Windows

How do I... Change file extension associations in Windows Vista?

Like Windows XP before it, Microsoft Windows Vista relies on a system of file extensions to determine which application will be called for a particular file. To change file associations, a user must navigate to the Set Associations tool. Mark Kaelin shows how it works.
This article is also available as a TechRepublic download and as a TechRepublic gallery.

To determine which application will run when you double-click a file icon, Windows Vista uses the familiar file extension system made famous (infamous) in earlier versions of Windows. And just like the previous versions of the operating system, figuring out how to change a file extension association in Windows Vista can be a little frustrating if you don't know where to look.

The steps

The Windows Vista tool you use to change file associations in located in the Control Panel under the Default Programs icon, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Control Panel

Oddly enough, searching the "association" in the Vista search tool off of the Start Menu returns no results -- at least for me.

Once on the Default Programs screen you have two choices for changing file associations:

  1. Set your default programs
  2. Associate a file type or protocol with a program

You can also change AutoPlay settings for CDs and DVDs for this screen, as well as set program access settings. (Figure B)

Figure B

Default Programs

The first selection on the Default Programs screen (Figure B) is Set Your Default Programs. On this screen of the tool, as shown in Figure C, you can select a program and either give it complete control as the default program for all file extensions it can handle or choose the file extensions you want individually. How the list of programs was formed for this tool is not explained, but a few programs are missing from the list. The one program that comes to mind almost immediately is Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Figure C

Set Default Programs

Clicking the Choose Defaults For This Program option on the Set Default Programs screen (Figure C) shows you a list of potential file extensions that can be associated with the chosen program (Figure D). From here, you can check additional file extensions you would like Windows Vista to associate with the program.

Figure D

Select extensions individually

The second selection on the Default Programs screen (Figure B) is Associate A File Type Or Protocol With A Program. On this screen of the tool, shown in Figure E, you get a very long list of file extensions, including a description and the name of their associated program if it is known. To modify the program associated with a particular extension, you select the extension and click the Change Program button.

Figure E

Set Associations

In the example shown in Figure F, I have chosen the .inf extension, which is currently associated with Notepad. From this screen, I can choose to change the association to another available program.

Figure F

Change an extension association

If another viable program is not listed on the screen in Figure F, you can browse your system for programs (Figure G). Note that it is generally not a good idea to associate a file extension with a program that is not capable of reading or otherwise acting on it.

Figure G

Browse programs

Once your file extensions are selected, you click Save and then OK to apply your changes to Windows Vista.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

38 comments
perfectpitcher22
perfectpitcher22

Good tutorial, this guide is particularly helpful when troubleshooting problems associated with file extensions. Though we can follow this step-by-step process of changing file associations, there's actually a more easy way to do it. Some errors occur as a result of incorrect information being relayed to or from the Windows registry. It's possible to manually correct them using your above method, but I think it will be a long, arduous and tedious journey every time, especially if there's too much outdated file extensions to repair. As for me, I just use a certain software to automatically do it for me. I got it free from this site that talks about file extension.

ryaninspiron
ryaninspiron

that was not the question, what you need to to is hit "alt", then select tools, then folder options, next click the view tab, finaly right below the hidden options uncheck "hide known file extensions". you will now be able to change the extensions just by renameing it(ex. .zip to .ipsw (ipod firmware))

Rath150
Rath150

something messed up. opening .exe file goes to notepad somehow. need proper assoication

tonyb
tonyb

thanks this sure helps!

vijayneema
vijayneema

Somehow in my laptop .lnk was associated with Notepad, now all my links/shortcuts stopped working :( Can someone tell me how can I remove that association or reset it back to default? Thanks,

eileentefft
eileentefft

my pictures used to open in a particular folder in picturemanager. I followed these instructions to get it to open in picture manager but now I have to chose the folder. can you help?

nick
nick

Every PDF file requires me to Save Attachments in order for me to read it. I've used Set Associatons to set Adobe Reader 8.1 to display as PDF but it still does not work. Any ideas?

eyesak
eyesak

I have not found an easy way to remove the file association - (without an extra application) not replace the file association. I have had this to work only the first time, once you try to associate a file the second time after choosing the default in Windows - it seems to stick with what you have manually associated it with. You may want to use registry edit to check the default value name in hkey classes root, because once you have associated the file type with assoc .jpg= (or whatever extension) with = and enter nothing, the file type default value is empty in hkey classes root. Even after re-associating the file in the Open With context menu. Mic..soft making it difficult. If you don't want a .jpg to open with Windows photo Gallery and you want to select from a list. Or you want to be prompted open with for each time you want to open a particular file type. (always being sure to remove the "always use the selected program" check box) From a command prompt - Get there by choosing Start > All programs - Accessories - right click on the Command Prompt, left click on Run as Administrator - Use the Assoc command: example: at C:\... prompt key in assoc .jpg=.eyesak ^ (^ = carriage return or Enter) (Instead of .eyesak :) you can use some text that you know is not associated with a file type) Now .jpg file that was associated with whatever program grabbed it, or whatever you selected and did not see the "always use the selected program" check box - will prompt you with what program to open with. I hope - Note# I want to re-iterate this worked for the first de-association for me - after that I chose the default program, and I was not able to de-associate the file with an application. To do it the second time you may have to use the program mentioned in these posts, I have used it before on another Windows install and it worked well. Your mileage may vary. :) eyesak

