Recover an Email Account Password With macOS Keychain Access

Your passwords are available in your keychain

Archaeologists digging
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Among the most important and frequently accessed password-based services is email. Many services, in turn, use your email address as your username. That's why losing your email password can seem like a very big deal. If you're on a Mac device, however, you can recover that password easily — without using your email service's typically cumbersome, inconvenient "lost your password" procedure. Your password is very likely stored in what Apple calls a keychain, as part of macOS' built-in password storage function.

What's a Keychain?

Despite the rather awkward name, keychains have a simple purpose: They contain login information such as account names and passwords (in secure, encrypted form) for apps, websites, services, and other virtual places you visit on your computer.

When you set up Apple Mail or other email services, Keychain typically prompts you to save your login name and password. This information is stored securely in a keychain on your Apple device, as well as in iCloud if you've enabled it. So, if you've forgotten your email password — and if you've followed guidelines for creating secure passwords, the chances are good — rest assured that it's there on your device or in the cloud, and you can recover it easily.

How to Find Your Email Keychain

In macOS (formerly known as Mac OS X, Apple's operating system), you can find keychains, and therefore, your forgotten email password, by using Keychain Access at Applications > Utilities > Keychain Access. The app will prompt you to type in your macOS user credentials; then, click Allow.

Keychain Access

Each user account on a Mac has a separate login.

Keychain Access also syncs with iCloud, so you also can open it on iOS devices such as iPads, iPhones, and iPods by tapping Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Keychain. (For iOS 10.2 or earlier, select Settings > iCloud > Keychain.)

From there, you can find your email password in a few different ways: 

  1. Sort your keychains by Name or Kind by tapping on the appropriate column header so your email password is easier to find.

    Keychain Access sort by column
  2. Enter the name of your email provider or any other detail you remember about your email account (username, server name, etc.) in the Search box at the upper right of the screen.

  3. Select Categories > Passwords and scroll through until you find your email account info.

  4. Double-click on the relevant email account. By default, your password will not be visible; select the Show password box to see it. (Consider unchecking it when you've seen the password to keep it secure.)

Alternative Methods 

If you access your email online through a browser, your browser likely "asked" to save your login information the first time you visited the email service's site. Assuming you allowed this, you also can find your email password from within your browser.

  • In Chrome: Click on the three dots in the upper right corner of your screen and then Settings. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and select Autofill > Passwords and look for your login info.
Chrome settings > Passwords
  • In Safari: Choose Preferences > Passwords. Click the Password column heading to bring all your saved passwords to the top, then look for your email account.
  • In Firefox: From the three-bar menu in the upper right corner, choose Settings > Security and privacy > Saved passwords

Setting Up iCloud Keychain Access

As mentioned above, iCloud allows you to use Keychain Access on multiple Apple devices. This is not an automatically enabled feature, however; you must turn it on, but it's an easy process.

To set up iCloud Keychain Access:

  1. Click on the Apple menu in your screen's upper left corner.

  2. Choose System Preferences.

    Your Mac's System Preferences
    Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.
  3. Click iCloud.

    iCloud Preference Pane
    iCloud Keychain is turned off by default, so before you can use the service, you must turn it on. But before we enable iCloud Keychain, a word or two about security. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.
  4. Click on the box next to Keychain.

Now, you'll be able to view all your saved passwords across all your Apple devices— including that pesky one for your email.