Comprehensive Guide to John the Ripper. Part 3: How to start cracking passwords in John the Ripper (how to specify masks, dictionaries, hashes, formats, modes)

Table of contents

1. Introducing and Installing John the Ripper

2. Utilities for extracting hashes

3. How to start cracking passwords in John the Ripper (how to specify masks, dictionaries, hashes, formats, modes)

3.1 Quick start with John the Ripper

3.2 How to view cracked passwords

3.3 Mask attack in John the Ripper

3.3.1 Hybrid Stacked Mask

3.3.2 Variable length masks

3.3.3 Special characters in masks

3.4 How to view generated passwords. How to create a dictionary

3.5 Hash formats and sub-formats (dynamic formats)

3.6 How to use all CPU cores for cracking. John the Ripper multithreaded launch

3.7 Hot to View John the Ripper Job Status

3.8 How to recover an interrupted John the Ripper session

3.9 How to start password cracking in John the Ripper on a video card

3.10 How to use John the Ripper on Windows

4. Practical examples of John the Ripper usage

5. Rule-based attack



Quick start with John the Ripper

General view of the password cracking command in John the Ripper:


There are two the most frequently used options: --mask (the mask by which passwords are generated) and --wordlist (the path to the dictionary with passwords).

If you are familiar with the Hashcat mask syntax, feel free to use it, since John the Ripper fully supports this syntax, but also has additional features, which will be discussed later in this part.

HASH-FILE – this is the file in which the hash is saved. The hash is extracted using one of the utilities from “Part 2: Utilities for extracting hashes”.

To launch a dictionary attack, you need a dictionary. If you haven't, download rockyou:

7z e rockyou.txt.bz2

Next, generate a hash of the file whose password you want to crack. For example, I'll get a VNC hash:

./vncpcap2john '/home/mial/VNC.pcapng' > vnc.hash

Let's see the contents of the vnc.hash file:

cat vnc.hash

There I have it (for tests, you can create your own file named vnc.hash and copy the following into it): to$vnc$*894443629F4A9675809CFF5DA2E84651*271D94EB610B5C42588DC53506419E6A

To launch a dictionary attack, run a command like this:

./john --wordlist='DICTIONARY' HASH-FILE

I have DICTIONARY and HASH-FILE in the same folder as the executable john, then my command is as follows:

./john --wordlist='rockyou.txt' vnc.hash

The password was cracked very quickly:

Pay attention to the line where the cracked password is “222222”:

222222           ( to

To launch a mask attack, use a command like:

./john --mask='MASK' HASH-FILE

For example:

./john --mask='?d?d?d?d?d?d' vnc.hash

The password was cracked again quite quickly:

How to view cracked passwords

All cracked hashes and the chosen passwords are saved to the john.pot file – look for this file in the folder with the john executable file (if it is compiled from the source code) or in the ~/.john/ folder.

You can also use the --show option, but remember that it requires you to specify the HASH-FILE from which hashes were taken to crack passwords:

./john --show HASH-FILE

For example:

./john --show vnc.hash

Output: to

Mask attack in John the Ripper

The authors of Hashcat consider a Mask attack to be the most basic one, capable of replacing full brute force. Indeed, this attack mode and dictionary attack are used most often.

John the Ripper supports many more useful modes, but even a brief discussion of them will take a long time – therefore, a separate part will be devoted to password cracking modes. For most users, at first, a dictionary attack will be enough – which is quite simple, it is enough to specify a dictionary file, and a mask attack, which we will deal with right now.

The mask attack allows creation of a mask of character classes which can be in specific positions when building a candidate to test.

Mask mode is a fast way to produce password candidates given a “mask” that describes what the words should look like.

A mask may consist of:

