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Forgot Your PDF Password? 7 Ways to Unlock a PDF

January 4, 2022

Looking at a PDF file you want to open that you forgot the password for?

Don’t worry. This happens to a lot of people.

The primary purpose of locking a PDF is to prevent access to unauthorized personnel. But what happens when you forget the password to a locked PDF? 

If you’ve found yourself locked out of a PDF or lost the file where you’ve saved your password notes, then you’re in the right place.

You can use a few techniques to access the PDF document without losing or distorting the PDF format. In this article, you will learn 7 different ways you can unlock your password-protected PDF.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What Is Password Protection? 2 Types of PDF Locks You Need to Know About
  • How to Unlock Your PDF File If You Know The Password

What Is Password Protection? 2 Types of PDF Locks You Need to Know About 

The password-protection feature is available for different purposes depending on the reason for locking the PDF. 

Typically, there are 2 main types of file locks: Document open password and Permissions password.

It’s important to know the type of PDF lock you’re looking at first, in order to determine how to unlock it.

What is a document open password? 

When a PDF is fully-locked, it does not allow anyone to view the file without its password. In this case, without the password, you cannot open or view the PDF document.

So, if a PDF file has a document open password, you can’t open or edit it if you don’t know the password.

What is a permission password? 

When a PDF file is locked to prevent editing, it can be opened and viewed by people without a password. But when the person viewing it tries to edit, modify or make a comment, it will require the input of the password.

So, if a PDF file has a permission password, you can open it but you can’t edit it.

Now, let’s take a look at what are some of your options whether you know or don’t know the PDF password.

How to Unlock Your PDF File If You Know The Password

If you want to unlock your PDF and you know the password, you can go through these simple steps to open the document.

  1. Go to the folder where your locked PDF is
  2. Open the locked document using any PDF viewer
  3. Input the correct password, and you will be granted access to the file.

If you wish to remove the password from the document, follow these steps:

  1. After you have unlocked the file, click on file
  2. Then click on Info> Protect document> Encrypt with Password
  3. It will then show the password box, clear the password until it is empty.
  4. Then click OK.

Or

  1. Open the locked document with Microsoft Word
  2. In the tabs, click on Review.
  3. Then select Restrict editing> Stop Protection.
  4. It will show a dialogue box to input the password and put in the password.
  5. Click on Unprotect document, then click OK.

The password protection will no longer be there after this, and the PDF file can be viewed without any restrictions.

If a colleague sent you a password-protected file with the password that you’re authorized to access, you can unlock it with the steps above. This will be much more convenient way to handle the PDF content as you won’t have to enter the password every time just to access it.

But what if you:

  • Don’t know the password and it’s important you open the file.
  • Forgot the PDF password and you need to open the file.
  • A colleague didn’t send the file and you need to open the file now, not hours after they remember to reply.

In that case, here are some options to unlock the PDF file.

7 Ways to Unlock a PDF File If You don’t Know Or Forgot The Password

If you don’t know or can’t remember the PDF’s password, the following are a few techniques and software you can use to gain access to your document.

  1. Unlocking the PDF file using Google Drive.

Opening your locked document with Google Drive is free and easy to use. These are the steps taken to unlock your PDF:

  1. Open your Google Drive account (you can create one if you do not have an account).
  2. Click New and upload the locked PDF file you want to open.
  3. After the file has been uploaded, you will see a gear icon in the upper right corner. Click Settings, and it will bring out a menu.
  4. Then click on Convert Uploaded files to Google Docs editor format from the menu.
google drive convert editor format

5. After it converts the file and uploads the new one, click on it and open it with Google Docs.

6. Then, click on File and select Download as > Microsoft Word.

7. The downloaded file will be unlocked and be of the same format and content as the locked file.

google doc download word

PS - Looking to remove a password from a Word document? Check out our guide to removing a password from MS word with examples.

2. Rename the PDF file

To remove the password or gain access to your locked PDF, you can rename it and change it to a zip file. 

The process involves a little back and forth, but it will be easy if you follow these steps.

  1. Go to the file location of the locked PDF.
  2. The document will most likely end with .doc or Docx. Change it to .zip.
rename pdf file to docx
  1. After the file has been renamed, open the renamed file with Windows Explorer.
  2. In the new open folder, there will be a file with the name setting.xml. Delete this file
  3. After you delete the file, you can change the file’s name back to .doc or docs.

You will be able to view the newly saved file.

3. Change the PDF file format

This will work only if the PDF is locked to prevent editing. 

