Step-by-Step Guide to Resetting a Windows 7 Password

1
Boot From a Windows 7 Install Disc or Flash Drive

Close-up of a hand using a computer mouse
© webphotographer/E+/Getty Images

There are a number of roads you can take when you need to hack into your own Windows 7 computer, some of which you may have already read about in my I Forgot My Windows 7 Password! Is There Anything I Can Do? article. Of them all, one of the most successful strategies is the one I'm about to walk you through here.

While this password reset procedure for Windows 7 would classify as a "hack" of sorts, there's no software to download or extraordinary computer skills required. If you can follow directions, you can reset your Windows 7 password this way.

Note: I created this step by step tutorial to accompany my original How To Reset a Windows 7 Password how-to guide. There are a number of relatively complicated steps involved in resetting your Windows 7 password this way so screenshots with very detailed instructions will make the process much easier. However, if you're familiar with executing commands, booting from portable media, and working with Windows 7 recovery tools, then you'll probably do fine with the more brief directions.

To begin, you'll need to boot from a Windows 7 Setup disc or flash drive. If you're booting from a disc, watch for the Press any key to boot from CD or DVD or similar message and be sure to do that.

If you're watching closely, you may catch a Windows is loading files screen. If you see that, or an Install Windows screen, or a System Recovery Options screen, you're in good shape and can continue on to the next step.

Don't Have a Windows 7 Disc/Drive or Need Help Booting From One?

If you're not familiar with booting from something other than your hard drive, see my tutorials on How to Boot From a CD, DVD, or BD Disc or How to Boot From a USB Device, depending on what sort of media you're using. Most issues getting the computer to boot from a disc or flash drive instead of the hard drive are solved by making boot order changes in BIOS. See my How to Change the Boot Order in BIOS tutorial for help with that.

If you don't have a Windows 7 disc or flash drive, it's perfectly acceptable to borrow a friend's or use one from another Windows 7 computer since you're just using it for diagnostic purposes. In other words, don't worry at all about using someone else's media - you won't be entering any ​product keys or invalidating yours or another computer's activation as part of this process.

Tip: A Windows 7 system repair disc will work fine for this too. If you don't have access to a Windows 7 Setup disc or flash drive, and don't already have a system repair disc, you can create one for free from any other working Windows 7 computer with an optical drive. See How to Create a Windows 7 System Repair Disc for help.

Advanced Tip: If even a system repair disc isn't an option, you may still be able to follow this tutorial, for the most part, using any bootable recovery media that gives you write-level access to the hard drive. This includes popular third-party bootable recovery media, installation or recovery media designed for later versions of Windows, etc.

2
Click Next

Screenshot of the Install Windows window when booting from the Windows 7 Setup disc
Windows 7 Install Windows Screen.

On the Install Windows screen with the big Windows 7 logo on it, check that the language, time, and keyboard options work for you and then click on the Next button.

(No, just as a reminder, you're not going to install or reinstall Windows 7 as part of the password reset process.)

Note: If you booted from a Windows 7 System Repair Disc, what you'll see here instead is a small System Recovery Options window with just a keyboard option. Click Next>.

Important: If you're looking at your Windows 7 login screen right now, it means that your computer booted "normally" from the hard drive as it always does, not from your disc or flash drive that you intended to boot from. Look back at Step 1 and for some help on solving this problem.

3
Click on Repair Your Computer

Screenshot of the Repair your computer option when booting from Windows 7 repair or install media
Repair Your Computer Option for Windows 7.

Once again you're at the Install Windows screen with the Windows 7 logo. This time, however, you have an Install now button and some options at the bottom.

Click on the Repair your computer link, right above the Microsoft copyright note at the bottom of the screen.

Note: You won't see this screen if you booted from a Windows 7 System Repair Disc. If that's what you're using, just move on to the next step.

4
Wait While Your Windows 7 Installation Is Found

Screenshot of the Windows installation search process in System Recovery Options
Windows Installation Search in System Recovery.

Next, you'll see two windows, both labeled System Recovery Options, one on top of the other. The one on top says Searching for Windows installations....

All you need to do here is wait but I wanted to show you what the process looks like. Once this screen disappears, you can move on to the next step.

5
Note Your Windows Location & Click Next

Screenshot of the operating system list in System Recovery Options
Operating System List System Recovery Options.

Now that the small window with the progress bar is gone, jot down the drive letter shown under Location. On most computers, this will be D: but yours could be different depending on how Windows 7 was originally set up.

Note: While you may be used to seeing the drive Windows 7 is installed on as C: while working from within Windows, most computers are set up with a small recovery drive that's normally hidden from view. Since drive letter assignment is dynamic, and this small hidden drive is visible when working from System Recovery Options, your main drive has probably been assigned D:, the next available drive letter.

Once you've committed that drive letter to memory, select Windows 7 from the Operating System column and then click the Next> button.

Tip: Don't worry if nothing is listed under Operating System. System Recovery Options needs to locate Windows 7 only if you plan on performing certain operating system repair tasks, none of which we'll be doing as part of this password reset process. In any case, be sure to select the Use recovery tools that can help fix problems... radio button before clicking Next>.

