The Reason Behind the Restriction on Using Spaces in Passwords

Lucas Rainfall

Updated Tuesday, October 10, 2023 at 3:51 AM CDT

The Reason Behind the Restriction on Using Spaces in Passwords

When it comes to creating passwords, one of the most common restrictions users encounter is the prohibition on using spaces. This limitation has puzzled many, leading them to question why spaces are not allowed in passwords. In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind this restriction and explore the potential implications it has on user experience and security.

Customer Service and Usability Concerns:

One crucial aspect that many people overlook is that the restriction on spaces in passwords is primarily a customer service issue. Allowing leading or trailing spaces in a password can give rise to several problems. Firstly, users may find it challenging to write down a password that includes spaces accurately. Additionally, leading or trailing spaces are invisible to the human eye when the password is stored in a password manager, making it difficult for users to identify any potential errors.

Furthermore, the issue of bad kerning can cause a space to appear as if it is not a space, and vice versa. This can lead to confusion and frustration for users when they attempt to enter their passwords. Moreover, accidentally including spaces (and tabs) when copying and pasting a password from another document is a common occurrence. To mitigate these challenges, many input routines automatically trim leading or trailing spaces, as well as other "invisible characters" like tabs and line breaks.

Historical Conventions and Modern Acceptance:

The restriction on using spaces in passwords can be traced back to historical conventions that have persisted in some websites and applications. While the exact origins of this convention remain unclear, it is speculated that spaces were traditionally used as delimiters, which could have caused confusion if included in passwords.

However, it is important to note that many modern websites and applications have abandoned this restriction. As user PharaohOfWhitestone points out, spaces are now more commonly accepted in passwords. In fact, using full sentences as passwords is often recommended as they tend to be stronger than single words or names. This shift in acceptance reflects a growing understanding of the importance of user-friendly password policies.

The NIST Guidelines and Password Strength:

The most recent password guidelines from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) explicitly allow the use of all ASCII/Unicode characters, including spaces. Excluding spaces from passwords reduces the number of possible combinations, making it more difficult for users to choose memorable passwords. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of users resorting to writing down their passwords, which poses a security risk.

Moreover, by deviating from the NIST guidelines, companies must justify their decision to exclude spaces from passwords. It is crucial for organizations to strike a balance between security and usability, ensuring that their password policies align with industry best practices while also considering the needs and preferences of their users.

The restriction on using spaces in passwords primarily stems from customer service concerns and historical conventions. However, as the understanding of password security evolves, many websites and applications have embraced the acceptance of spaces in passwords. The recent NIST guidelines also advocate for the inclusion of spaces to enhance password strength and user experience. Ultimately, organizations must carefully consider the implications of their password policies and strike a balance that prioritizes both security and usability.

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