Backing up you Keychain files for Mac OSX.

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Recently a friend had his mac go bad on him. Turns out it was just the HD, it was old and eventually all Hd’s fail. Back in the old days (OS 9) when you needed to replace a HD it was a bit more clear cut. You had a Preferences folder, an Extensions folder, and a Control Panel folder inside the System folder that you needed to copy. Once the new HD was installed and the System reinstalled, you could replace those specific folders with your back ups and BANG! Your computer was back to normal, and hopefully with a new big and fast HD!

With the new Mac OS X, upgrades/repairs are not as easy to do. A lot of your preferences and settings are strewn about the HD. There is the Library folder that contains most everything, but what about all your passwords for websites, and those for access to files and applications on your computer? The Mac has a feature called Keychain that stores all your passwords for everything from Online passwords to passwords for your applications.

As it turns out, backing p the Keychain file and reinstalling it wasn’t quite as easy as my buddy hoped. So, being the good internet citizen that I am, well, I guilted him into writing a tutorial for doing just that: backing up and reinstalling your Keychain Access file.

Here, in Ivan’s own word’s is how to do it:

Hi, Ivan here.
Ok, first off, Mac OS X stores passwords you use in your applications and online accounts. You can access these passwords and account information in an application called Keychain Access. This application allows you to access and manage your keychains, passwords, and certificates. For now I wanna focus on keychains and leave certificates for another time. The main default keychain is the same as your login, including your password. When you login to Mac OS X you also unlock your “login” keychain. Within your login keychain are the internet and application keychain arranged in a list. This is the list that needs to be backed up.

In order to make a back up of the keychains, find the file that holds all the information for the keychains. I should note that individual keychains can be saved and copied. This would be an option if you had a second mac you networked and copied those keychains onto the other mac. Very cool.
So, here goes:
First,find the keychain list: The location of the keychain list is in /Users/”your user name”/Library/Keychains/

Next, within the Keychain folder there should be a file, either called your login name (e.g. Igallegos – my login name), or if this is a new instal of Tiger, “login.keychain”. That’s the file to back up, either by burning a CD, USB drive, copy to iDisk, whatever…

Then, in the event that your HD should fail, or require you to do a clean install of Mac OS X you have a back file of the keychain list. To reinstall, take your backup file and place it back in: /Users/”your user name”/Library/Keychains/

Then, open the application Keychain Access which is located in the Applications/Utilities folder.
Then, under the Edit menu, select Keychain List, and a drop down window will appear showing the available keychain lists. You can also add more lists, if you want. On the lower left hand corner you’ll see a + (add) sign. Select it and choose your backup keychain list that you placed earlier in: /Users/”your user name”/Library/Keychains.

Finally, your backup keychain list will now become available and you’ll be able to access it on the top left hand window that has your new keychain as well as the System and X509Anchors keychain. You can make your backup keychain the default keychain, or copy it over to your new keychain.
That’s it! Good luck and remember to always have back-ups. It’s more important than clean underwear!

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2 thoughts on “Backing up you Keychain files for Mac OSX.

  1. Thanks for the walk through. Worked great. I just replaced an old mac with a new one and one of the things missing was all my passwords. You’ld think they would make this easier on us!

    Thanks again – Marty

  2. I looked for backing up my Keychains after I deleted them by accident on my other Macbook Pro (luckily that was the one for work) but let me tell you how EASY it is to delete them. If your mouse is on the left side when you have keychain access open, highlight keychain, one delete and they are GONE (I am on Leopard). No they are not in the trash either and no, no undo! You are out of luck….so now I have the ones on my personal computer backed up :))) thank you!

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