  • Static letters.
  • Ranges in [aouei] or [a-z] syntax. Or both, [0-9abcdef] is the same as [0-9a-f].
  • Placeholders that are just a short form for ranges, like ?l which is 100% equivalent to [a-z].
  • ?l lower-case ASCII letters
  • ?u upper-case ASCII letters
  • ?d digits
  • ?s specials (all printable ASCII characters not in ?l, ?u or ?d)
  • ?a full 'printable' ASCII. Note that for formats that don't recognize case (eg. LM), this only includes lower-case characters which is a tremendous reduction of keyspace for the win.
  • ?B all 8-bit (0x80-0xff)
  • ?b all (0x01-0xff) (the NULL character is currently not supported by core).
  • ?h lower-case HEX digits (0-9, a-f)
  • ?H upper-case HEX digits (0-9, A-F)
  • ?L lower-case non-ASCII letters
  • ?U upper-case non-ASCII letters
  • ?D non-ASCII "digits"
  • ?S non-ASCII "specials"
  • ?A all valid characters in the current code page (including ASCII). Note that for formats that don't recognize case (eg. LM), this only includes lower-case characters which is a tremendous reduction of keyspace.
  • Placeholders that are custom defined, so we can e.g. define ?1 to mean [?u?l]
  • ?1 .. ?9 user-defined place-holder 1 .. 9
  • Placeholders for Hybrid Mask mode:
  • ?w is a placeholder for the original word produced by the parent mode in Hybrid Mask mode.
  • ?W is just like ?w except the original word is case toggled (so PassWord becomes pASSwORD).

Mask Mode alone produces words from the mask, for example ?u?l?l will generate all possible three-letter words, with first character uppercased and the remaining in lowercase.

Hybrid Stacked Mask

Hybrid (a.k.a Stacked) Mask means we use e.g. a wordlist with or without rules (or any other cracking mode), and then apply the mask to each word. So with a mask of ?w?d?d and an input word (from the parent cracking mode) of “pass”, it will produce "pass00", "pass01" and so on until "pass99". Hybrid Mask can be stacked upon any other mode except single. Hybrid Mask can even be applied after hybrid regex, eg “prince → regex → mask”.

For most fast GPU formats, mask mode (including hybrid) is several orders of magnitude faster than any other cracking mode, as the mask (or part of it) is applied on GPU side. Hybrid mask can thus be used as a GPU accelerator for any mode except single. To benchmark the speed of such format using a mask, use “--test --mask” (using some default mask) or optionally with a specific mask, eg. “--test --mask=?a?a”. You can list all formats featuring internal mask using “--list=formats -format=mask”.

External filters can be applied too, and will be applied last of all. The “longest” chain is thus “wordlist → rules → regex → mask → filter”. Using external filters with “GPU side mask” will cause a somewhat undefined behavior though: The filter will be applied before the GPU-side mask has finished the word!

You can define custom placeholders for ?1 .. ?9 using command line e.g. -1=?l?u or in john.conf section [Mask].

Variable length masks

There is a default mask in john.conf too (defaulting to same as hashcat). This should be used with -max-len (and possibly -min-len) to do any good.

The -max-len=N option will truncate the mask so no words longer than N are produced.

The -min-len=N option will skip generation of words shorter than N.

If not in “hybrid mask” mode, and either -min-len or -max-len option was used, we will iterate lengths (as in “incremental mask”) from -min-len to -max-len (or format's min or max length, if one was not given). So to produce all possible words from 3 to 5 letters, use -mask=?l -min-len=3 -max-len=5. In case the specified mask is shorter, the last part of it will be expanded, for example “-mask=?u?l -max-len=5” will use an effective mask of ?u?l?l?l?l. Whenever using incremental mask, the ETA at any given time shows estimated time to complete the current length, as opposed to the whole run.

Special characters in masks

You can escape special characters with \. So to produce a literal “?l” you could say \?l or ?\l and it will not be parsed as a placeholder. Similarly, you can escape dashes or brackets to prevent them from being parsed as specials. To produce a literal backslash, use \\.

There is also a special hex notation, \xHH for specifying any character code. For example, \x41 is “A” and \x09 is the code for TAB.


Mask Custom mask / hybrid input Output Num candidates
pass   pass 1
pw?d   pw3 10
?w?d?d?d password password123 1000x
?w?s?w Bozo Bozo#Bozo 33x
?w?s?W Bozo Bozo#bOZO 33x
0x?1?1:?1?1:?1?1 -1=[0-9a-f] 0xde:ad:ca 16777216
?3?l?l?l -3=?l?u Bozo, hobo 913952
[Pp][Aa@][Ss5][Ss5][Ww][Oo0][Rr][Dd]   P@55w0rD 1296

We have on-device mask mode support for most fast hash types for which we have OpenCL support at all. Further, such on-device mask support can be used along with a host-provided stream of partial candidate passwords to form a variety of hybrid modes. For example, these are all valid:

  • Test any 7-character printable ASCII strings, with a reasonable number of the mask positions being processed on device (JtR decides to optimally split the mask between host and device):


--mask='?a' --min-length=7 --max-length=7

Ditto, but for range of lengths 1 to 8:

--mask='?a' --min-length=1 --max-length=8

Can also use length ranges with more complex masks, where the last mask component would be the one extended to higher lengths:

--mask='start?l?d' --min-length=7 --max-length=14

Other, more complex examples of using the mask will be considered in a separate part, which is completely devoted to the modes of generating, changing and processing passwords.

