How to Manage All Your Mac’s Saved Passwords With Keychain Access

Your Mac stores all kinds of passwords. It’s saved the passwords for your Wi-Fi networks, the ones used by your applications, and even the ones you save in Safari. You might be wondering where those passwords are stored, and whether you can look at them.

As it turns out, you can! Your Mac uses a program called Keychain Access to securely store these passwords, along with various digital certificates and keys used for verification and encryption. Keychain Access can be found in Applications > Utilities, or by opening Spotlight and searching for “Keychain.”

This application isn’t terribly user friendly, so we recommend using a password manager if you’re serious about creating custom passwords for every website you use. But Apple’s default tools offer various advantages, including iCloud syncing with iPhones and iPads. And some things, like Wi-Fi passwords, are stored by Keychain Access no matter what. So it’s useful to know what Keychain Access is, and how to use it.

The Interface

Launch Keychain Access and you’ll see the main interface, which can be a little confusing to start with.

It’s not at all clear what you’re looking at, is it? Well, in the top of the left panel are the various keychains on your system. Think of these as folders where your passwords and certificates are stored.

Below that, you’ll find categories of things that Keychain Access can store. These basically act as a filter: click “Passwords,” for example, and you’ll only see Passwords stored within the Keychain you’re looking at right now.

Finally, in the right panel, you’ll find the things you’re actually looking for. Double-click them to see more details.

Browsing Passwords on Your Mac

Most users opening Keychain Access are looking for a specific password they saved earlier, such as a saved Wi-Fi password or a password used by a specific website. Browsing your passwords is simplest if you click the “Passwords” category, then sort by “Kind.”

You can also search if there’s a specific thing you’re looking for, but remember to check multiple keychains if you don’t find what you want right away. When you find what you want simply double-click it to open a new window.

From here you can see the password by checking the “Show Password” box at the bottom, though you’ll need to provide your system password to do so (or, if it’s a keychain you made manually, the custom password you applied to it).

Click the “Access Control” tab and you can change which applications on your computer can use these passwords.

Most users will never need to configure this, but it can be useful if there are passwords you’d rather applications not have access to.

iCloud Syncs Your Passwords

If you’re an iCloud user, you can sync your passwords between your Mac and your iOS devices. This means a password saved on your Mac will show up on your iPhone, and vice versa. To make sure this is enabled, head to System Preferences > iCloud.

If the option is checked, your passwords should sync to your iPhone and iPad.

Other Things Stored By Keychain Access

Passwords aren’t all that’s stored in Keychain Access: your system uses this space to store a few other security-related items. Here’s a quick rundown.

  • Certificates are used by Safari and other programs to verify that sites and applications are genuine. HTTPS uses these certificates to encrypt websites, for example.
  • Secure Notes are something you can leave here yourself. The idea is that you can leave secure notes for yourself, but most people probably won’t use this.
  • Keys are used by various programs for encryption. Browsing this you’ll probably see a lot of keys used by Messenger and iCloud.

Most users won’t ever need to think about these tools, and on iOS passwords are managed in their own interface. It might be smart for Apple to build a dedicated password manager for macOS at some point, but until then Keychain Access combines all kinds of things in one cluttered interface. Still, it’s better than nothing, and it’s good to know where it is.

Justin Pot is a staff writer for How-To Geek, and a technology enthusiast who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.