you to create collaborative albums where multiple people can contribute their photos and videos, providing a shared space for cherished memories. However, there's a catch – Shared Albums are only available in the System Photo Library.

mac system photo library

This limitation has frustrated many users who prefer to keep their photos organized in separate libraries for various reasons, such as work, personal life, or creative projects. In this article, we will delve into why Shared Albums are confined to the System Photo Library and explore possible solutions for those who wish to use this feature with non-System Photo Libraries.

Understanding iCloud Photos

Before we dive into the limitation of Shared Albums, let's first understand what iCloud Photos is and why it's a vital component of Apple's ecosystem.

iCloud Photos is Apple's cloud-based photo storage and synchronization service. It's designed to seamlessly integrate with your Apple devices, including your iPhone, iPad, Mac, and even Windows PC. Here's how it works.

icloud photo

🚩 Storage: iCloud Photos stores your photos and videos in the cloud, which means they are not only accessible from your device but also from any device signed in with your Apple ID.

🚩 Synchronization: Any changes you make to your photos and videos on one device are instantly reflected on all your other devices. For example, if you delete a photo from your iPhone, it's also deleted from your Mac and iPad.

🚩 Optimization: iCloud Photos can optimize your device's storage by keeping lower-resolution versions of photos and videos on your device while storing the full-resolution versions in the cloud. This ensures you always have space for new photos and videos.

The Significance of the System Photo Library

In the realm of iCloud Photos, the System Photo Library plays a pivotal role. It is the primary library that iCloud Photos uses to sync and store your media. When you enable iCloud Photos on a device, it designates that device's photo library as the System Photo Library. Here's why the System Photo Library is significant.

📌 Synchronization Hub: The System Photo Library serves as a central hub for synchronization. It ensures that all your photos and videos are consistent across all your devices. Any changes made in this library are propagated to your other devices.

📌 Optimization Control: You have more control over the optimization settings in the System Photo Library. This includes options for optimizing storage by keeping only low-resolution versions of media on your device.

📌 Shared Albums: Perhaps the most significant role of the System Photo Library is that it's the only library where you can create and access Shared Albums.

The Limitation: Shared Albums Restricted to the System Photo Library

Now that we understand the importance of the System Photo Library let's address the elephant in the room – why are Shared Albums limited to this specific library?

1. Consistency and Simplicity
Apple's philosophy often revolves around providing a consistent and user-friendly experience. By restricting Shared Albums to the System Photo Library, they ensure that these albums are part of the primary user experience. It simplifies the process for most users.

2. Security and Privacy
Shared Albums can contain personal and private moments. By keeping them within the System Photo Library, Apple can better manage security and privacy. It's also easier to implement sharing controls and permissions within a single library.


3. Synchronization
Shared Albums rely on efficient synchronization. By limiting them to the System Photo Library, Apple can optimize this process and ensure that shared content is seamlessly distributed to all connected devices.

4. Avoiding Confusion
Managing multiple photo libraries can be complex, and allowing Shared Albums in all libraries could lead to confusion. Apple's approach reduces the risk of users accidentally sharing the wrong content.

Implications for Photo Management

While these reasons make sense from a system-wide perspective, they can be frustrating for users who have specific organizational needs. Here are some implications of this limitation:

⛔ Separate Libraries: Users who prefer to keep separate libraries for different purposes (e.g., personal and work-related) may find it challenging to use Shared Albums effectively.

⛔ Content Management: If you want to share specific content that is not in your System Photo Library, you'll need to manually move it there first, which can be time-consuming.

⛔ Workflow Adjustments: Users with creative workflows or those who manage multiple libraries for various reasons might need to adjust their workflow to accommodate this limitation.

Solutions and Workarounds

Now that we've explored why Shared Albums are limited to the System Photo Library, let's discuss some solutions and workarounds for users who want to utilize this feature with non-System Photo Libraries.

1. Use the iCloud Website
One way to share photos and videos from non-System Photo Libraries is by using the iCloud website ( Here's how:

Upload: Manually upload the photos and videos you want to share to iCloud through the website.

Create Shared Albums: You can create Shared Albums directly on the iCloud website and invite others to contribute.

icloud site

2. Use a Shared Apple ID
Some users create a shared Apple ID dedicated to Shared Albums. This allows them to keep their personal libraries separate while using a shared ID for collaborative albums.

3. Provide Feedback to Apple
Apple values user feedback and often makes improvements based on user suggestions. If you feel strongly about this limitation, consider providing feedback through the Feedback Assistant app or Apple's website. While this won't provide an immediate solution, it could influence future updates.


Shared Albums in iCloud Photos are a fantastic way to collaborate on memories with friends and family. However, the limitation of being available only in the System Photo Library can be challenging for users who prefer multiple libraries. While there are workarounds, they may not offer the same level of convenience. Understanding the reasons behind this limitation can help users make informed decisions about their photo management workflows and explore alternative methods for sharing their cherished moments.

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