How to view generated passwords. How to create a dictionary

With the --stdout option, you can show the generated password candidates instead of starting the cracking. This can be useful when checking composed masks and when generating dictionaries.

For example, to show all the password candidates for the '?d?d?d?d' mask:

./john --mask='?d?d?d?d' --stdout

To save all passwords for mask '?d?d?d?d' (all four digits words) to a file:

./john --mask='?d?d?d?d' --stdout > 4d.txt

To create a dictionary containing all numbers from 1 to 9999 and save it to 1-4d.txt file:

./john --mask='?d?d?d?d' --min-length=1 --max-length=4 --stdout > 1-4d.txt

To create a file with passwords (phone numbers) starting with “8905143”:

./john --mask='8905143?d?d?d?d' --stdout > beeline.txt

You can print out only password candidates limited by LENGTH, use an option like--stdout=LENGTH.

Hash formats and sub-formats (dynamic formats)

The following command calculates the MD5 hash for the word “mial” and saves it to the hash.txt file:

echo -n mial | md5sum | awk '{ print $1 }' > hash.txt

hash.txt file content:

cat hash.txt



How to crack this MD5 hash?

If you run something like this:

./john --mask='?l' --min-length=1 --max-length=8 hash.txt

Then the error will be received:

Can't set max length larger than 7 for LM format

It says that it is impossible to set a maximum length greater than 7 for the LM format. But we have the MD5 format – it is obvious that John the Ripper made a mistake with the definition of the hash format.

Some hashes JtR can determine independently, without specifying the type, but if necessary, you can explicitly specify the type of hash that you want to crack.

From the previous parts, we remember that all possible formats can be viewed with the command:

./john --list=formats

To make it easier to navigate the resulting output, we can use a command of the form:

./john --list=formats | grep -i --color 'FORMAT TO SEARCH'

For example, I want to find the exact name of the MD5 format, then I run this command:

./john --list=formats | grep -i --color md5

Two found formats are interesting at once:

  • Raw-MD5
  • raw-MD5-opencl

Many hashes, for example, for encrypting passwords of various websites content management systems (CMS), etc., take various functions for calculating checksums (MD5, SHA1, etc.) as a basis and use them in combination with salt and iterations. In relation to these types of hashing, MD5, SHA1 and others are "elementary", that is, more basic, well, or "raw".

That is, “raw” in the names of these two formats means that this is a regular MD5. And “opencl” means that a video card can be used to crack the hash.

When you have found the required format, then look at its name – in this case we need a format called “Raw-MD5”. This name must be specified with the already familiar option --format=FORMAT. So the format is called Raw-MD5, so I add --format=Raw-MD5 to the command line and now my command looks like this:

./john --format=Raw-MD5 --mask='?l' --min-length=1 --max-length=8 hash.txt

Hash successfully cracked:

We also need to be aware that JtR supports sub-formats (or dynamic format). In fact, subformats are a great feature that allows you to compute iterated and various combined algorithms that are not provided by the original set of algorithms.

A separate section will be devoted to subformats. Now we will just learn to look at the name of the format we need. To do this, use a command of the form:

./john --list=subformats | grep -i --color 'FORMAT TO SEARCH'

I'm still interested in MD5, so I run a command like this:

./john --list=subformats | grep -i --color md5

A lot of things were found, first of all, I'm interested in the line:

Format = dynamic_0   type = dynamic_0: md5($p) (raw-md5)

raw-md5 means "just md5" – exactly what I need. So that I am sure not to be mistaken, the function (formula) for calculating it is given: md5($p). Here $p stands for the password, and md5() calculates the MD5 hash of the passed string.

When you find the format you want, look at its name – in this case, the format is called “dynamic_0”.

This name must be specified with the already familiar option --format=FORMAT. What's new for us is that this option can be used not only with format names, but also with subformat names.

