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A rim lock is basically a lock installed on the surface of the door. There may or may not even be any trim or a lock cylinder on the exterior of the door. If keyed access is required from the exterior, a rim cylinder is usually installed prior to installing the lock. The tailpiece of the rim cylinder extends through the door into the rim lock on the inside.
A residential night latch like this is an example of a rim lock, as is the commercial exit hardware pictured below.
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