The average person has almost 100 online accounts. Using the same password for each one makes you easy prey for identity theft, but creating, managing and changing dozens of passwords can be an unending, arduous task. A password manager does all that hard work for you — generating, storing and managing unique passwords and other sensitive data for all your accounts.
KeePass and KeePassX are two popular open-source password managers. Distinctions between the two go beyond an extra letter, and this article digs into those differences. We also discuss key features to expect in a good password manager so you’ll be equipped to make an educated decision between the two.
How We Evaluated KeePass vs KeePassX
There are a lot of password managers available touting multiple features and services. We cut through the noise and evaluated these two companies on what’s most important. Keep in mind that the best product for you also depends on how you plan on using a password manager — for personal, family or business use.
Common Features We Looked For
1. Security & Encryption
Strong encryption is important because encryption encodes and transforms information into a format that unauthorized users cannot read. It protects sensitive data such as passwords, usernames, PINs and credit card numbers. The industry standard is SHA-256 encryption with the Twofish algorithm or Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). A hacker would have to attempt 2^256 different combinations to crack your vault. Even if someone maliciously accesses your encrypted data, they wouldn’t be able to decipher it without your encryption key which is tied to your master password or key-file.
Online security experts note that most attacked accounts have weak passwords that rarely get changed. Password management software creates very complex passwords that would take years to crack. Such programs can also routinely put expiration dates on passwords, generate new ones and prevent password reuse.
A good password manager captures your credentials when you create an account. It will also update stored passwords when you change them. The software can synchronize your data across all your devices to ensure up-to-date protection.
The top password managers offer two-factor authentication as an added layer of security. This method requires two steps to prove your identity or authorization to access information. Two-factor authentication uses two of three types of authentication:
- Something you know: a PIN, password or answer to a question (city of birth, high school mascot, mother’s maiden name)
- Something you have: a phone, debit card or fob
- Something you are: a biometric identifier (fingerprint, voice, retina or face)
2. App Compatibility
The password manager you choose should be able to function with just about any operating system and hardware. Ideally, it can also operate with legacy versions. The program needs to have a Windows Chrome and Mac app or plug-in for browsing, editing and adding information.
Good passwords managers offer browser extensions that auto-fill passwords and other information. The software should at least be compatible with Chrome, Firefox and Safari; compatibility with Opera, Explorer or Edge browsers would be a plus for some users. Look for programs that offer apps for Android and iOS as well.
3. Usability & Ease of Use
A password manager should be virtually impregnable but easy to use. It should have an intuitive layout that lets you set up your vault quickly. All you will need to remember is your master password to unlock all your stored information. Most good programs also offer login options with biometric scanners for convenience.
The best password managers let you seamlessly import and export data from and to previous accounts. The software should include access to thorough, helpful information. Look for support such as customer service, FAQ sections or current community blogs.
4. Password Sharing
Relatives, trusted friends or business associates may need access to your passwords, so a password manager should allow for sharing while safeguarding your privacy. Some programs offer unlimited shared vaults for authorized users. You may also get guest accounts for limited sharing.
You’ll find a plethora of paid password management services that offer varying service tiers with monthly or yearly pricing options. However, several free programs have comparable features to those who charge. For instance, the best password managers — paid and free — can create and manage an unlimited number of passwords. Popular free password managers often feature 256-bit encryption as well.
KeePass vs KeePassX Comparison
We spent over 10 hours researching KeePass and KeePassX to see how they compare with each other on the five most important features. Below is the breakdown.
Security & Encryption
KeePass and KeePassX both offer SHA-256 encryption. They encrypt passwords while running to shut the potential backdoor of your OS’s dumping memory to disk that could reveal passwords. Further, both programs provide complete database encryption, safeguarding your usernames, PINs, credit card numbers and other information as well. KeePass supports encrypting databases using Windows user account credentials.
You gain access to the KeePassX database with a password, a key-file such as a flash drive or both. Combining the SHA-256 encryption with the key-file option gives you a strong two-factor authentication that is less susceptible to breaches. Both password managers let you customize the generator and feature a quality indicator that tests the strength of your chosen passwords.
KeePass and KeePassX can support several operating systems including Windows 32-bit and 64-bit. It runs seamlessly with Windows 7, 8, Vista and XP, too. The programs also work with various versions of Android, Linux, iOS and Mac OS X as well.