So the format is called dynamic_0, so I add --format=dynamic_0 to the command line and now my command looks like this:

./john --format=dynamic_0 --mask='?l' --min-length=1 --max-length=8 hash.txt

The hash is successfully cracked again:

How to use all CPU cores for cracking. John the Ripper multithreaded launch

Let's take a hash that is slightly more difficult to crack:

echo -n hackware | md5sum | awk '{ print $1 }' > hash.txt

Let's see the contents of the hash.txt file:

cat hash.txt

In this MD5 file, the MD5 hash of the string “hackware”.


Let's run the command for hacking:

./john --format=dynamic_0 --mask='?l' --min-length=1 --max-length=8 hash.txt

It's clear that:

  1. CPU is not fully utilized
  2. Search speed 52034Kp/s

To significantly speed up the cracking speed, use the --fork=NUMBER option, set the number of logical CPU cores on your computer as a number. For example, if there are 12 logical cores, then you need to use the --fork=12 option:

./john --format=dynamic_0 --mask='?l' --min-length=1 --max-length=8 --fork=12 hash.txt

As a result:

  1. CPU is fully used
  2. The search speed has become 24338Kp/s per thread, but 12 threads are running. That is, it increased by 24338 / 52034 * 12 = 5.6 times.

You can try to specify the number of not logical, but physical cores as the value of the --fork option – perhaps this will be more efficient on your system.

There is no need to worry that the system will become unresponsive – by default John the Ripper uses only free processor resources – you can continue to work on your computer as usual, there will be no “hangs” and “freezes”.

Hot to View John the Ripper Job Status

The JtR progress status includes the percentage of work completed, ETA (completion time), brute-force password candidates, current candidate. If the program is run in several threads, then this information is displayed for each of them – this can be seen in the previous screenshots. The John the Ripper work status is displayed when switching to a longer mask, and also at certain intervals. If you want to display the progress of work done, then press Enter at any time and the status of the work will be displayed immediately.

How to recover an interrupted John the Ripper session

By default, John the Ripper saves the crack progress for the last session. That is, if the work of JtR ended abruptly, for example, due to an unexpected restart of the computer, then use the --restore option to continue the last session:

./john --restore

You do not need to specify options or a file with hashes – all settings are saved in the session file.

If you want, you can use named sessions, so you can resume any of them, not just the most recent one, for this add the --session=NAME option.

To restore an interrupted named session, use the --restore=NAME option. That is, you need to specify the session name that you used with the --session option.

How to start password cracking in John the Ripper on a video card

Hacking on a graphics card is very similar to hacking on a CPU. The main difference is that you need to specify a different format with the --format option. Not all algorithms support GPU cracking (OpenCL). It is necessary that the name of the required algorithm contains the string “-opencl”. The above command is suitable for searching:

./john --list=formats | grep -i --color 'FORMAT TO SEARCH'

We run the already familiar command:

./john --list=formats | grep -i --color md5

The required algorithm is called raw-MD5-opencl, we use it with the --format option:

./john --format=raw-MD5-opencl --mask='?l' --min-length=1 --max-length=8 hash.txt

Hacking speed reached 1670Mp/s! On the central processor, when running on all 12 cores, the speed was 292Mp/s.

Of course, at this speed, the hash is cracked very quickly:

How to use John the Ripper on Windows

The password dictionary file used in this article can be downloaded from the link:

Most of the scripts that are used to extract hashes from password files can also be run on Windows. But for this you need to install Python, Ruby and Perl. You can find detailed instructions in the respective articles:

In addition to scripts, John the Ripper ships with compiled (binaries) files for extracting hashes. They should run smoothly in Cygwin.

In John the Ripper's Windows startup commands, you may need to replace single quotes with double quotes (or vice versa if a syntax error occurs).

Perhaps, in Windows, it not necessary to use quotes in some cases (for masks, for example). But this is only if you are running JtR not in Cygwin, but in the CMD (or PowerShell) of Windows.

If you have any errors when working with JtR and related tools in Windows, then write these errors in the comments. Examples of errors might be: missing dependency for a Python script, or “file not found” due to a Cygwin file system or a syntax error. All of this can most likely be resolved, so ask.

While you can now fully use John the Ripper and crack passwords, this is far from the end of the JtR tutorial. More material is being prepared to reveal all the capabilities of this powerful brute force. Therefore, share the link to this guide to speed up new parts.

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