Gerald Kirsch
Gerald Kirsch

They tell me that later this year Windows Vista is to be replaced by a new system called Windows 8 or some such name. So it might well save trouble to wait until the new OS comes along before monkeying with Vista file extension associations, etc. Yours sincerely, Gerald.

Clifford Francis
Clifford Francis

I have Windows Vista OS and Office 2007. I am unable to open Excel 2003 files directly by clicking on the file with Excel 2007. I checked the 'Set Associations' tab and the default for 'xls' files is Excel 2007. So it seems there is some other problem. Surprisingly I dont face this problem with Word or Powerpoint where I can easily open files of earlier versions directly.

mathematicalmark
mathematicalmark

This was NOT useful at all. It does not tell me how to change the file extention in Windows Vista! It does not tell me how to change the file extention, for an example: Change a .doc file to a .txt file.

hgeorgescu
hgeorgescu

How to do so as a file extension should NOT be associated with any program? (necessary because some programs "hijack" extensions -e.g.,Nero ShowTime hijacks .dat files)

neonraze
neonraze

This didn't answer the question. In order to change a single file extension Go to start> Control Panel> Switch to Classic View> Go to Folder Options> Click on view tab> Un-select hide extension for known files> Apply. This will allow you to change a single file format to any extension you need.

jbk1
jbk1

very helpful... however ... i have a power point file sent as an attachment in e-mail that will open fine once saved to documents but will still not open direct from mail. I went and checked and power point is checked as program assoc with .ppt file extensions.. so why do i have to save document to open it? and when i try i still get the mess "this file does not have a program etc."

rex.basham
rex.basham

You can get to the appropriate tools via Internet Explorer. This assumes you are running IE 7. Select Tools -> Internet Options -> Programs -> Set Programs -> Associate a file type or protocol with a program. From there, it's pretty much point, click, Change program. The only problem is if you do not have the correct application installed to handle the associated file extension. I also read someplace last night that M$ in their infinite paranoia have altered certain file extensions so they are no longer associated with the correct program/application. For example, a '.vbe' file is a Visual Basic Encoded Script file and should be handled by VB runtime. However, M$ has it snagged by Notepad.exe by default. It is pretty useless in Notepad. Particularly annoying if you own an HP machine and they send the update/patch files with the '.vbe' as the first file to execute for the update. Cheers, rexb

jnjr45
jnjr45

what file extention do I asscociate this file (.sys) with? Somewhow this file has been accidentally asscociated with AOL

kerrilknopp
kerrilknopp

I followed these steps but I'm guessing I need to buy a program to change .mov files to a file compatible with Windows Movie Maker or Windows Media Player? These are videos coming right off my digital camera; I guess I must have accidently or unknowingly associated these videos with Quicktime, I never use Quicktime. I could resave them if I had not already deleted them from my camera!

anas9
anas9

I associated an extension to a program that is not able to open it. i would like to remove the association without associating to a different one. i want it back to "no association" which results in windows giving me the option to search the web, etc

acb
acb

Didn't work for me! It associated my Bryce Studio files with Acrobat Reader! And It won't let me re-associate them with the correct executable. Reinstall of Bryce should fix this, methinks. Boy, a rollback to XP is looking better, and better ;-)

1reason
1reason

Thank you for sharing your expertise. I followed your instructions but my settings seem to be in order but I still cannot open ".pdf" files. I AM NOT a "computer person" so please bear with me. I had XP on my old Gateway and have (#%@$#&) VISTA on my new Gateway; all the old data has been transferred to the new machine. I never had a problem with .pdf files but I do now. I can't get help from MS, Gateway or the store where I bought the new computer so I am hoping you can help. I followed your instructions and found that the .pdf extension is already assoicated with Adobe. I deleted the old Adobe and downloaded Adobe 8.1. Still no joy! If I save the .pdf file to my desktop I can open it from there but this is a pain in the rear. Any ideas? Thanks. Don

jegonzalez
jegonzalez

What happend to the advanced edit file type settings.