You will change the text format to a Rich Text format, removing the password and allowing editing and modification of the PDF. This method works mainly with Microsoft Office Pro 2010. It is a long process and will require patience to get it done. This is the step-by-step process to take

  1. Open the locked PDF file with Microsoft Office Pro 2010
  2. Then click on Save on the top left corner
  3. In the pop-out box. change the Save as type to Rich Text Format
  4. Save the document.
pdf file save as txt

5. Click on the newly saved file and open it with Notepad.

6. Then down-press Ctrl + F; this will pop out a Find tab.

7. Search for Password hash and change it to no password.

change as no password hash pdf file

8. Then save

9. Click on the saved file and open it with Microsoft Word

10. In the open file, in the top left corner, click on Review Tab > Restrict editing in the top left corner.

11. Then click on Stop Protection and untick all the boxes by the right side.

12. Save the changes and save the PDF.

13. After removing the password, you can change the file format back to what it was.

4. Use an online password remover to unlock the PDF

There are quite a few tools that do this online.

Small PDF’s ‘Unlock PDF’ tool is a free and easy online password remover that can safely remove the password from a locked PDF without causing any damage to the PDF. 

To unlock your PDF:

  1. Go to your browser and search for Unlock PDF tool by SmallPDF.
  2. Upload the file you would like to unlock.
unlock pdf file smallpdf

3. Tick the box that asks you to pinky swear that the file is yours.

small pdf agree to unlock

4. Click Unlock PDF and download the unlocked file.

This works if the file was locked to prevent viewing.

If it is locked against editing, you might have to use another method to unlock editing mode. 

This method will not recover the forgotten password. it will only unlock the password-protected PDF.

5. Edit with Wordpad

Wordpad is an in-built Windows software that can view and edit your documents. Wordpad also helps to unlock password-protected PDFs, which are locked against editing. But in case of data loss, you should have an extra copy of the file just in case.

Here’s how to unlock a password-locked PDF file with Wordpad: 

  1. Right-click on the locked PDF, and in the resulting pop-out, click Open with > Wordpad.
  2. After the file opens on Wordpad, edit and modify the file to taste.
  3. Save the changes, and Wordpad will pop out a warning saying Saving this document will cause some content that can’t be displayed in Wordpad to be lost. You can either Save or Save a copy. 

The saved file will be the one with the changes made.


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6. Save the PDF as a new file

This method will work if you can view the PDF, but you cannot edit. It is a sort and easy process that involves the following steps:

  1. Open the file location of the locked PDF, and open it in Microsoft Word.
  2. The resulting pop-out box will ask for the password. Instead, click on Read Only.
word save pdf as read only
  1. After it open in the read-only format, click on file> Save as.
  2. In the resulting dialogue box, change the file name and click on Save.
  3. The renamed file will be editable.

7. Open the PDF with Google Chrome

If all has been tried, you should try this technique of opening your locked PDF with Google Chrome. It is a simple process that includes:

  1. Open the file location, and right-click the PDF
  2. Click on Open with > Google Chrome
  3. The file will be opened on Google Chrome, right-click the opened file and click print. Or down-press CTRL + P
  4. Then click Change and change the file destination to Save as PDF
  5. Save the new document.

The new document should be without a password.

Check out our full guide to opening a PDF document in Chrome for more info on this and how to make Chrome your default PDF viewer.

How to Lock the PDF Again

Finally, after unlocking and gaining access to the locked PDF, you can still lock the PDF to keep it safe. 

It is advisable to use an easy-to-remember password or put it down and keep it somewhere accessible to prevent the recurrence of forgotten passwords. 

To lock your PDF again, here’s what to do:

  1. Open the PDF with Microsoft Word.
  2. Click on File > Info > Protect Document.
ms word protect pdf file document password

3. Click on the type of protection you want or click Encrypt with Password.

msword encrypt file password

4. Input the desired password and click OK

Then you have a locked PDF again.

Consider saving the PDF password in a separate file or piece of paper so you don’t forget it this time around!

Conclusion

Hopefully, the user-friendly methods listed above worked!

Forgetting the password to your PDF can be frustrating and annoying. To prevent this from happening, you should put some measures in place to prevent a recurrence.

  1. Write down the new password and keep it in a safe place.
  2. Put down all your passwords in a folder in Google Drive or a password manager tool like 1Password.
  3. Write it down on a piece of paper and keep it near your computer.

You can use any of the methods stated above to make sure you remember your password and ensure that your PDF is secure.

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The easiest way to automatically generate and manage paperless documents at scale.
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