How to Recover a Forgotten Password
By David Weedmark
Updated August 01, 2017
It happens to everyone. Whether you have typed it out a thousand times before, or just used it once – like the last time you changed it – it's all too easy to forget a password. However, there's no reason to be alarmed. Microsoft knows that passwords are easily forgotten and has made allowances for you to get access again.
The process varies depending on which version of Windows you have. Windows XP offers the easiest way to reset a password, simply by going into Safe Mode. If you have Windows 8 or 10, the process is also very easy, provided you have internet access. For Windows 7, or if you don't have internet access and you're using Windows 8 or 10, resetting your password will require getting access to a similar computer.
Using Safe Mode: Windows XP
If you have forgotten your login password for a Windows XP computer, you can reset it by going into Safe Mode.
First, restart your computer. As it is booting up, press the F8 key repeatedly to activate Safe Mode. If for some reason you didn't press the F8 key in time, just restart the computer and try again.
In Safe Mode, click the Start button and select "Run." Type the following line in the window that opens and press the Enter key: control userpasswords2
This command gives you administrative access to all user accounts on the computer. Select the Admin user account and then click "Reset Password." Type your new password twice to confirm it and then click "OK." You can now use this new password to access your computer.
Use a System Repair Disk: Windows 7
Resetting your password in Windows 7 is a bit more complicated than using Windows XP. To use this method, you’ll need a Windows 7 System Repair Disc. This is something you should have made when you first got you computer, but if you don’t have one – or can’t find it – you can use someone else’s computer. Windows 7 comes as either 32-bit or 64-bit. Whichever version you have, the other computer needs to be using that version too.
1. Insert a blank CD or flash drive in the computer. Click the Start button and type “system repair disc” in the Search field and press the Enter key. Follow the onscreen instructions to create the repair disc.
2. Turn off your computer and insert the System Repair Disc in your computer’s USB slot or disc drive. You’ll need to boot from this repair disc, which in most cases means entering the computer’s BIOS settings, which varies with each computer. The instructions appear on the screen just before Windows begins to load, such as "Press F12 to Choose Boot Device" or “Press Esc to Enter Bios.” If it appears too quickly, restart the computer and try again.
3. Once you access the BIOS, select the drive containing the System Repair Disc.
4. When the System Repair Disc loads, press any key when prompted. Follow the instructions until you get to the System Recovery Options. Select the disk drive containing your computer’s operating system, which is usually the C: drive. Make a note of which drive it is, because you will need it in the next step. Click “Next.”
Select “Command Prompt.”
5. At the next page, click “Command Prompt” to open the Command Prompt window. Here, you need to enter a few lines of code. If your operating system isn’t on the C: drive, use the appropriate drive instead, such as “D:” or even “E:” drive. Press the Enter key after each line:
ren utilman.exe utilhold.exe
copy cmd.exe utilman.exe
6. Remove the System Repair Disc and restart the computer.
7. When the login screen appears, click the “Ease of Access” icon in the bottom left corner to open the Command Prompt window. Type the following line, replacing the word “username” with your Windows username, which appears on the screen. Replace the word “password” with whatever you want your new password to be:
net user username password
8. Close the Command Prompt window and log in with your new password.
Changing Your Password Online: Windows 8 and 10
If you are using Windows 8 or 10, your Windows user account should be connected to your online Microsoft account, like a Hotmail.com or Live.com account.
Using any computer with Internet access, open a web browser and go to login.live.com. Enter the email address associated with your Microsoft Windows account, click “Next” and then select “Forgot My Password” and follow the instructions to reset it. You will be given a series of questions to determine your identity, based on answers to personal questions and phone numbers you provided Microsoft when setting up your account. Once you answer them to confirm your identity, you will be prompted to create a new password, which you can then use to log into your Windows computer.
Use a Windows Recovery Drive: Windows 8 and 10
If for some reason your computer does not have Internet access, or if you managed to create a local account that isn’t connected online to Live.com, you can use a Windows Recovery Drive to change your password. This process is exactly the same as what you would use to use a Windows 7 System Repair Disc, with only two differences:
1. Create a Windows Recovery Drive, rather than a System Repair Disk, on another computer that is running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows 8 or 10, just as your computer has.
2. The Ease of Access icon is located in the bottom right corner of the screen, rather than the bottom left.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful technology businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and online publications on computers and other technology topics.