How to Change File Associations in Windows

Here's how to change what program opens a file in Windows

Default Apps settings on Windows 10 Desktop

Ever double-tap or double-click on a file and then it opens in the wrong program, or in a program that you don't want to use?

Many file types, especially common video, document, graphics, and audio file types, are supported by many different programs, several of which you may have installed on your computer at the same time.

Windows can only open one program for a particular file extension automatically, so if you like to work with your PNG files in Photoshop Elements, for example, and not Paint, then changing the default file association for PNG files is what you need to do.

Follow the easy steps below to change a file type's program association in Windows. Depending on your version of Windows, you'll want to follow the first set of instructions for Windows 10 or the next set for Windows 8, Windows 7, or Windows Vista. Directions for Windows XP are further down the page.

Time Required: It'll take less than 5 minutes to change the program that's associated with a particular file extension, no matter which Windows operating system you're using or what file type we're talking about.

Setting a program's default file association does not restrict other programs that support the file type from working with them in other situations. More on this at the bottom of the page.

How to Change File Associations in Windows 10

Windows 10 uses Settings instead of Control Panel to make changes to file type associations.

  1. Right-click the Start button (or hit the WIN+X hotkey) and choose Settings.

    Settings item in Windows Pro menu
  2. Select Apps from the list.

    Apps button in Windows 10 Settings
  3. Choose Default apps on the left.

    Default apps sidebar item in Windows 10 Settings
  4. Scroll down a little and click or tap the Choose default apps by file type link.

    Choose default apps by file type link in Windows 10 Settings
  5. Locate the file extension you want to change the default program for. If you're not sure what extension the file is using, open File Explorer to find the file and use the View > File name extensions option to show file extensions.

  6. In the Choose default apps by file type window, click the program to the right of the file extension. If there isn't one listed, click/tap the Choose a default button instead.

  7. In the Choose an app pop-up window, pick a new program to associate with that file extension. If there isn't one listed that you want to use, try Look for an app in the Store. When you're done, you can close any windows you opened to make these changes.

    VLC media player icon in Choose an app submenu in Choose default apps by file type window

Windows 10 will now open the program you chose each time you open a file with that extension from File Explorer.

How to Change File Associations in Windows 8, 7, or Vista

  1. Open Control Panel. In Windows 8, the Power User Menu (WIN+X) is the quickest way. Try the Start Menu in Windows 7 or Vista.

  2. Tap or click on the Programs link.

    You'll only see this link if you're on the Category or Control Panel Home view of Control Panel. Otherwise, tap or click Default Programs instead, followed by Associate a file type or protocol with a program link. Skip to Step 4.

  3. Tap or click Default Programs.

  4. Choose the Associate a file type or protocol with a program link on the following page.

  5. Once the Set Associations tool loads, which should only take a second or two, scroll down the list until you see the file extension that you want to change the default program for.

    If you're not sure what extension the file in question has, right-click it (or tap-and-hold) the file, go to Properties, and look for the file extension in the "Type of file" line of the General tab.

  6. Tap or click the file extension to highlight it.

  7. Tap or click the Change program... button, located just above the scroll bar.

  8. What you see next, and the next step to take, depend on what version of Windows you're using. See What Version of Windows Do I Have? if you're not sure which set of instructions to follow.

    Windows 8: From the "How do you want to open this [file extension] file from now on?" window you see now, look through the programs and apps in Other options and find, and then tap or click on, the program you'd like to open when you double-click or double-tap these types of files. Try more apps for the complete list.

    Windows 7 & Vista: From the "Open with" window that popped up, look through the programs listed and choose the one you'd like to open for this extension. The Recommended Programs are probably the most applicable, but there may be Other Programs listed, too.

  9. Tap or click the OK button. Windows will refresh the list of file associations to show the new default program assigned to this file type. You can close the Set Associations window if you're done making changes.

From this point forward, when you double-click or double-tap on any file with this particular file extension, the program you chose to associate with it in Step 7 will automatically launch and load the particular file.

How to Change File Associations in Windows XP

  1. Open Control Panel via Start > Control Panel.

  2. Click on the Appearance and Themes link.​

    You'll only see that link if you're using the Category View of Control Panel. If you're instead using the Classic View, click Folder Options instead and then skip to Step 4.

  3. Click the Folder Options link near the bottom of the Appearance and Themes window.

  4. From the Folder Options window, click on the File Types tab.

  5. Under Registered file types:, scroll down until you find the file extension that you want to change the default program association for.

  6. Click on the extension to highlight it.

  7. Click the Change... button in the lower section.

    If you don't see that button, you should see an option called Select the program from a list. Pick that and click OK.

  8. From the Open With screen that you're now looking at, choose the program you'd like to open the file type with by default.​

    The most common programs that support this particular file type will be listed under the Recommended Programs or Programs list, but there may be other programs that support the file as well, in which case you can manually select one with the Browse... button.

  9. Click OK and then Close back on the Folder Options window. You may also close any Control Panel or Appearance and Themes windows that might still be open.

  10. Going forward, any time you double-click a file with the extension you chose back on Step 6, the program you chose in Step 8 will be opened automatically and the file will be opened within that program.

More About Changing File Associations

Changing a program's file association does not mean that another supporting program can't open the file, it just means that it won't be the program that opens when you double-tap or double-click on those types of files.

To use another program with the file, you'll just need to start that other program manually first, and then browse your computer for the particular file to open it. For example, you can open Microsoft Word and use its File > Open menu to open a DOC file that is normally associated with OpenOffice Writer, but doing so doesn't actually change the file association for DOC files as explained above.

Also, changing the file association does not change the file type. To change the file type is to change the structure of the data so that it can be considered to exist in a different format. Changing the file's type/format is usually done with a file conversion tool.