KeePass was originally developed for Windows only but now works with Mac and Linux via the Mono framework which allows Windows apps to run on these operating systems. However, the password manager feels like a Windows app being forced to run in a foreign environment. Using Qt software, KeePassX runs “natively” on Linux and Mac, so the interface looks and functions like an app designed for those OSs.
|Chrome/Chrome OS||Yes, with third-party extension||Yes|
|Internet Explorer||Yes, with third-party extension||Yes|
|Mozilla Firefox||Yes, with third-party extension||Yes|
|Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10||Yes||Yes|
|Opera||Yes, with third-party extension||Yes|
|Safari||Yes, with third-party extension||Yes|
Usability and Ease of Use
Installing KeePass or KeePassX is straightforward. However, the welcome screen has an outdated, old Windows-style design with no tooltips or pop-ups to guide you. A project called Security in a Box offers a useful guide that explains the setup pretty well, though. You don’t need to create an online account for either program.
KeePass gives you the option to open the database only when you log in as the same Windows user when creating the database. You can switch user accounts without affecting the KeePass database. However, if you reset your Windows password or delete your Windows account, you will no longer be able to open your KeePass database.
The skeleton version of KeePass is more like a password vault than a password manager, basically only offering strong password generation, storage and organization. While the password generator looks vintage, it is clear and lets you set and configure just about any aspect of your master password. Beware — if you forget your master password, you’ll lose access to your database forever and have to reset all of your passwords site by site.
You can enhance the functionality of KeePass with plug-ins. These extras let you access the program in your browser, import passwords from other applications or add another layer of sign-in security. Since KeePass does not provide customer support, though, adding plug-ins requires time and technical prowess to customize. However, its website features a help page that is detailed and well-organized.
KeePass and KeePassX are portable, so you can carry either on a flash drive and run on Windows without installing. You can export the password list to TXT, HTML, XML AND CSV and use it in other applications. The CSVs are fully compatible with most password platforms as well. KeePass 2.x offers full Unicode and enhanced high DPI support.
KeePassX can sort your entries into customizable groups and includes an integrated search function to search within a group or the entire database. However, the program does not integrate with browsers, so you would have to copy and paste passwords manually. This program does not support plug-ins, either. It cannot automatically back up your passwords.
Both KeePass and KeePassX download to your PC, so your data is stored locally. Many people feel that this is a more secure alternative to storing sensitive information on cloud-based platforms. You can transfer your password file to store wherever you choose. Just be sure to keep your master password secure and accessible to you and authorized users.
KeePass and KeePassX also support dozens of languages, thanks to open-source contributions from around the globe.
KeePass and KeePassX allow multiple users to work with one database. They can open the database with a shared master password or key-file. If a user attempts to open a database that is already opened by another user, a prompt gives the option to open in read-only or normal mode. By opening in normal mode, the current user becomes the owner.
KeePass and KeePassX are not configured for password sharing with a non-KeePass or KeePassX user. Neither program offers synchronization, so it’s possible to override other users’ changes. The developers recommend letting an administrator write to the database and restrict file system access rights.
KeePass and KeePassX are both completely free password managers. Developers welcome donations, but it is not necessary to pay for any of the services and plug-ins available. Users can create unlimited customizable passwords of any length, no strings attached. Their level of encryption matches the highest industry standards.
Overview: KeePass vs KeePassX
Both KeePass and KeePassX are solid choices, but as with any tool, you need to understand how to use it to maximize the tool’s usage. Below is a comparison table of the main functions of a password manager and how it works for each product.
KeePass vs KeePassX Comparison Table
|Setting up the vault||No installation required; import from many file formats||Same as KeePass|
|Logging into accounts||Copy and paste, drag and drop fields into other windows or auto-type; mobile PIN unlock depends on third-party plug-in||Copy and paste, drag and drop fields into other windows; auto-type supported on Linux only|
|Creating passwords||Password generator accessible when creating passwords||Same as KeePass|
|Changing passwords||Passwords can be thoroughly and easily customized||Must be backed up manually|
|Sharing logins||Logins must be shared with a password and/or key-file||Same as KeePass|
|Recovering account||No recovery option; repair functionality may help with corrupted files||No recovery option|
|Advanced security features||Two-factor authentication, option to enter master key on secure desktop, password strength tester, process memory protection, protection against dictionary attacks, closes database file when locking workspace, self-tests||Same as KeePass|
Both KeePass and KeePassX are great password managers that really put you in complete control of your sensitive data because they download and function off the cloud. Since price isn’t an issue, the best one for you depends on the features you need the most. These programs both call for a commitment of time and know-how to set up and sort things out. As compensation for your labor, you’ll gain a high level of security and expertise in password management.
You can enhance KeePass’s functionality significantly with plug-ins, plus the software benefits from regular security patches and updates. KeePassX performs more natively across different platforms, but it doesn’t support plug-ins. Further, it has not been updated since 2016; this lack of upgrading exposes the program to risk of being hacked. Techy tinkerers may find either option a rewarding challenge. For the average person looking for strong yet customizable protection, though, KeePass may be the better choice.