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The Tuts+ Guide to KeePass

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Passwords are important. Crucially important. With so many sites getting hacked these days, it's imperative to use secure and unique passwords on every site. It'd be nearly impossible to do that and still memorize every password, so you need a secure password manager to help you keep up with all of your accounts—along with any other sensitive info you have, like identification numbers, credit cards, and software license keys.

There's a number of great apps to help you manage your password, including 1Password and LastPass. For a password manager that's even cheaper—actually free and open-source—and runs on even more platforms—including Linux, Windows, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, OS X, Android, iOS, and even J2ME feature phones—KeePass is a great alternative. It's not as fancy as the others, but it makes up for that in features and price.

Most password managers can be somewhat complicated to start using, and KeePass is no exception, so this tutorial will take you through everything you need to start managing your passwords with KeePass. Let's get started.

Getting KeePass

First, you'll need to download KeePass for your computer. Just visit the KeePass download page, and download the correct version for your computer. There's two supported versions, but for this tutorial we'd recommend using the Professional edition, as it's the newest version of KeePass with the most features. You'd be best to install it on your computer first, then add the mobile versions to your other devices once you've got some passwords ready to sync.

KeePass download page

After the installation is done, open KeePass and take a quick look around. You'll find a window divided into three sections:

  1. Your password groups on the left
  2. All accounts from the selected group in the center
  3. The selected account and its password and other info on the bottom
Main Window

Creating a Password Database

KeePass lets you store your passwords in multiple databases, giving you a way to keep your secure info organized and even share one database while keeping your other passwords private. Before you start adding passwords, you'll need to at least add one database. To do that, click File > New or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-N. After that, select location where you want to store your database and type in a name for it. 

Click Save, and a window will appear where you need to add a Master Password—the main password for this database that's used to secure all of your logins. The Master Password is the only password that you will need to remember, as you'll enter that one password and then be able to see every password you've saved in the app. So, make it easy to remember but hard for someone else to guess.

Once you've entered the password, you'll need to enter it again as a confirmation, and you'll see an estimated quality of your password. Try to make your password secure enough that the meter is at least half-full.

If you're having trouble typing in your password twice, or just want to confirm it looks correct, click the ... button on the right to reveal the password.

Show your new database password

There's a couple of other ways you can authenticate your account: using a key file or user account. Select the Key file / provider option if you'd like to use an encryption certificate to encrypt your data. You can select an existing key from the Browse button, or you can create a new one in KeePass if you'd like. If you choose to create a new key, you'll be asked to enter random characters or click at random places on a box in the window to create your encryption file.

Creating encrypted Key file

The final option is using your computer's user account to verify your account, though do note that this is the least secure method. If anyone can login to your computer, they'll be able to access your passwords. If you use this method, do note that if you ever change your account password, your KeePass password will remain the same as your old user account.

Once you've added your master password or other authentication method, you'll see one more pop-up—this one's fully optional—where you can type a descriptive database name and add comments, along with several other advanced windows. For now, you can just leave those fields empty, as the defaults are fine.


After this, you new database will be ready for you to fill it with all of your passwords. Some example entries are loaded into database to help KeePass make sense at a glance, but you can delete or change those as you're adding your own passwords.

Your new password database

Add Passwords to KeePass

It's finally time to add your own passwords to KeePass. To do this, first click on desired category on the left side to select which category your password will belong to, then right-click in empty right field and select Add Entry... or press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-I.

Add new Entry

That'll open a pop-up window with form fields for you to fill with your site info. You can add a site name in the Title, then add your User name and Password, and then add the site's URL and perhaps notes about this account.

The password filed is automatically filled with a randomly generated password, and if you like it, you can keep it—this is a great option if you're fixing to make a new account. Otherwise, type in your own existing password for that particular entry. To see it, again, just click on three dots button next to password filed.

Adding a new password entry

If you want to make a ultra-secure password, just click on the button with a key and start. From there, you can select built-in 40, 128, or 256-bit Hex keys or random MAC Address-like passwords. You can go further and select Password Generator where you have numerous options to customize your password. You'll find a ton of options there to customize your passwords, including options to add dash separators to sections to make passwords easier to memorize.

Advanced password options
Advanced password generator

Once you're finished, click the Ok button, and your password will be saved to your database. After every password addition, or any other change, we'd recommend you save your database by pressing File > Save or the Ctrl+S keyboard shortcut.


New entry

To quickly view or edit your password, double click on it and the previous form window will appear in edit mode. There, you can can add or edit any info from your entry—or copy the info to use in another app. Or, there's a simpler way:

Copy / Paste User Name or Password

You can quickly copy your user name and password from accounts you've added to KeePass to help you login to any account in your browser or another app. To do that, just right-click on the desired entry and choose Copy User Name (or press Ctrl+B) or Copy Password ( or press Ctrl+C). You'll see a time bar at the bottom right corner indicating that you have 12 seconds to paste information that you have just copied—after that, KeePass will clear the clipboard to protect your data. You can change the length of time you have after copying a password from the options. Just got to Tools > Options, select Clipboard, and set the auto-clear time (in seconds) you want.

Another very easy and quick way to copy your info from an entry is to select the entry you want, then click on little business man icon in the top toolbar to copy User Name and little Key-on-paper icon to copy the Password.

Organize Passwords Into Groups

Your passwords will get a bit overwhelming over time as you add more accounts, so the best feature in KeePass is its groups tool. You can add as many groups as you need, and use them to organize all of your logins in any order that'd make sense for you. To add a group, first click on the database name, then right-click below the groups that are already included in it and select Add Group. Another way is to click on Edit from top menu, and select Add Group from drop-down list.

After that, just name you group as you want, and select a name and icon you'd like for the group. You can even set an expiration data for the group, if you only want to use it for a temporary set of passwords.

Adding Password Group

In the same way, you can create Sub-Groups. Just click on desired Group and then right-click and select Add Group. That's yet another way to keep your passwords better organized and easier to access.


Add Sub-group

Once you've done that, all you'll need to do is drag-and-drop any entries you'd like to store in this group. Then, editing groups is just like editing entries. Double click on a group, and the original form window for editing the group will appear, where you can change any of the settings as before.

TIP: Don't forget to save your database again each time you make changes (Ctrl-S or File > Save).

Recycle Bin

Over time, you'll likely have some accounts that you no longer use. You can just select an entry, right-click on it and select delete. Once you confirm, your password will be moved to the Recycle Bin group. Your passwords are actually still there, but just hidden from view in a group you wouldn't normally check. Then, if you're certain you really no longer need the info, you can empty the recycle bin via its right-click menu—or, you can drag any entries out and into another group if you'd still like to use them.

Doing More With Your Passwords

Once you've got your passwords secured in a KeePass database, you'll want to be sure you can get your passwords easily, no matter where you're working. You'll want to explore the KeePass Plugins site to find extras that'll work good for you—including tools that integrate KeePass with Firefox and Chrome, automatically backup your database or sync it with Dropbox and Google Drive, add extra security, and more. Once you've got it syncing, you'll then want to install the mobile apps and apps for your other computers so you can get KeePass working everywhere.

Conclusion

KeePass gives you very wide range of options to keep you passwords safe and manage them like a pro, whether you're just a regular user or you have a need to organize them in more advanced ways. Hopefully this tutorial will get you started keeping your passwords more secure and easier to manage in the best free password tool. Feel free to play around with it, and share your experience with us in the comments bellow—or let us know if you need any help.

Resources: Lock icon by Edward Boatman via the Noun Project.

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