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January 11, 1999

Tool can help restore passwords that are forgotten or corrupted

Passwords are a necessary evil these days. We have passwords to access PCs, Web sites, bank accounts, and dozens of other computer-related resources. When a Windows password-management scheme fails, you need to get back into operation fast. Microsoft provides a utility that can get you out of password jail.

Windows password problems tend to fall into one of three types.

One: You've forgotten a password to a network or Web resource.

Two: You checked the Save Password box the first time you entered your name and password for a remote site, but the site now requires a different password and you can't change the one Windows has stored.

Three: The password cache that Windows maintains has become corrupted and won't output the expected password for you.

In each of these cases, you may be able to use a little-known utility that my Windows 98 Secrets co-author, Davis Straub, recently discussed with me. This utility is Pwledit.exe (short for Password List Editor). It allows you to view a list of passwords you've saved and delete any that aren't working for you. You can't see the actual password, but deleting a password's existence allows you to re-enter the correct password the next time you log on to that particular resource.

Pwledit.exe is available on the CD-ROM of Windows 95 and 98, but it isn't installed automatically. To install it under Windows 98:

  • Click Start, Settings, Control Panel. Run the Add/Remove Programs applet, click the Windows Setup tab, then click the Have Disk button.

  • Browse to the folder X:\tools\reskit\netadmin\pwledit (where X: is the drive letter of your CD-ROM drive). Select the information file Pwledit.inf and click OK.

  • In the Have Disk dialog box that appears, turn on the check box to select Password List Editor, then click Install. The utility will appear on your Start menu under Programs, Accessories, System Tools.

To install the utility under Windows 95, follow the same steps but browse to X:\admin\apptools\pwledit.

If you can't find your Windows 95 or 98 CD-ROM, you can download a self-extracting file from

Password List Editor will work only for the particular user who is logged on. For more on this and other information, run the Resource Kit help file \tools\reskit\help\rk98hrlp.chm from the Windows 98 CD-ROM. Search for "pwledit," display the topic "Passwords," and scroll down to read "Using the Windows 98 Password Cache."

Unfortunately, Password List Editor may not solve your particular password problem. Here are some other tricks suggested by Microsoft Product Support Services that you could try for such problems.

  • In serious cases, you may need to close all applications, then rename the file C:\Windows\Username.pwl (where username is your log-on name) and restart Windows. This eliminates all of your passwords, which you'll need to re-enter. But it may clear up a problem with a corrupted password list file.

  • If you're still having problems, rename the file C:\Windows\Rna.pwl (if present), which may clear up passwords related to remote network access.

  • An old or bad password may also be stored by a Web site as a "cookie." In this case, use Windows Explorer to select all files in your C:\Windows\Temporary Internet Files folder and delete them.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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