Recover your iPhone Screen Time or restrictions passcode

Updated
Cover image for: Recover your iPhone Screen Time or restrictions passcode

What this guide will help you achieve

Difficulty: easy

Steps: up to 5

Time needed: 5 minutes

We've been covering changes in iOS restriction passcodes since iOS 2. Experience has taught us that Apple changes the mechanism at least a little with every major release of iOS, and the release of Screen Time in iOS 12 added more great functionality. We've kept up with this, and iPhone Backup Extractor is able to recover the Screen Time passcode or restrictions passcode from any Apple device on any version of iOS, through iCloud or iTunes backups.

If you forgot your iPad or iPhone's Screen Time passcode and need it to prevent accidental in-app purchases, or if you need to remove unwanted apps but can't, we've got you covered!

To get started, you'll need the following:

Windows PC or Mac

Windows PC or Mac

iCloud account and credentials

iCloud account and credentials

An iTunes backup

Or an iTunes backup

Forgotten your iPhone's Screen Time or restrictions passcode?

Forgetting a passcode can happen to anyone, especially if these are settings that you don't change regularly. What to do if you find yourself locked out of the "restrictions" settings?

Fortunately, there are ways to retrieve your restrictions settings without the need to restore your iPhone as a new device or jail-breaking it. Anyone that has been told this is difficult or that "you need to restore your iPhone as a new device through iTunes" should read on!

You'll need an iTunes or iCloud backup to retrieve your iPhone’s restrictions passcode. Make sure your backup was created after the phone had the restrictions PIN applied. You can do this by syncing with iTunes, and if you've already synced your iOS device since the "restrictions passcode" was set, you won't need to sync again.

How to recover your Screen Time passcode or restrictions passcode from an iTunes or iCloud backup with iOS 13

  1. Ensure you have recent encrypted iPhone backup.

  2. Before proceeding, turn off “Find my iPhone” in Settings[iCloud account name]Find MyFind my iPhone

  3. Connect the phone to iTunes with its USB cable, and click "Restore iPhone...". This will trigger iTunes to download the latest firmware for your phone, before erasing it and updating it. It is really important you have a backup before doing this.

    iTunes confirming the restore choice
    iTunes confirming the restore choice

    Choosing "Restore iPhone" in iTunes
    Choosing "Restore iPhone" in iTunes

    iTunes will double-check you've got a recent backup:

    iTunes asking to back up before a restore
    iTunes asking to back up before a restore

  4. Once the firmware upgrade has completed, iTunes will ask you to choose a backup to restore from. Select the backup you made earlier and restore it. Once it is restored, you phone will be how it was -- but without the Screen Time passcode.

How to recover your Screen Time passcode or restrictions passcode from an iTunes or iCloud backup with iOS 12

  1. Download and install iPhone Backup Extractor for Windows or Mac, then open it.

  2. Ensure you have an encrypted iTunes backup or an iCloud backup. (iPhone Backup Extractor can recover a Screen Time passcode from encrypted iTunes backups, or the older restrictions passcode from iTunes or iCloud backups. If your backup isn't encrypted, the passcode won't be stored in it.)

    If you want to use an iCloud backup instead of an iTunes one, use this guide to see how to download it on your computer. You'll need a license if you want to use an iCloud backup to get your restrictions passcode back. Once the file is downloaded, it can be used by the iPhone Backup Extractor like any regular iTunes backup file.

  3. On the left side of the application, you’ll see a list of backups. Select the backup with your passcode.

  4. Go to “Utilities” menu, click on “Recover Screen Time / restrictions passcode” then click on the “Start” button and wait.

    The Utilities → Recover Screen Time / restrictions passcode menu
    The Utilities → Recover Screen Time / restrictions passcode menu

    Then press the "Start" button and it'll start recovering your Screen Time restrictions code.

    Press "start" to recover the Screen Time or restrictions passcode
    Press "start" to recover the Screen Time or restrictions passcode

  5. In a few seconds, your iOS Screen Time passcode or restrictions passcode will be recovered. For demo purposes, the PIN recovered in the screenshot below is 1234, but this should be the passcode you forgot.

    The recovered Screen Time passcode!
    The recovered Screen Time passcode!

Troubleshooting Screen Time passcode recovery

If the Screen Time recovery option is greyed out or you're unable to get your code back, there are a few potential causes:

  1. You don't have a backup. That's easy to fix: it's free and quick to make one with iTunes.

  2. Your backup isn't encrypted. The Screen Time passcode is only stored in encrypted backups. That's easy to fix: head into iTunes, tick the "Encrypt this backup" box, and then hit "Back up now".

  3. iPhone Backup Extractor is still loading your backup. The "Recover Screen Time passcode" menu item will be greyed out until the backup is fully loaded.

  4. The passcode can be unavailable on a parent's device. If you've set the passcode on your device to enforce Screen Time on your child's device, we've found that sometimes the passcode is only recoverable from a backup of the child's device. We're investigating a fix for this.

