What to Do When You Forget Your Wi-Fi Password

You may have misplaced a Wi-Fi password, but your laptop probably remembers it if you’ve connected in the past. If not, you can always grab the password from your router itself or reset the Wi-Fi passphrase and set a new one.

These tricks allow you to recover the passphrase to any network that your laptop can connect to. You can then easily log into those networks from other devices or share the password with your friends. In case your laptop is not connected—or you don’t have one—we’ll also show you how to find or reset the password in your router’s admin interface.

Recover the Password From a Laptop

If you’ve connected to the network in the past, the easiest way to do this is to grab the password from a computer that’s currently connected to it. Both Windows PCs and Macs make it easy to see your saved Wi-Fi passphrases. You can’t easily find saved Wi-Fi passphrases on other devices. Doing this on Android requires root access, and doing this on an iPhone or iPad requires jailbreaking. However, if you’re using iCloud Keychain sync, Wi-Fi passwords from your iOS device may sync to your Mac, where you can access them.

To view a saved Wi-Fi password on Windows, open the list of wireless networks in the Control Panel — you can quickly do this by pressing Windows Key + R, typing ncpa.cpl into the box, and pressing Enter. Right-click a saved Wi-Fi network, select Status, and click the “Wireless Properties” button. Click over to the Security tab and check the “Show characters” box to view the saved Wi-Fi password. You must have administrator access to the computer to view this information.

Note that this only works if your Windows laptop is currently connected to the Wi-Fi network in question. And it needs to be actively connected—not just have the network in its list of past connections. If the laptop is not connected, you won’t see the “Wireless Properties” button at all in the “Wi-Fi Status” window.

To recover a saved Wi-Fi password on a Mac, open the “Keychain Access” app. Press Command+Space, type “Keychain Access,” and then hit Enter. Select the “Passwords” category and look for the name of the Wi-Fi network. It appears as an “AirPort network password.” You can right-click the network name, and then select the “Copy password to clipboard” option. Or, you can right-click the name, select “Get Info,” and then check the “Show password” box. You’ll have to enter your Mac’s username and password to view this information—and it’ll only work if your account is an administrator account.

Unlike in Windows, you don’t have to be actively connected to the Wi-Fi network to see the password on your Mac. You can check out the password for any Wi-Fi network to which you’ve previously connected.

Find the Password On Your Router

You can potentially view the Wi-Fi passphrase on your router, too. Assuming you can’t connect to the router’s Wi-Fi, you can always directly connect a laptop to your router via a wired Ethernet cable. Or, if you already have a desktop PC connected to the router via an Ethernet cable, that will do.

Find your router’s IP address and sign in to its web interface. If you’re like most people, you never changed the sign in credentials from the default setting. You can find the default username and password for your router in the manual or with a quick web search.

Also, many modern routers—especially routers provided by your Internet service provider—now come with random passphrases unique to your device. Look on your router for a Wi-Fi passphrase printed on a sticker. Of course, this only works if you haven’t changed from the default password.

In your router’s web interface, head to the Wi-Fi settings and look for the Wi-Fi password. If your router gives you the option to see the password, then you’ve got what you need. Otherwise, you can just change the password and then connect using the new one. And if you change the password, you’ll need to update it on every device that connects to your wireless network.

Reset Your Router and Its Wi-Fi Password

if you’re locked out of your router—perhaps you can’t remember its administration password—you can always reset your router to its factory default settings. You just need physical access to the router. All your router’s custom settings will be wiped, meaning you’ll have to set up your Wi-Fi again, along with anything else you’ve customized. But, the sign in credentials are also reset to their defaults, so at least you’ll be able to sign in.

Generally, you do this by locating a “Reset” button somewhere on the router, It’s often a pinhole-sized button and you may need a straightened paperclip or similar small, narrow object to press it. You usually need to press the button down for ten seconds or so. After that, your router restarts, wiping all its custom settings and restoring the default ones. You can set it up from scratch, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the Wi-Fi passphrase or anything else about the router.

Perform a web search for router-specific instructions or find your router’s manual before doing this. You’ll find instructions that explain exactly how to reset your router and how to set it up from scratch afterwards, complete with the default sign in credentials you’ll need to get into the router’s admin interface.

And remember, after resetting your router and selecting a new Wi-Fi password, you’ll need to update that password on every device that connects to your wireless network.

Image Credit: William Hook on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.