I bet very few of our readers have heard about the Credential Manager, let alone know what it is and how to use it. I did not know that much either, even though I was aware of its existence. That's why, this tutorial tries to demystify the Credential Manager, show how to use it and explain why it is important to your Windows computing experience.
What is the Credential Manager?
Credential Manager is the "digital locker" where Windows stores log-in credentials (username, password, etc.) for other computers on your network, servers or Internet locations such as websites. This data can be used by Windows itself or other applications that know how to use it, such as: Windows Explorer, the tools included in Windows Live Essentials, Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer or applications for running virtual machines (such as Windows Virtual PC).
The credentials are split into three categories:
- Windows Credentials - are used only by Windows and its services. For example, Windows can use this data to automatically log you to the shared folders of another computer on your network. Or, to store the password of the Homegroup you have joined and use it automatically each time you access what is being shared. If you type a wrong log-in credential, Windows remembers it and fails to access what you need. If this happens, you can edit or remove the incorrect credential, as shown in later sections of this article.
- Certificate-Based Credentials - they are used together with smart-cards, mostly in more complex business network environments. Most people will never need to use such credentials and this section will be empty on their computers. However, if you want to know more about them, check this article from Microsoft: Guidelines for enabling smart card logon with third-party certification authorities.
- Generic Credentials - are defined and used by some of the programs you install, so that they get the authorisation to use certain resources. One very common example of a generic credential is your Windows Live ID, stored and used by the tools included in Windows Live Security Essentials.
These credentials are automatically stored and managed by Windows and the applications you are using. Unless you want to know which credentials are stored on your computer or you need to remove or edit an incorrect one, you won’t need to use the Credential Manager.
Important: Windows 8 adds one more type of credentials called Web Credentials. As the name implies, such credentials are used by Internet Explorer to automatically log you into certain websites.
Web credentials are created and deleted by Internet Explorer via its password management features. You are not able to create web credentials from the Credential Manager, only view existing credentials or remove them.
How to Open the Credential Manager
One way of launching the Credential Manager is to open the Control Panel and go to User Accounts and Family Safety -> Credential Manager.
The fastest way is to search for the word "credential" in the Start Menu search box and click on the Credential Manager search result.
The Most Common Credentials
On most Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers, you will see mostly the same credentials being stored.
Very common examples include:
- Homegroup logon details - there will always be a user called HomeGroupUser$ with its password stored and used to access what is shared via the Homegroup.
- virtualapp/digital - this is a credential about which very little is known. It seems to be created by Windows 7 and Windows 8. Some say that it is used by the virtualization features included in Windows and by Windows Live Essentials products.
- WindowsLive:(token) - stores the log-in details for your Windows Live ID.
Adding a Credential
The process of adding a credential is very simple. First, think about the correct type of the credential you want to add. Which of the three is it?
Let’s assume you want to add a Windows credential, so that you can log-in to another computer’s shared folders.
Click "Add a Windows credential".
You are then asked to type the necessary login details. First, type the IP address or the name of the computer. Then, type the username you want to use to login. Don’t forget to type the name of the computer before the user name, as shown in the screenshot below. Next, type the password and click OK.
The credentials have now been stored and will be used automatically each time you access that network computer.
Removing a Credential
To remove a credential, first find it and expand it, by clicking on its name or the arrow on the right.
Next, click on "Remove from vault".
You are now asked to confirm the deletion process. Click Yes.
The credential has been removed and will no longer be used.
Editing an Existing Credential
To edit the details of an existing credential, first find it and expand it. Then, click on Edit.
You are now able to change its details. Don’t forget to press Save, so that your changes get stored.
As you can see from this article, the Credential Manager has an important role in your computing experience. Knowing how to find it and work with it, can be important when you are not able to log in to different network and web locations, due to the wrong details being stored and used.