How To: Change the Default Application to Open files on a Macbook

Aug 8, 2013

Each file type has a default application that is associated with it. This means that when you double-click a file from the Finder it will open a specific application, for example on a fresh Mac OS X installation, all image files (png, jpg, gif, pdf, etc) will default to opening in Preview, and all text documents (txt, rtf, etc) will open inTextEdit. Over time, the default applications and file associations can change as you install more applications, which sometimes set themselves as the new default app to open a file format with.

Change default applications for files in Mac OS X

If you want to change these default file format associations and have files open in other applications of your choosing, you’ll find there are two simple ways to do this: the first method defines the default application to launch for a specific single file, and the second method will change the application associated with all files of a given format type.

1: Set the Default Application for a Specific File

This provides file-specific control over default applications, meaning you can have a document or two that open in one app, while the overall general file type defaults to open in another application. For example, you could set one single PSD file to always open exclusively in Pixelmator, while all other PSD formatted documents continue to open in Adobe Photoshop.

  • From the OS X Finder, right-click (or Control+Click) on the file to change the default app for and hold down the OPTION key so that the “Open With” menu becomes “Always Open With”

  • Continue to hold OPTION and select the application you want to set as the default for this file

Set the default application for a file in Mac OS X

The file will open in the application you selected, and that file will now associatethe chosen application as it’s new default to always open within.

By the way, if you’re setting a file type this way and notice duplicate entries in that Open With menu, you can remove those duplicate entries with this quick trickto clean up the Open With contextual menu.

Again, this is specific to the file you chose, and this method will not apply to all filessharing that same file format. If you want to set the default application universally for a file type, that’s what the next tip is for.

2: Set Default Applications to Open All Files of a Format Type

This approach will change the default application universally for all files of a specific format. For example, you could use this to set all files of the type PNG to open within Skitch, all TXT files to open with TextWrangler, and all ZIP files to open with The Unarchiver.

  • From the Mac file system, select a file of the general format type you wish to change the default application for

  • Pull down the “File” menu and choose “Get Info” (or hit Command+i) to access the Get Info window

  • Click the “Open with:” sub menu, then click on the contextual menu and select the new application to associate all files of this format type with

  • Change the default application for all files of a format to be associated with

  • Click the “Change All” button and confirm the change when requested

  • Change All files of a type to always open with the set application

  • Close out of Get Info, repeat for other file format types if necessary

(Note: if the Change All button is greyed out and unclickable it’s because you have not set an application that is different than the currently set default app. Use the pulldown menu to choose the new application for the Change All button to be usable and to apply the adjustment to all files of the file format type)

This change carries throughout all files of that format used within Mac OS X for the active user account, and the filetype-to-application association will stay in place until it has been changed again through the same “Get Info” trick, or until a third party application claims the file format and associates with it directly.

You’ll find this one particularly useful if a newly installed application has assumed control over a file format, like what often happens with Adobe Reader claiming allPDF documents. This ‘Change All‘ trick will allow you to quickly reclaim PDF file types to reopen again in Preview (or your app of choice), which is typically much faster than launching such files in more resource heavy apps like Reader.


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  1. Jacey
    29 March, 2016

    Great article but it didn't have ev-tgrhinyeI didn't find the kitchen sink!