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There’s perhaps no scarier password you can lose than the one that gets you into your PC. Whether you’ve lost your password, find that Windows suddenly won’t accept it, or it gets screwed up during an update, here’s how to get back into your account on Windows 10.
Windows 10 Password Reset: Microsoft Account
Using a Microsoft account with Windows 10 has pros and cons. In our case, one huge benefit is that you can reset your password by going through Microsoft’s tools without much hassle.
First, make sure that you actually can’t access your account (perhaps your keyboard has a stuck key or something similar). Go to Live.com on your phone or another computer and try to sign in with the Microsoft account you use on your PC. Make sure you don’t mistype your email here. If you still can’t get in, then proceed with resetting your Microsoft password. Head to the Microsoft password reset page to get started; you can even reset your password from the login screen in the Fall Creators Update.
You’re presented with three options:
- You forgot your password
- You know your password, but it doesn’t work
- You think someone has hacked your account
You’ve already ruled out the second option, so go ahead and pick the first. You’ll then have to provide your account email address and complete a quick CAPTCHA. From here, the site will help you recover your information based on the security info you’ve provided earlier.
It’s worth noting here: If you have a Microsoft account, you should take a few minutes to update your security info on your account page. Adding a phone number and secondary email address will give you options to reset your password should you ever have problems with it.
Windows 10 Password Reset: Local Account
The above scenario is the best case, but plenty of people don’t use a Microsoft account with Windows 10. You’ll have to dig deeper to get back into a local account, but it’s still possible.
For resetting a password on a local account, you need to enable the hidden Administrator account. Because this account automatically runs all programs with admin rights and has no password protection, it’s super insecure. Thus, Windows ships with this disabled. We’ve shown how to enable the admin account before, but that way won’t work if you’re locked out of your PC!
Note that if you have another administrator account on the computer aside from the locked one, you don’t need to go through all these steps. Jump down to the Resetting the Password section below and follow those steps to reset the password using the other account.
Setting Up the Workaround
First, you’ll need to create a bootable Windows 10 disk on a flash drive. Once you’ve done that, insert the drive into your PC so you can boot from the new installation. On most machines, you need to press F12 or a similar key as soon as you power on your computer to choose a device to boot from. Select your flash drive, let Windows load, and when you see the initial Windows 10 setup screen, press Shift + F10 to open a Command Prompt.
Next, you may need to do a bit of fumbling around to find out which partition the Windows installation is on. Usually, this will be the C: drive or the D: drive. To check, type the following command, which will change the active directory of the command prompt to the root of the C: drive (or whichever letter you insert). If the command returns The system cannot find the drive specified, then that letter isn’t right.
Once you find the right drive, you’ll want to change the directory again (that’s the cd command). Type this line to access the System32 folder:
Here’s where you pull a little trick. Windows provides a shortcut to the Ease of Access menu on the sign-in page for users who need visual or other help. You can use a few commands to replace this shortcut with a command prompt instead, giving access to the system. Type these two commands, one at a time. The first backs up the Ease of Access shortcut so you can restore it later; the second replaces it with a command prompt shortcut.
ren utilman.exe utilman.exe.bak ren cmd.exe utilman.exe
You’re all done here, so type this command to reboot the computer and head back to the normal sign-in screen:
Resetting the Password
Back on the sign-in screen, click the Ease of Access shortcut in the bottom-right of the screen to launch a command prompt. It looks like clock hands surrounded by a dotted line, and you’ll find it between the power and network connection icons.
Now that you’re into a command prompt, use the following line to enable the default Admin account:
net user Administrator /active:yes
After this, you need to reboot again, which you can do quickly with this command:
shutdown -t 0 -r
One more time on the sign-in screen, and this time you should click the Administrator account in the bottom-left corner. There isn’t a password on this account, so it should sign you right in. Now, you can reset your own password.
If you’re running Windows 10 Pro, you can right-click on the Start button and choose Computer Management, then click Local Users and Groups on the left sidebar to open the user manager. Right-click on your account and choose Set password to choose a new password. Then, sign out of the admin account and make sure you can log back into your own account!
