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How to Reset OS X User Account Passwords


We all have those insecure days when we decide to change all our passwords. At the end of the day, we don’t remember to write them down and then shut down our computer for a rest. The next morning, problems arise. You need to get work done, but everything is locked inside your computer and you can’t remember the password. After too many guesses, it’s time to pull out your smartphone and, by Google query, end up here. In this tutorial, I’ll explain how to reset any user account password on your Mac.

1. Using An Apple ID

Adding an Apple ID to an account for easier password resetting in the future.
Adding an Apple ID to an account for easier password resetting in the future.

The latest method of resetting your user account password, in OS X, is with the Apple ID that the you connected to your account. Provided that you’ve linked your Apple ID to your computer’s user account, all you have to do is follow the following steps. Note: This will not work on FileVault-enabled accounts.

  1. Enter an incorrect password three times.
  2. Click the triangle button to reveal the Reset Password feature.
  3. Sign in with your Apple ID. OS X will warn you that resetting your password this way will create a new Keychain. You can always access the old one if you remember the former password. Click OK to continue or Cancel to reconsider.
  4. Enter a new password, then verify it and provide a hint. It is recommended that you write this one down.
  5. Click Continue Log In to complete the process and log in with your new password.

2. Advanced Method: Administrator Passwords

Tip: To prevent anyone from accessing your account with this method, enable FileVault. One downside is that losing the password to it may mean the loss of your data. More information is available below.
Resetting the administrator password. (Screenshots are not allowed as this is a read-only environment.)
Resetting the administrator password. (Screenshots are not allowed as this is a read-only environment.)

If you’re the sole computer user (and, therefore, the administrator) and have had misfortune of forgetting your password, I will explain how to regain access to your account in this section. If not, proceed to the next section for directions on resetting a standard user’s password.

Step 1: Boot Into the Recovery Partition

To begin the password reset process for the main administrator’s account, you must first shut down your Mac. Once it’s completely off, you’re going to bring up the recovery startup menu by holding the Option key (sometimes marked alt) as you press the power button. Keep holding them until you see several options appear. One of them will be titled “Recovery–10.8”, or “Recovery–10.7” if that’s your version. Use the arrow keys to select it and press Return.

Step 2: Open Terminal

Once the boot sequence has completed successfully, you’ll receive a language preference screen. Once you’ve selected the correct language, proceed to the next screen, where you will find a list of recovery tools. You’re not going to use any of these, but instead click the Utilities menu and select Terminal.

Step 3: Reset The Password

In Terminal, type resetpassword, exactly as I have. This will launch the Reset Password application. From here, select the drive which your operating system is installed on (Macintosh HD by default), choose the user whose password you wish to reset, and fill out the necessary fields. When you’re finished, click Save.

3. For Special Cases: FileVault 2

FileVault encrypts your files, making it much harder to regain access after it's lost.
FileVault encrypts your files, making it much harder to regain access after it's lost.

If you’ve enabled FileVault on the account which password you wish to reset, you’re going to have a hard time of it. This feature acts as an extra layer of security — XTS-AES 128 encryption, to be specific— between the user’s information and your prying eyes. Any effort to resetting the password using techniques mentioned above would ultimately fail. Instead, FileVault uses a Recovery Key, which is to be kept by either the system administrator or Apple. If Apple has the key in its possession, a series of three questions must be answered to obtain it.

To reset the password on a FileVault-enabled account, you must enter an incorrect password three times. This will yield an message saying “If you forgot your password, you can reset it using the recovery key”. Click the triangle button to display the Recovery Key input area. If you know the key, type it here. Otherwise, you can contact Apple with your serial and record number to obtain your key from the company. Apple clearly states that it is “not responsible for failing to provide the recovery key”, so if you are unable to regain access to your account this way, your data is lost forever.

If all goes well, Apple will provide you with a recovery key which you can type into the text field. You’ll then be presented a “new password” creation screen. Ensure you create something secure but memorable, this time.

4. For User Passwords

Resetting my own password. Or rather, changing it.

Resetting my own password. Or rather, changing it.

In the case that you’re just a user on a Mac, the administrator is able to reset your password for you. You can link your Apple ID to your account to make things easier, but if you haven’t, here’s the process your administrator should follow:

  1. Open System Preferences and click the Users & Groups button.
  2. Find the user whose password you wish to reset.
  3. Click Reset Password…
  4. In the small popup that’s displayed, input a new password for the user or use the key button to generate one.
  5. When finished, click Reset Password and your changes will be applied.

Finishing Up

By now, I hope you’ve given someone access to their user account again, or possible regained access to your own with the Apple ID, Recovery partition, or FileVault method. I hope you’ve also learned a good bit about security on a Mac, including the importance of FileVault. Now, write down that new password of yours and keep it in a safe place. You never know when amnesia might set in!

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