macOS Basics: Understanding User Accounts

Lesson 7: Understanding User Accounts


What are user accounts?

A user account allows you to sign in to your computer. By default, your Mac already has one user account, which you were required to create when you set up your computer. If you plan to share your computer with others, you can create a separate user account for each person.

Watch the video below to learn more about user accounts.

Why have separate user accounts?

At this point, you may be wondering why you might even need to use separate user accounts. If you're sharing a computer with multiple people—for example, with your family or at the office—user accounts allow everyone to save their own files, preferences, and settings without affecting other computer users. When you start your computer, you'll be able to choose which account you want to use.

Administrator, Standard, and Managed accounts

Before you create new user accounts, it's important to understand the different types.

  • Administrator: Administrator accounts are special accounts that are used for making changes to system settings or managing others' accounts. They have full access to every setting on the computer. Every computer will have at least one Administrator account, and if you're the owner you should already have a password to this account.
  • Standard: Standard accounts are the basic accounts you use for normal everyday tasks. As a Standard user, you can do just about anything you would need to do, like running software and personalizing your desktop.
  • Managed: Managed accounts are the only ones that can have parental controls. You can create a Managed account for each child, then go to the Parental Controls settings in your System Preferences to set website restrictions, time limits, and more. You can also convert a Standard account into a Managed account by enabling parental controls.

Generally, it's safer to be signed in to a Standard account than an Administrator account. If you're signed in as an Administrator, it may actually make it easier for an unauthorized user to make changes to your computer. Because of this, you may want to create a Standard account for yourself, even if you're not sharing the computer with anyone. You'll still be able to make Administrator-level changes; you'll just need to provide your Administrator password when making these changes.

To create a new user account:

  1. Use the Apple icon to navigate to System Preferences, then select Users & Groups.
    screenshot of selecting Users & Groups from the System Preferences menu

  2. Locate the Lock icon in the lower-left corner of the window. It will either be open or closed.
    screenshot of the lock icon in the Users & Groups menu

  3. If the lock icon is closed, you will need to click it and type your password to make changes. When you're done, click Unlock.
    screenshot of entering login credentials to unlock the User & Groups preferences

  4. Click the button with the plus sign (+) to begin creating a new account.
    screenshot of clicking the plus sign to add an account

  5. Choose the account type from the drop-down menu.
    screenshot of selecting an account type

  6. Type a Full Name and Password for the new account (the Account name will appear automatically). In the Verify field, type the password again. If you want, you can type a Password hint to help you remember it. When you are done, click Create User.
    screenshot of a completed form with a username and password

To switch to a different account:

  1. Click the Apple icon, then select Log Out.
    screenshot of clicking Log Out from the Apple menu

  2. A sign-in screen will appear. Enter the desired user name and password, then press Enter. In some versions of macOS, you may need to select the user account before typing the password.