How to Reset a Mac's Administrator Account Password

Mac login password hint
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Have you ever forgotten your Mac's administrator account password? That's the account you first set up on your Mac. The Apple setup utility ran you through the process of creating the account and then sent you off to use your Mac.

If you can't remember your administrator password, you may have difficulty logging in to your account or performing various tasks that require an administrator password. Luckily, you can reset a user account password, including any administrator account, using one of the following methods.

Use an Existing Administrator Account to Reset Another Administrator Account

Resetting an administrator account isn't difficult, as long as you have a second administrator account to use. In fact, we highly recommend that you have a second administrator account set up for troubleshooting various issues, including forgetting a password.

Of course, this assumes that you haven't also forgotten the password for the other administrator account. If you don't remember that password, either, you can try one of the other two methods outlined below.

  1. If you do know the password for the second administrator account, log in to that account.

  2. Launch System Preferences, and select the User and Groups preference pane.

  3. Click the lock icon in the bottom left corner of the preference pane, and then supply your administrator password.

  4. In the left-hand pane, select the administrator account whose password needs to be reset.

  5. Click the Reset Password button in the right-hand pane.

  6. In the sheet that drops down, enter a new password for the account.

  7. Click the Reset Password button on the drop-down sheet.

  8. Resetting the password this way creates a new keychain file for the user account. If you wish to use the old keychain file, see the instructions below.

Using Your Apple ID to Reset an Administrator Account

One of the features introduced with OS X Lion is the ability to use your Apple ID to reset your administrator account on your Mac. Actually, you can use this feature to reset the password for any user account type, including a standard account, managed account, or sharing account.

  1. In order to use your Apple ID to reset an account's password, the Apple ID must be associated with that account. You would have associated your Apple ID with your user account either when you originally set up your Mac or when you added user accounts.

  2. After entering your password incorrectly three times at the login screen, a message will display your password hint (if you set one up), as well as the option to reset your password using your Apple ID. Click the small right-facing button next to the …reset it using your Apple ID text.

  3. Enter your Apple ID and password, and then click the Reset Password button.

  4. A warning message will display, telling you that resetting the password will cause a new keychain file to be created. Your keychain holds frequently used passwords; creating a new keychain usually means you'll have to resupply passwords for some services you use, including email accounts and some websites you've set up for automatic log-in. Click the OK button to reset the password.

  5. Enter the new password, along with a password hint, and then click the Reset Password button.

  6. You will be logged in and the Desktop will appear.

Reset Your Administrator Password Using an Install DVD or Recovery HD Partition

Apple includes a utility to reset an administrator's password on every install DVD and Recovery HD partition. To use the Reset Password app, you'll need to start your Mac using either the install DVD or the Recovery HD.

  1. Follow the instructions in the Mac Troubleshooting - Reset User Account Permissions guide to restart your Mac with the appropriate media and launch the Password Reset app. Once you have the app window open, come back here to continue.

  2. In the Reset Password window, select the drive that contains the user account you wish to reset; this is usually your startup drive.

  3. Use the Select User Account drop-down menu to choose the account whose password needs to be reset.

  4. Enter the new password in the password and password confirmation fields.

  5. Enter a new password hint.

  6. Click the Save button.

  7. A warning message will display, telling you that the keychain password wasn't reset and that you'll need to change the keychain password to match the new password you entered. Click the OK button.

  8. Quit the Reset Password app.

  9. Quit Terminal.

  10. Quit OS X Utilities.

  11. In the dialog box that opens asking if you really want to quit OS X Utilities, click the Restart button.

Your administrator password has been reset.

First Login With New Password

When you first log in after changing your administrator password, you'll be greeted with a dialog box telling you that the system wasn't able to unlock your login keychain.

  • There are three ways to continue. If you happen to remember the old login password, you can click the Update Keychain Password button. Of course, it's unlikely that you'll suddenly remember the password, so you'll need to use one of the other two options.
  • The second option is to create a new keychain that will use your new password. This option creates a nearly empty keychain file that is accessed using your new password. This option resets your keychain, so you'll need to supply passwords for various services, such as Mail and websites that require usernames and passwords. Click the Create New Keychain button.
  • The last option is not to do anything with the keychain system. You can finish the login process by clicking the Continue Log In button, which will take you to the Desktop. This is a temporary solution; the next time you log in, you'll be presented with the same keychain dialog box.

It may seem like a huge problem that your original login keychain is locked to the original password, and you find yourself forced to not only create a new keychain but also to resupply all those account IDs and passwords that you've built up over time with your Mac.

But actually, having the login keychain locked from access is a pretty good security measure. After all, you wouldn’t want someone to sit down at your Mac, and use one of the methods we outlined here to reset your administrator account. If resetting the administrator account also reset the keychain files, then anyone could gain access to the login information you use with many services, including banking, credit cards, and investments, and all of the other websites on which you have accounts. They could also start sending and receive messages using your email account, or use Messages to impersonate you.

It may seem like a major hassle to have to recreate all of your old login information, but it sure beats the alternative.

Avoiding the Keychain Login Issue

One thing you can do is use a secure third-party password service as a place to store your login information for various services. This isn't a replacement for Mac’s keychain, but a secure storehouse for you to keep the information safe, one which you can access using a different, and hopefully not forgotten, password.

1Password is very good, but there are many others to choose from, including LastPass, Dashlane, and mSecure. If you would like to find more password management options, open the Mac App Store, and search for the phrase “password.” If any of the apps look interesting, be sure to check the manufacturer's website; many times they include demos that aren't available from within the Mac App Store.