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What is Keychain Access on Mac, where to find it, and how to reset it
Keychain Access is a powerful tool for Mac users. On the surface, it seems like a password manager. However, it also does a lot of other things. You can see each login transaction your Mac makes along with every password, login attempt, and certificate your Mac receives. It’s definitely a power user tool, so be careful when using it. Let’s talk more about Keychain Access on Mac.
This tutorial was written on a 2020 MacBook Air running macOS Monterey 12.4.
Keychain Access is a way to check your Mac's keychain, where almost all logins, traffic, and device connections are stored. While we recommend using Passwords from the System Preferences menu, Keychain Access is a valuable tool for power users.
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What is Keychain Access, and how does it work?
Keychain Access sits right in the middle of a few different services on your Mac. Every time you log into a website, connect to a Wi-Fi access point, or something similar, it runs through your Mac’s keychain. The keychain is an encrypted container that holds on to things like website certificates, login credentials, etc.
Keychain Access gives you an unmitigated, raw look at everything in your Mac's keychain.
Keychain Access lets you view everything that went through your keychain. Everything is backed up on iCloud for use on your other macOS or iOS devices. You can view some of this information in a simpler format by going to Passwords under System Preferences. Thus, Keychain Access sits right in the middle of a few different services and gives you a good look at the raw data.
Keychain Access is a little disorienting at first until you realize what you’re looking at. You can see every login, Wi-Fi connection, or other password-protected items. We’ll get more into that later, but rest assured that this is for power users only. For website logins, we recommend using the integrated Passwords app by going into System Preferences and then Passwords.
How to use Keychain Access on any Mac
There are many different things to discuss here, so we’ll take it one tutorial at a time.
Turn on Keychain Access
- Open System Preferences and tap Apple ID.
- If you’re not already there, tap the iCloud option in the left margin.
- In the next box, tick the box next to Keychain.
- That should do it. Keychain is now turned on, and Keychain Access should start showing information. Note: The MacBook Air I used for this tutorial had it on by default.
Open Keychain Access
- Open Finder and search for Keychain Access.
- Double-tap the icon that appears in the search.
- Keychain Access should now be open.
Navigate Keychain Access
The majority of the information here is primarily helpful for viewing. However, one great reason to look through this stuff is to find the password for a website you recently logged into where you can’t remember what password you used to do it. We’ll go through it and tell you what each section does.
- Login (left margin) — This shows you every instance of logging into something.
- iCloud (left margin) — This shows you every instance of logging into something backed up on iCloud so it can sync across your devices.
- System (left margin) — System shows you every time your computer connected to something, be it a Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth device, or FTP server. Basically, this is where system passwords are stored.
- System Roots (left margin) — This is where system certificates are stored. You shouldn’t ever need to mess around in there unless something went seriously wrong.
- All Items, Passwords, etc — The tabs at the top of the screen are All Items, Passwords, Secure Notes, My Certificates, Keys, and Certificates. They are categories that let you better sort and sift through the information in Keychain Access. Everything is listed in All Items, but only password logins are viewable under Passwords.
Edit keychain items in Keychain Access
- Find the item you want to edit and double-click it. Not everything in Keychain Access is editable, so this only works for stuff you can edit.
- Almost all of the fields can be edited. You can see in the screenshot above that I used the editing function to hide my Facebook email and left a comment on the keychain item.
- Hit the Save Changes button when you’re done.
- Note: Be careful when changing this stuff. It’s not going to irreparably break things, but it can occasionally mess things up if you don’t know what you’re doing. For instance, if you heavily edit your Facebook entry, it may not register correctly and prevent auto-fill from doing its job.
Delete a keychain item in Keychain Access
- Find the item you want to delete and click on it to highlight it.
- Tap the Delete key on your keyboard and hit the Delete button on your screen to delete.
- Note: Deleting information in Keychain Access will also delete it in Passwords. For example, if you delete all the Facebook stuff in Keychain Access, you’ll have to manually sign in the next time you visit Facebook since you just deleted all your credentials.
Create a keychain item in Keychain Access
- You should see a box icon with a pen at the very top of the screen. Click that icon.
- Keychain Item Name — Name your keychain item. We recommend just using the website if it’s a website password or location or a Wi-Fi router.
- Account Name — This is the username you use when logging into the thing you’re saving. For most websites, it’s just your email address.
- Password — This is the password to log into the account.
- Password Strength bar — A bar that goes from red to green as it judges your password. Red means your password is bad, orange means average, and green means it’s a decent password.
- Show password box — Tick the box to show your password. We recommend using it to ensure that your password is typed in correctly.
- Once done, tap the Add button to add the item to your keychain.
Other Keychain Access tips and tricks
There are some other things we can tell you about Keychain Access that you should probably know.
Don’t use Keychain Access unless you really have to
Simply put, don’t use it. Today’s Macs and iOS devices have a much more streamlined way to deal with passwords using the integrated Passwords app in System Preferences. You can also find it in Safari’s preferences menu.
You can see all your logins and other information there in a much more user-friendly manner. You can also change, delete, or otherwise manage your passwords here. You won’t see stuff like Wi-Fi passwords or other such things. Only use Keychain Access if you must.
Use Keychain Access to retrieve a forgotten password
For websites, this shouldn’t often happen because of the Passwords thing we mentioned earlier. However, let’s say you forgot your home Wi-Fi password or something similar. You can find that information in Keychain Access.
Open Keychain Access, tap the System option on the left side, and scroll down until you find the Wi-Fi router’s name on the list. Double click to open up details and then tap the Show password button. You’ll need to enter your iCloud username and password (or PIN, if you use one), but it’ll show you the password again.
How to reset default keychains
Resetting default keychains wipes the entire keychain out and starts you over from scratch. It will destroy all of your saved passwords for everything. We only recommend this as a troubleshooting option since it can clear up many issues.
- Open Keychain Access.
- At the top of the screen, tap Keychain Access and then Preferences.
- Tap the Reset Default Keychains button.
- Enter your password as directed and tap OK.
After a moment, your keychain will delete itself, and you’ll start over from scratch.
Usually, this is a problem on the app’s side and that’s why it’s so frustrating to figure out a solution. For example, a botched app update can cause this issue. Try uninstalling and reinstalling the app or Google searching for that app in particular.