If you use Windows 10 Home, you’ll have to perform the same action through a Command Prompt. Right-click on the Start button and choose Command Prompt (Admin) to open a new command prompt window, then type this command to see all user accounts:
Locate the name of your account, then type this command with your name inserted and the system will prompt you to set a password:
net user USERNAME *
After this, enter a new password, log off, and you’re all set to log back in to your account!
Need a New Account?
If your account is really screwed up and you can’t reset the password, your best bet is making a new account and setting it as an administrator. To do this, open an administrator command prompt, and type these commands:
net user USERNAME PASSWORD /add net localgroup Adminstrators USERNAME /add
Once done, reboot and sign in to your new account with the new password. To recover your files, browse to your old user directory in the File Explorer and copy everything you need to your new account:
Putting Everything Back
Once you’ve logged into your own account, you’re almost done! You just need to fix the shortcuts you changed and call it a day. Go ahead and reboot again using the Windows 10 installation disk you created earlier. Once the initial welcome screen loads, press Shift + F10 and navigate to C:\Windows\System32 as you did before.
Use these two commands to put the Ease of Access shortcut back as it was:
ren utilman.exe cmd.exe ren utilman.exe.bak utilman.exe
want to secure Windows? try creating a NEW user account for yourself where you're NOT Administrator… Admin only for changing system :)
— sean swayze (@sswayze) October 26, 2009
Because the Admin account is a security risk, you should disable it here until you need it again. Type this to disable it:
net user Administrator /active:no
One more reboot, and you can get back to your normal computer usage!
How to Prevent Password Resets in the Future
Depending on why you couldn’t log in, to begin with, you can take a few precautions to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
If you just forgot your password, consider using a password manager to keep them all straight.
While the convenience of password managers lies in their auto-filling functions for websites, you can manually add your Windows login so that it’s accessible yet safe in emergencies. Since you can access your password vault via your phone or another computer’s browser, you’ll always have it handy.
If you don’t use a Microsoft account to sign in, consider switching to one. Aside from the far easier method of resetting your password, you can also use a PIN instead of a password to sign into Windows. A PIN is local to your machine so it won’t work elsewhere if stolen, and is much easier to type than a long password.
Change Your Windows 10 Password
If you know your password, you don’t need to reset it. Instead, you can easily change it from the Windows 10 Settings app. This works whether you use a Microsoft account or a local account to sign in.
Open the Settings app (using the keyboard shortcut Win + I if you like). Select the Accounts entry, followed by the Sign-in options tab on the left sidebar. You’ll see a Password header; click Change under it. From here, simply follow the steps to confirm your current password and then set a new one.
If you’re using a local account, you must enter a password hint to help you remember your password. Remember that if you use a Microsoft account to sign in, this will also change the password for your Outlook email, Xbox Live account, and other Microsoft services.
In addition, from the Sign-in options page, you can change your PIN or picture password, if you use those.
Remove Your Windows 10 Password
Maybe you’d prefer to remove your account password entirely. You can accomplish this task in two ways.
To completely remove your account password, follow the above steps for changing it. But when Windows asks you to enter a new password, leave all fields blank. Click Next and you’ll have no password on your account. You can only do this if you use a local account to sign in since you must keep a password on your Microsoft account.
If you’d rather, you can also set a rule that automatically logs you into your PC. This will work for both local and Microsoft accounts.
Press Win + R to open the Run menu, then type netplwiz and press Enter. You’ll see the User Accounts dialog box. Here, click your account, then uncheck the Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer box and click OK.
Windows will then show a box letting you know that to do this, you need to specify a user that will automatically sign in. Enter your account password here, and Windows will log you into your PC in the future without asking for a password. This won’t remove the password from your PC, however. If you sign out and try to sign back in, you’ll have to enter your password. Or if you try to remotely connect to the computer, you’ll still need to know the password.
We don’t recommend removing your password as it makes your computer much less secure, but it’s your decision.
Back in the Password Business
Resetting your Windows password is a bit more work than resetting one for a website, but it’s far from impossible. No matter what happened that locked you out of your account, you’ve found your way back in. With a bit of preparation, you can make sure that this doesn’t happen again. And if you only needed to change or remove your password, even better!
Once you’re back in control, make sure your system is running the best security software so you can stay safe.
Have you ever had a scary password reset experience? Let us know if these methods helped you get back into your locked Windows account!
Originally written by Joe Keeley on 23 June 2016