If you run into any issues or questions why not drop our expert customer service a note or live chat, or leave a comment below? We'd love to help.

Tips for figuring out a lost Screen Time passcode

We've got a handful of tricks you can try if you're being prompted for a Screen Time passcode that you don't recall setting.

  1. Try 0000 as your passcode. We've read quite a few reports from users who were prompted for a code but hadn't set one, and this had tended to work for them.

  2. Users who insist they'd not set a Screen Time passcode before sometimes report that their "Guided Access" passcode works. It's worth giving it a go.

  3. Change the time on your phone to allow yourself more tries at the passcode. If you're prevented from trying again for a few minutes, bump the time forward by an hour. This'll let you retry.

  4. Apple's canonical solution for this is to erase your phone entirely and to start again. If you have a backup that predates adding a Screen Time passcode, restoring this will remove it. However, you'll also lose any messages or data you'd created in the meantime.

How it works, and how to manually recover the restrictions passcode for free!

If you're tech-savvy and think you could manage to manually hack your way to modifying the restrictions Plist yourself, here's our guide on how to reset the restrictions code using the free edition of iPhone Backup Extractor.

Depending on the version of iOS on your device, restriction passcodes are handled differently and stored in different places. iPhone Backup Extractor bundles all of this in automatically, but it's important to know if you're doing it manually. Let's take a look at the history.

iOS Plist & notes
12+ Migrated into "Screen Time"
7 - 12 com.apple.restrictionspassword.plist
5 - 6 com.apple.springboard.plist
Reset only
1 - 4 com.apple.springboard.plist
iOS SHA-1 file hash
12+ N/A
7 - 12 398bc9c2aeeab4cb0c12ada0f52eea12cf14f40b
5 - 6 662bc19b13aecef58a7e855d0316e4cf61e2642b
1 - 4 662bc19b13aecef58a7e855d0316e4cf61e2642b

Instructions for iOS 12 and up

With the release of iOS 12, Apple migrated the restrictions passcode data to a more secure location on the iPhone, and one which isn't practical to share manual instructions for. It's just too complex to recover by manually, but we have built the functionality to recover Screen Time restrictions into iPhone Backup Extractor since the iOS 12 betas.

Instructions for iOS 7 - 11

iOS 7 and up hashes the passcode using PBKDF2, which requires some unscrambling.

You can use the same steps as for earlier versions of iOS, but you'll need to grab com.apple.restrictionspassword.plist.

Once you've got it, look for these values:

<key>RestrictionsPasswordKey</key>
<data>...</data>
<key>RestrictionsPasswordSalt</key>
<data>...</data>

The key and salt are derived from your PIN with PBKDF2, and are relatively easy to unscramble with brute force. There are only 10,000 combinations!

Instructions for iOS 4 and below

Step 1. Extracting the com.apple.springboard.plist file

Once iPhone Backup Extractor is open, click on the "Expert mode" tab. This will open an explorer window where you can see all the files in your iTunes or iCloud backup. To find the com.apple.springboard.plist file navigate to Home DomainLibraryPreferences.

Finding springboard.plist in "Expert mode"
Finding springboard.plist in "Expert mode"

The list of files in this folder is alphabetical so it should be easy to find. Once you've found it, tick the box next to the mentioned file and click the "Extract" button. You'll then be asked to save the file, extract it somewhere easy to find like your desktop.

Step 2. Opening the com.apple.springboard.plist file

Let's open the Plist using iPhone Backup Extractor's built-in Plist editor. This is available in the menu under FileView / Edit Plist. Click that, and choose the Plist you extracted earlier.

Finding the Plist viewer
Finding the Plist viewer

Step 3. Viewing the "SBParentalControlsPin" aka the "Restrictions Passcode"

Scan down the file until you get to the line saying <key>SBParentalControlsPin</key>: the line under it should read something like <string>1234</string>.

The parental controls PIN! 🎉
The parental controls PIN! 🎉

Make a note of this number and enter it back into your iPhone when the "restrictions passcode" is requested. Voilà, you should now have full access to your lost "restrictions" settings!

We're looking forward to hearing your Screen Time passcode stories, and to see if we can help. If you have any other helpful iPhone hints you would like to share, please let us know or leave a comment below. If you get stuck, please reach out and we'll make it easy.

About the author

Aidan Fitzpatrick founded Reincubate in 2008 after building the world's first iPhone data recovery tool, iPhone Backup Extractor. He's spoken at Google on entrepreneurship, and is a graduate of the Entrepreneurs' Organisation's Leadership Academy.

Reincubate's CEO at Buckingham Palace

Pictured above are members of Reincubate’s team meeting HM Queen Elizabeth Ⅱ at Buckingham Palace, after being awarded the UK’s highest business award for our work with Apple technology. Read our position on privacy, safety and security.

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