What is a Passcode?

And why it's important to use one on your iPad or iPhone

Hand holding smartphone while entering the passcode.

releon8211 / Getty Images 

If you want to protect your iPad or iPhone from prying eyes, you need to set a passcode. It's a 4- to 6-digit password used to grant access to the device, similar to the code you use for an ATM bank card or a debit card. Here's what you need to know about this feature.

The instructions in this guide apply to iOS 11+.

How to Set a Passcode

iOS devices ask you to choose a passcode during the setup process, but you can easily skip it. If you don't set one up during the initialization process, you can turn the feature on at any time. The passcode also works alongside the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. If you have one for your iPad, you can use the Touch ID to bypass it and unlock the device. This saves you the time spent typing in your passcode while still protecting it from anyone else.

Here's how to choose a passcode if you skipped creating one during setup:

  1. Open the iPad or iPhone's Settings app.

  2. Scroll down the left-side menu and select Touch ID & Passcode. (If your iPad doesn't support Touch ID, this menu item will simply be labeled Passcode.)

  3. Select the Turn Passcode On link. This is just under the Touch ID Settings. If you don't have Touch ID, it's at the top of the screen. 

    Screenshot depicting the Passcode Lock settings on an iPad
  4. iOS will prompt you to enter a passcode. It may default to four digits, but you can select Passcode Options to choose another type of passcode. You need to enter it twice before iOS saves it.

    Screenshot of the Set Passcode option in iOS

If someone tries to access your iPad by guessing your code, the iPad disables itself for a period of time after a certain number of failed guesses. As long as someone doesn't know or can't easily guess your four-digit code, that should be enough to keep people out. 

Should You Turn Siri and Notifications Off on the Lock Screen?

One important option most people overlook is the ability to turn Siri and Notifications off while on the lock screen. By default, the iPad allows access to these features even when the iPad is locked. This means anyone can use Siri without typing in the passcode. And between Siri, Notifications, and the Today screen, a person can view your day's schedule, set meetings, set reminders, and even find out exactly who you are by asking Siri, "Who am I?"

On the other hand, the ability to use Siri without unlocking your iPad can be very nice, as can seeing text messages and other notifications pop up on the screen without unlocking the iPad.  

The decision whether or not to turn these features off depends on why you want a passcode on your iPad. If it's to keep your toddler from getting into the device, leaving these features on won't do you any harm. On the other hand, if you receive a lot of sensitive text messages or you want to make sure no one uses the iPad to find your personal information, these features should be disabled.

Can You Have Different Passcodes and Restrictions for Your Child's iPad? 

The passcode used for unlocking the device and the one used for the parental restriction settings for the iPad are separate, so you can have different passcodes for each of these features. This is a very important distinction. Restrictions are used to childproof an iPad and can limit (or disable) access to the App Store, limit the types of music and movies that can be downloaded, and even lock out the Safari web browser. 

When you set up restrictions, you're asked for a passcode. It can be different than the one used for the device itself, so your child can lock the device as normal. Unfortunately, the passcode used for restrictions won't unlock the device unless the two passcodes are the same. So, you cannot use the restrictions passcode as an override to get into the device.