kaspencer
kaspencer

I had discovered the processes described here during my lengthy investigations of Windows Vista. BUT one thing I never found, was the equivalent, in Windows Vista, to creating extra actions against a given filetype in Windows XP. For example, I often use Wordpad to read the text of files that may not primarily be intended for reading, such as a BAT or CMD file, or even a VBS file. Under XP I could create a new action, say, named "Wordpad", and assign the action to Wordpad. Thus, files may not only be "opened" but "wordpadded" (i.e. edited), an the extra action shows when a file of the type concerned is subject to a right mouse click. Where is that facility for creating such extra actions in Windows Vista ? Keneth Spencer

seanferd
seanferd

Your pictures used to open in picture manager, but now you are using the posted instructions to get them to open in the same program (picture manager)? If so, these instructions were not for you - you were apparently trying to do something else. "my pictures used to open in a particular folder" This was probably the default picture folder for Vista - "My Pictures", or whatever. "but now I have to choose the folder" Do you mean that you have to choose the folder to open if you double-clicked on a picture file? If you are opening picture manager by itself, chances are you may have to choose a folder, then a file to open.

saijipa
saijipa

I totally agree with you mate. As usefull as a dead man's coat. I hate when you look for a straight forward answer and some idiot titles their article like this one and it actually is about file association and nothing else. Just hate this. New software makes it really complicated to do simpliest of tasks. Annoying or what. Ciao

Ron_007
Ron_007

if all you want to do is change the file extension go into Windows Explorer, single click on the filename to select it (but not open it), press F2, move the cursor to the end of the name and do the renaming. But, simply doing this type of extension change is going to result in mostly unreadable crap, the binary transliteration of the DOC file formatting information. If you want to extract the text content of the DOC FILE into a TXT file then in Word do a File, Save As and select file type TXT.

eyesak
eyesak

That is the program I was looking for - have used it before works well. eyesak

Anthony.Draper1
Anthony.Draper1

You could try just changing the file extension via standard rename. Of course remember to make a copy of them first incase it doesn't work. Just a thought.

anthony
anthony

Yeah I've been back to XP for quite sometime. I upgraded my computer to the latest and greatest when I wanted to go to Vista and now I'm back on XP with the new hardware. My computer has never run better. ;)

dallen3747
dallen3747

With My Computer, open the Windows directory and locate notepad.exe. Right click - copy. Then Back to "programs" directory and create a folder named "notepad". Then open that and right-click, paste notepad.exe into folder. Close folder. Next, find a .dat file and right click on it, opening the menu where you can select the program to open .dat files. click browse, go to Notepad folder, open and click on "notepad.exe." Suddenly a whole list of extensions appears, as if by magic. Reclick on notepad.exe again and click "always open with...". This was the first thing in Vista I have encountered that made me angry with MS.It used to be so easy to do this. I'm really p.o.'d at Nero for not creating a filter for the dat (sound) file, rather than allow itself to select all .dat files. I hope this helped, if you still needed it. I couldn't figure out anything from any of the other posts. I had to go work it out myself. People seem too excited by seeing their words in print these days, or gossiping with each other in help columns. I guess, or else one of the "experts" would have passed the real fix along to you sooner. D.Allen

Kevin Cook
Kevin Cook

This may have been mentioned earlier but on Windows 7 I was able to change the EDIT file association for .HTML / .HTM from MS Word ... back to my old tried and true Netscape Composer using Default Program Editor - http://defaultprogramseditor.com/ I assume this will work for other file associations

thecoop
thecoop

After searching everywhere in Vista for a way to add an action, I ended up putting the printdir.bat file into the Send To folder just so I could print a directory listing with right-click!

thecoop
thecoop

I don't mean that in a derogatory way at all, Anthony. Powertools are great but why do I need a powertool in Vista to do what I could do routinely from within Folder Options in XP? Thanks for the resource, though!

triturador
triturador

Hey guys... For example, to change the default program for edit vbs files, open the registry and goto : HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\VBSFile\Shell\Edit\Command There change the default key to something like this: C:\Program Files\NoteTab Light\Notetab.exe %1 To let NoteTab to edit these files. Big hug.

anthony
anthony

I found my latest annoyance... The XNA XBOX development platform isn't ready for Vista. :( So much for my dreams of writing the next blockbuster title for the XBOX 360. Anthony

thecoop
thecoop

Sorry, Anthony, I couldn't help myself! I have a tech podcast and play the bass guitar, too...I guess that makes me a Bass Babe Tekkie Chick, huh? Yep, I've found plenty of Vista annoyances in the month I've been using it and most all of them have been with features a casual user wouldn't even miss.

anthony
anthony

I totally agree. Its silly that this isn't easily configurable within the operating system. If you look at the tool they created for managing the associations in the control panel it really makes you wonder why they would go to the trouble of making that and not having this particular feature. Oh well. Atleast it can be done.