The Notes app, particularly paired with iCloud syncing, provides
an easy way to jot down shopping lists, share information with
other people, and record your private thoughts. But because some
people might feel a little exposed by that, Apple lets you set a
password for Notes on your devices and selectively lock notes for
which you want extra protection. This password syncs across iCloud
if you use have Notes enabled in iCloud settings on your
But set that password carefully! The password is not stored in
iCloud Keychain, nor can it be retrieved from anywhere else. If you
can't remember and haven't stored it manually in a password
manager, the notes locked with it are unrecoverable forever. Apple
can't unlock them.
That's a bit of a scary thought because locking items with a
password in Notes works differently than nearly all other password
entries across the entire Apple ecosystem.
Create and use a locking
You can create a password for locked notes on an iPhone, iPad,
- In iOS or iPadOS, go to Settings Notes
Password; if multiple accounts appear, select the one
for which you want to set a password. Enter a password. If either
is available, you can opt to enable Face ID or Touch ID; it's not
- In macOS, go to Notes Preferences and click
Enter Password. You can choose to enable Touch ID to
unlock notes on Macs with built-in Touch ID or M1-series Macs with
a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID.
Set a password for
locked notes—but beware! You need to make a record of it.
In all of those operating systems, you can set a hint. This may
be vitally important if you ever reset the password, as explained
below in the reset section.
With a password set up, you can now choose to lock individual
notes. Setting a password has no automatic effect. Here's how to
lock a note:
- In iOS or iPadOS, press and hold a note entry and tap Lock
Note; within a note, click the More (…) button in the
upper-right corner and tap the Lock icon. (Remove the lock
later by tapping Remove Lock in either location.)
- In macOS, right-click an item in the Notes list and choose
Lock Note or, with a note selected, click the lock icon in
the toolbar and choose Lock Note. (Remove the lock later
by choosing Remove Lock in either location.)
I found in testing that behavior is a little erratic,
particularly in syncing notes and their locked status. Synced notes
often don't have their locked status updated immediately. And
enabling biometrics on one device when the password was initially
set on another doesn't seem to work correctly. For instance, I
enabled Touch ID on my Mac with the Notes password, locked some
notes, and then enabled Face ID for Notes on my iPhone. However, I
continued to have to type in the password on my iPhone. At some
point—and I don't know what triggered it—Notes in iOS put up a
prompt asking if I wanted to enable Face ID for Notes. I already
had! Nevertheless, I agreed, and then Face ID unlocked notes from
that point on whether they were locked on my Mac or iPhone.
that can be reset
Enabling Face ID
doesn't always immediately let you unlock notes locked on your
Once created, you can never disable the password for Notes.
Instead, you can reset it in the same place in iOS, iPadOS, and
macOS that you turned it on, as above. If iCloud sync for Notes is
enabled, you're prompted for your Apple ID password to proceed.
Resetting the password encrypts all notes from that point on
using the new password. If you unlock notes that were locked before
you reset the password, you will either:
- Be prompted to enter the old password with Touch ID and Face ID
aren't enabled for unlocking notes. If you have reset your Notes
password multiple times, you may be unsure which password applies
to a given note. Enter a password incorrectly twice and Notes
displays the hint you set—if you set one.
- Use Touch ID or Face ID, if they were enabled at the time the
password was set for that note.
If you forgot your Notes password without enabling Face ID or
Touch ID or never enabled either of those, there's no way to
With Face ID or Touch ID enabled for a given password, you can
unlock those notes without knowing the associated password as long
as you can enable those biometric methods of unlocking your
However, should you ever be unable to use Face ID or Touch ID
and you couldn't remember the associated Notes password or
passwords, you would be unable to unlock those encrypted notes
This all seems a bit more complicated than it should be. Apple
passes your most secure passwords and codes through iCloud Keychain
without relying on such a fragile system. Thus, if you must lock
individual notes, use a password manager to store the password you
pick, including adding an entry by hand to Settings
Passwords (iOS/iPadOS); Safari Preferences
Passwords (macOS), or the Password preference pane
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted
by Macworld reader Bruno.
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