Refer to crypt(3) for details on how this string is interpreted.
If the password field contains some string that is not a valid result of crypt(3), for instance ! or *, the user will not be able to use a unix password to log in (but the user may log in the system by other means).
This field may be empty, in which case no passwords are required to authenticate as the specified login name. However, some applications which read the /etc/shadow file may decide not to permit any access at all if the password field is empty.
A password field which starts with a exclamation mark means that the password is locked. The remaining characters on the line represent the password field before the password was locked.
crypt() is the password encryption function. It is based on the Data Encryption Standard algorithm with variations intended (among other things) to discourage use of hardware implementations of akey search.
key is a user's typed password.
salt is a two-character string chosen from the set [a–zA–Z0–9./]. This string is used to perturb the algorithm in one of 4096 different ways.
By taking the lowest 7 bits of each of the first eight characters of the key, a 56-bit key is obtained. This 56-bit key is used to encrypt repeatedly a constant string (usually a string consisting of all zeros). The returned value points to the encrypted password, a series of 13 printable ASCII characters (the first two characters represent the salt itself). The return value points to static data whose content is overwritten by each call.