The Mac keychain is an encrypted database that stores passwords, account names, and secret keys used by various apps and services on your Mac. It allows you to store sensitive information securely while providing easy access when needed.
However, sometimes you may encounter an unrecoverable error when trying to access the keychain. This usually prevents you from logging into accounts, accessing saved passwords, or using features like iCloud Keychain.
If you see error messages like “The keychain cannot be opened because it contains unrecoverable data” or “An error occurred while opening the keychain”, don’t panic. Here are some steps you can take to troubleshoot and fix an unrecoverable keychain error on your Mac.
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1. Reboot Your Mac
The first thing to try when faced with a keychain error is to simply reboot your Mac. This clears out any temporary glitches that may be causing the issue.
- Save and close any open apps and documents.
- Click the Apple menu and select Restart. Or press and hold the power button and click Restart when prompted.
Once your Mac starts back up, try accessing the keychain again. The reboot clears caches and fixes many software issues.
2. Reset Your Keychain
If rebooting did not resolve the error, try resetting your keychain. This creates a new default keychain and may clear out any corrupted files.
To reset the keychain:
- Open the Keychain Access app in your Utilities folder.
- Click Keychain Access in the menu bar and select Preferences.
- Click the Reset My Default Keychain button.
- Enter your admin password and restart your Mac.
After your Mac restarts, the new empty default keychain will load. You may need to re-add credentials that were stored before.
3. Reset PRAM/NVRAM
Resetting PRAM (Parameter RAM) and NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM) can help fix system settings like keychain problems. PRAM stores basic settings like volume and keychain while NVRAM stores more recent settings.
To reset PRAM and NVRAM:
- Shut down your Mac completely.
- Press the power button and immediately press and hold Command + Option + P + R.
- Keep holding the keys until you hear the startup chime a second time.
- Release the keys and let your Mac finish starting up.
This resets system settings to default and may clear keychain errors.
4. Start in Safe Mode
Booting in safe mode loads only essential macOS files and drivers. This can isolate whether a third-party app or startup item is causing the unrecoverable keychain error.
To start in safe mode:
- Fully shut down your Mac.
- Press the power button and immediately hold down the Shift key.
- Let go of Shift once you see the login window.
If the keychain opens successfully in safe mode, a problematic third-party software is likely the culprit. You can then troubleshoot by uninstalling recently added apps or drivers.
5. Reinstall macOS
A corrupted operating system can also manifest as a keychain error. Reinstalling macOS may be required if you’ve tried the other steps with no success.
To reinstall macOS:
- Restart your Mac and hold Command + R until you see the Apple logo.
- Select Reinstall macOS from the options and follow the prompts.
This will install a fresh copy of the operating system, fixing system file errors. You won’t lose user data but may need to reconfigure settings.
6. Disable iCloud Keychain
If you use iCloud Keychain, try turning it off temporarily to see if that resolves the local keychain errors.
To disable iCloud Keychain:
- Go to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud.
- Uncheck the box for Keychain.
This prevents syncing between your devices which could be causing the conflict. Test if local keychain works again before re-enabling.
7. Remove Keychain Files
You can also try removing damaged keychain files from your user Library folder. Make sure to back them up first.
To remove keychain files:
- Open Finder and select Go > Go to Folder.
- Enter ~/Library/Keychains and click Go.
- Drag the Keychains folder to your desktop.
- Restart your Mac and test the keychain again.
If the keychain works properly without those files, you can delete the old damaged keychains. You’ll need to re-add any credentials or certificates.
8. Restore From Backup
If no other fixes resolve the issue, you may need to restore your system from a backup to return to a working state.
You can restore from a Time Machine backup or bootable duplicate to recover a functioning keychain setup. Make sure your backup is up to date before restoring.
9. Contact Apple Support
If you still see unrecoverable keychain errors after trying all these steps, you should contact Apple technical support.
An Apple technician can further diagnose the issue and may be able to access logs or run special tools to fix keychain problems.
They may suggest advanced steps like deleting and rebuilding the keychain database or recommend sending your Mac in for repair if hardware issues are suspected.
Troubleshooting Keychain Issues
Here are some general tips for troubleshooting and preventing keychain problems on your Mac:
- Keep your Mac up to date with the latest macOS updates which include keychain fixes.
- Avoid opening suspicious files or links which could introduce malware that corrupts the keychain.
- Create occasional backups of your keychain files in case they need to be replaced.
- Use strong, unique passwords for each account to enhance overall security.
- Monitor login attempts and error messages for signs of potential keychain corruption issues.
- If a specific app is having keychain issues, update the app and reset its individual keychain data.
Reset Keychain Permissions
In some cases, keychain corruption can occur if permissions have been incorrectly modified. You may be able to restore proper access by resetting keychain permissions.
To reset keychain permissions:
- Open the Keychain Access app and quit it.
- Launch the Terminal app.
- Enter and run the command: sudo chmod -Rf 777 /Library/Keychains
- Enter your admin password if prompted.
- Restart your Mac.
This resets permissions to their factory default state. Test if the keychain unrecoverable error has been resolved.
Unrecoverable keychain errors can prevent access to important credentials and services on your Mac. By troubleshooting the issue using steps like rebooting, resetting the keychain, reinstalling macOS, or contacting Apple Support, you can eventually resolve the problem. Be sure to regularly backup your keychain files as a precaution. With some targeted troubleshooting, you can get your Mac’s keychain back up and running smoothly again.