6
Choose Command Prompt

Screenshot of the Command Prompt option in Windows 7 System Recovery Options
Command Prompt System Recovery Option.

From the list of recovery tools available on System Recovery Options, click on Command Prompt.

7
Execute These Two Commands

Screenshot of Command Prompt in the Windows 7 system recovery options
Command Prompt in System Recovery Options.

Now that Command Prompt is open, type the following command exactly as shown and then press Enter:

copy d:\windows\system32\utilman.exe d:\

In case it's not clear, there are only two spaces in this command: between copy and d:\ and between exe and d:\.

Assuming the command was executed correctly, the text 1 file(s) copied. should have appeared directly under the command string and you should now be at a prompt again.

Next, type this command exactly as shown and press Enter.

copy d:\windows\system32\cmd.exe d:\windows\system32\utilman.exe

In this command, there are also only two spaces: between copy and d:\ and then between exe and d:\. This time, however, you're presented with a question after executing the command:

Overwrite d:\windows\system32\utilman.exe? (Yes/No/All):

Type Y or Yes at the flashing prompt and then press Enter. As with the last command, you should see the 1 file(s) copied. confirmation.

Important: If the Windows 7 drive letter you noted in Step 5 was something other than D:, swap out all instances of d in the commands above with whatever drive letter you noted.

What Did I Just Do?

The first command made a backup copy of the utilman.exe file so you can restore it later.

The second command copied the cmd.exe file overtop the ​utilman.exe file. This action is what makes this whole Windows 7 password reset trick work. You'll undo this later.

8
Remove the Boot Media & Press Restart

Screenshot of the Restart Button in the Windows 7 System Recovery Options
Restart Button in System Recovery Options.

Now that the two commands have been successfully executed, remove the Windows 7 disc or flash drive you booted from in Step 1.

Next, close the Command Prompt window and then click on the ​Restart button at the bottom of the System Recovery Options window.

9
Wait While Your Computer Restarts

Screenshot of the Windows 7 Splash Screen
Windows 7 Splash Screen.

There's nothing to do here but wait for your computer to restart and for the Windows 7 login screen to appear.

Just so you know, I don't make do-nothing steps just for fun. I included this in my walkthrough because many people overlook the bit in Step 8 where I tell you to remove the Windows 7 disc or flash drive.

While this might have sounded unnecessary, what usually happens if you forget to remove it is that the Windows 7 setup or repair process begins again, as you saw in Step 2. That's exactly what you wanted then, but right now you should be booting from your hard drive, as you normally do.

So, if you've found yourself back where you started, just remove the disc or flash drive and restart.

10
Click the Ease of Access Button

Screenshot of the Windows 7 Ease of Access Button
Windows 7 Ease of Access Button.

You should now have reached your Windows 7 login screen. No, your password is not reset yet, but we're about to do just that.

See that little icon on the bottom-left of the screen?​ Click it!

Typically, the Ease of Access ​menu appears after pressing this button. However, because we replaced the file representing that tool, utilman.exe, with cmd.exe, Command Prompt appears instead!

11
Reset Your Password Using Net User

Screenshot of the net user command in Control Panel on the Windows 7 logon screen
Net User Command in Windows 7.

Now that Command Prompt is open, you can reset your Windows 7 password to anything you'd like using the net user command.

The net user command is a really easy command to use. Just execute it like this:

net user username password

...replacing username with your Windows 7 account name, and password with your desired new password.

For example, I might change my password to n3verE@Tsn0W by executing the net user command this way:

net user Tim n3verE@Tsn0W

Assuming everything was executed properly, you should have been greeted with a The command completed successfully. message after pressing Enter.

Tip: There are spaces between net, user, the username, and the password. If your username has a space, like Tim Fisher, use quotes. Reusing my example above but with my full name as my username, I would have executed net user "Tim Fisher" n3verE@Tsn0W.

Not Sure What Your Username Is?

If you were the last person to log in to Windows 7 before forgetting your password, your username should be listed right there on the login screen. You can see Tim in big, bold letters in the screenshot above.

However, if you're resetting the password to another user on the computer and aren't sure exactly what the username is, you can generate a list by executing the net user command without options, for example:

net user

A list of all of the users on the computer will be generated right in the Command Prompt window, which you can then reference for proper spelling when changing the password as described above.

12
Log in to Windows 7 With Your New Password

Screenshot of the Welcome message after successfully logging in to Windows 7
Windows 7 Logging On.

Finally, we're at the exciting part!

Close or click away from the open Command Prompt window and then click in the Password field.

Enter your new Windows 7 password you set in Step 11 and then press Enter or click the little arrow button.

Welcome back to your computer!

Tip: If you're again prompted with a The user name or password is incorrect message, click OK and repeat Steps 10 & 11 again.

YOU'RE NOT DONE YET!

