Which keychain is which on your Mac, iPhone and iPad?

Apple stores passwords and other secrets in a keychain on your device — but is it the keychain? The difference confuses some readers. In general it works like this:

macOS: The operating system manages several keychains, which you can view from Applications > Utilities > Keychain Access. This tool can manage some low-level encryption details such as: B. Certificates, and displays at least one system and login keychain (in lower case). Your login keychain contains the items used for your account, including Wi-Fi network passwords, share point passwords, website passwords, and many other things. iOS/iPadOS: Keychain Access is hidden. iOS and iPadOS show passwords for websites and certain apps in Settings > Passwords. The fact that the password is for an app is opaque, as Apple lists passwords by website address. Apps use an address for validation, and you’ll see that. For example, for Netflix, I see an entry for signup.netflix.com and www.netflix.com. But when I log into Netflix using iOS, iPadOS, or tvOS, the matching password entry appears. Apple also saves entries for Wi-Fi networks, which appear in Settings > Wi-Fi. Since this happens after activation without any action on your part, it means that WiFi passwords, website passwords and Mac-specific secure entries are synchronized between the corresponding devices.

If you turned off iCloud Keychain in Settings > Account name > iCloud > Passwords & Keychain (iOS 16/iPadOS 16) or iCloud Keychain in earlier iOS/iPadOS versions, your iPhone or iPad will continue to store passwords at your request for apps and other uses, just like a Mac. These passwords just don’t sync across devices.

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macOS has multiple keychains.

iCloud Keychain data usage does not count against iCloud or iCloud+ storage. And the end-to-end encryption Apple uses means the encryption keys that protect your secrets are stored only on your devices — someone has to access and unlock a device to gain access to passwords. Even if they unlock it, they have to re-authenticate to see or see passwords on any iPhone or iPad, as well as in standard macOS setups. (You would need to make several changes to disable authentication on a Mac for using passwords after the Mac is unlocked.)

This Mac 911 article answers a question from Macworld reader Steve.

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