The incessant password prompt

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Reader Stan Fields’ Mac has suddenly become more inquisitive than he cares for. He writes:

A few days ago my iMac began asking for passwords that I thought it had memorized. I’ve seen these requests in Entourage and Internet Connect. Do memorized passwords expire so that I need to re-enter them every so often?

Thankfully, no. Those memorized passwords are stored in your Mac’s keychain, an application that does pretty much what its name describes—it packs away passwords for your applications (including email), servers, websites, cryptographic keys, and certificates, as well as form data such as credit card numbers and PINs that you routinely enter in a web browser.

From the sound of it, your keychain is corrupted. There’s a good chance that you can put things right, however. Just launch Keychain Access (found in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder) and choose Keychain First Aid from the Keychain Access menu. In the resulting Keychain First Aid window you’ll see your user name and an empty password field. Enter your Administrator password in that field and then click Start.

The Verify option is enabled by default and that’s just what Keychain First Aid will do. If there are problems with the keychain, some red text will appear in the window detailing where the problems lie. Enable the Repair option and click Start again. First Aid will be applied and, without a lot of luck, your keychain will be repaired.

It’s possible that you’ll be prompted for a password or two even after the repair, but once the keychain has been repaired, any passwords you ask your Mac to remember should now stick.

Because keychains can get mucked up, it’s not a bad idea to back them up. You’ll find your keychains stored here: youruserfolder /Library/Keychains. Unless you’ve created a new keychain, the login.keychain file is the one you want to back up. Just Option-drag that file to another location to make a copy.

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