While it may be very tempting to call it quits right now, it's important that you now take the necessary steps to:

  1. Prepare for the future event of forgetting your password again so you don't have to go to all this trouble next time.
     
  2. Undo the couple of things that made this password reset trick work.

That's what we'll do over the next several steps.

13
Create a Windows 7 Password Reset Disk

Screenshot of the Windows 7 Password Reset Disk creation process
Windows 7 Password Reset Disk.

The Windows 7 password reset procedure I just walked you through is perfectly safe but it isn't exactly "Microsoft approved." The only Microsoft sanctioned password reset procedure for Windows 7 involves using a password reset disk.

Unfortunately, this wasn't an option in your original situation because you have to have access to Windows 7 under your account to create one of these disks. In other words, it's a proactive step. Now that you can access Windows 7 normally, you can create one and never be caught in a situation like this again.

See How to Create a Windows 7 Password Reset Disk for a complete tutorial.

Open that link up in a new window or bookmark it for later but please remember to do it! You only have to make a password reset disk once. It'll still be good no matter how many times you change your Windows 7 password and trust me, it's much easier to use than the procedure you just followed to reset your password this time.

In the next several steps of this walkthrough we'll undo the hack that allowed you to reset your Windows 7 password. Undoing the changes we made will not undo the password change.

14
Access Command Prompt From Your Bootable Media Again

Screenshot of the Command Prompt option in System Recovery Options
Command Prompt System Recovery Option.

To reverse the changes you've made, you'll need to again access Command Prompt via your Windows 7 media.

Here's a quick summary in case you forgot:

  1. Insert your bootable Windows 7 media.
  2. Click the Next button.
  3. Click the Repair your computer link.
  4. Wait while Windows is found on your hard drive.
  5. Select Windows 7 and then click Next.
  6. Click on Command Prompt.

Tip: If you need more detailed help, my summary is referring to Steps 1 through 6 in this walkthrough, which you can reference again.

Do I Really HAVE to Undo These Changes?

No, no one says you have to. However, I strongly suggest that you do, for two reasons:

  • Having access to Command Prompt from the login screen is a major security concern. If anyone finds out that Command Prompt is accessible this way, he or she could very easily change your password to access your account and delete your most important files, among other serious things. Reversing the changes you made removes this easy access.
     
  • The Ease of Access tools that are supposed to show up when you click that button on the login screen are there for a good reason. You never know when you, or another person using your computer, might need to take advantage of them.

Hopefully, you decide to take a few extra minutes and complete the next steps.

15
Execute This Command

Screenshot of Command Prompt in system recovery option after executing the copy command
Command Prompt in System Recovery.

With Command Prompt now open, type the following command exactly as shown and then press Enter:

copy d:\utilman.exe d:\windows\system32\utilman.exe

As with the previous commands, there are only two spaces here, between copy and d:\ and between exe and d:\. Remember to change the d: to whatever drive Windows 7 is installed on if you need to, just like you may have done in Step 7.

After pressing Enter, you're presented with the following question:

Overwrite d:\windows\system32\utilman.exe? (Yes/No/All):

Type Y or Yes to confirm the overwrite and then press Enter. Assuming things went as planned, you should see the 1 file(s) copied. confirmation.

What Did I Just Do?

What you just did was copy the utilman.exe backup that you created using the first command in Step 7 back to its original location. In other words, you took things back to the way they were before you started this tutorial.

16
Remove the Boot Media & Press Restart

Screenshot of the Restart Button in the Windows 7 System Recovery Options
Restart Button in System Recovery Options.

Now that you've restored the utilman.exe file to its rightful place, remove the Windows 7 disc or flash drive you booted from in Step 14.

Next, close the Command Prompt window and then click on the ​Restart button at the bottom of the System Recovery Options window.

17
Wait While Your Computer Restarts

Screenshot of the Windows 7 Splash Screen
Windows 7 Splash Screen.

Wait while your computer restarts.

As I mentioned the last time you restarted after using your Windows 7 bootable media, you want your computer to start normally so make sure the flash drive or disc has been removed.

18
Verify That Ease of Access Works at the Login Screen

Screenshot of the Ease of Access screen on the Windows 7 login screen
Ease of Access in Windows 7.

Remember that little icon you clicked on back in Step 10? Click on it again.

This time, however, instead of seeing Command Prompt, you should see the Ease of Access screen. This is the normal behavior of this button and seeing it confirms that you successfully reversed the changes you made to make this Windows 7 password reset hack work.

Congratulations! You're done!

You can now close the Ease of Access window and log in to Windows 7.

Important: Please remember to create that password reset disk I talked about a few times. It's really easy to do and then makes it really easy to reset your Windows 7 password in the future. See How to Create a Windows 7 Password Reset Disk for help.

Did This Trick Not Work for You?

While this is one of the more successful password reset strategies for Windows 7, it's still possible that for some reason it didn't work out for you. See Help! I Forgot My Windows 7 Password! for a list of your other options.

On the other hand, if you think you may have just misunderstood something and need some assistance, see my Get More Help page for information about contacting me on social networks or via email, posting on tech support forums, and more.