How to recover a forgotten Mac password

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Any secure system requires a strong password and your Mac is no exception. You are required to enter your password when you log in, install new software, and, in some cases, when you delete your files. So what are you to do if you have forgotten this important piece of information? Here are some helpful tips.

How to recover a forgotten Mac password

1. Take a hint

Take a hint

Before you give up completely, you can check the password hint. If you entered a phrase into the hint box when setting your password, that may help you to remember. You can see the hint by entering the password incorrectly three times. Follow these instructions:

  • Go to Apple → System Preferences
  • Select Users & Groups
  • Click on Lock icon at the bottom left corner
  • Press the return key three times

Once you complete these actions, you will be presented with the hint that will appear below the password field. The number of times you can do this is unlimited, so there is no need to worry if you have not had enough time to see it the first time you tried.

Of course, if you did not set up a hint beforehand, this will not be helpful to you. However, for future reference, if you decide to add a hint after all, you can follow these steps:

  • Apple → System Preferences
  • Go to Users & Groups
  • Select Login Options

Here, you will be able to set your hint and make sure that it shows up when you need it by ticking the show password hints box.

2. Use another account to change your password

Use another account to change your password

In some situations, more than one person has access to the Mac. You may share your computer with your partner, have an administrator or an IT technician looking after it, etc. It is also possible that one person has more than one user account. If one of these options applies to you and the other account has Admin rights, you can use it to reset your password. Here is what you need to do:

  • Click the Apple logo and select Log Out
  • Choose the account you remember the password to
  • Enter your password
  • Open System Preferences → Users & Groups
  • Click the lock icon at the bottom left corner
  • Enter the password again
  • Pick the account the password of which you do not remember
  • Click Reset Password
  • Set the New password and Verify it
  • Click Change Password

Once you change the password to that account, you will be able to log into it. Keep in mind that resetting your password does not change the keychain password, so you will need to create new keychain afterwards.

3. Reset your password through Recovery Mode

Reset your password through Recovery Mode

It is possible to change your password through Recovery Mode, which is the option you should go with, if you think that there is no chance you will ever remember it. Follow these steps:

  • Shut down your Mac
  • Press the power button while holding down Command + R to access the Recovery Mode
  • Let go of the keys when you see the load bar
  • Choose Disk Utility and click Continue
  • Select Utilities → Terminal
  • Enter resetpassword (one word, lower-case letters) and press Return
  • Pick the volume containing the account (usually the main hard drive)
  • Select the User Account (the password of which you want to change)
  • Enter the new password
  • Set up a new password hint
  • Click Save

Once you complete these tasks, you will see a warning stating that your password has been changed, but your Keychain password has not. Click OK and turn off your computer. Turn your Mac back on and login with the new password.

4. Use Target disk mode

If, for some reason, none of the above methods worked for you, your last resort is to use Target Disk Mode to recover the data from your computer. The Target Disk Mode allows you to access your hard drive from another Mac. These are the steps you will need to follow:

  • Shut down your Mac
  • Connect your Mac to another Mac using a Thunderbolt cable (Firewire cable for older models)
  • Turn on your Mac and hold the T key while it boots

Once the booting process is over, you should be able to see your Mac in Target Disk Mode as a hard drive on the other computer and recover your data from it.

5. FileVault

One more helpful hint before you go. As you now know, it is possible to reset the password through Recovery Mode. That is all good and well, when you are actually the one who owns the account. However, someone else could do that too, which would result in you losing access to your system. In order to make sure that does not happen, you should turn on FileVault encryption. FileVault encryption encodes the data on your Mac and prevents the Password Reset utility from appearing unless you unlock it with Disk Utility. Here are the steps to take should you choose to turn on the FileVault encryption:

  • Open System Preferences
  • Go to Security & Privacy
  • Select FileVault

When setting up the encryption, you will get a Recovery key and a password. Both of these should be printed out and kept safely, because if you lose them, you will also lose access to your data.

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