How to Associate File Types in Windows

You want to open an attachment or file. You click on the file and one of three things can happen.

  • » It might open just the way you wanted it to.
  • » It might open, but in a program you don’t want to use.
  • » Or it might not open at all … without your assistance.

Who doesn’t love a message telling you to “Choose how this type of file is opened…”? If the computer can’t figure it out, how can you?

Actually it’s not that hard to sort through this type of issue. If a file is opening in a program you don’t want to work in or it won’t open without your input, you simply need to associate that type of file with a particular program. The key to this is simply choosing “Open With” on the file itself.


Opening Files in the Right Program

It’s very common for pictures to open in a program you don’t want. After all, there are many different programs on your computer that will allow you to look at pictures.

To set your preferences for how your computer opens certain files, follow the same steps you would for setting preferences with image files. (1) Right-click on an image on your machine. Select (2) Open with” and then move to the bottom menu option to (3) Choose default program.


In the menu that appears you have the option to choose from common programs already associated with that particular type of file.  Alternatively you can browse for a particular program.


If you see the program you prefer, simply select it and be sure that the “Use this app for all .jpg files” option is checked. This ensures that all similar files are opened the same way every time.

Needless to say, this process can be used for any file type – not just .jpg image files. You can repeat this procedure with whatever file you want to control.  Just  right-click on the original file and follow the same steps as above.

Browsing for a Specific Program

But what if  the program you’d like to use is not listed in the initial options?  In this case, let’s assume you’re looking at the preferences menu above.  Just  (4) choose More options” at the bottom of the menu to see other programs for consideration.  The list of choices will expand and again you’ll see the option to (5)look for another app on this PC.


If you select this choice, a window of your Program files will open. This is the directory in your computer that holds the majority of the executable files for your installed software.


You will need to (6) open the program folder that pertains to the application you want to use.  This may sound technical, but really it’s just a matter of opening folders until you find the program you want to to use.  Don’t be discouraged if you have to open a couple of folders nested inside each other.

Remember that these folders are usually labeled by the company name.  So it helps to remember that Flash and Photoshop are both made by Adobe; and that FireFox is made by Mozilla. See below for some more examples of difficult-to-find applications.

Once you’ve found the right folder, (7) find the executable (.exe) file that you are hoping to use.  The file will end in .exe.

Not seeing any file endings?  Sometimes these endings or file extensions are hidden. Here’s how to un-hide them.

If there are several files that end in .exe, find the one whose name most closely resembles that of the application itself – preferably with matching icon. In the image below, I’ve selected the .exe file that corresponds to the Windows Media Player. Notice how there are lots of .exe files in this folder, but the one selected is the best match to the application itself.


If your machine is a 64-bit operating system, the folder you’re looking for may be housed in the native program files directory (C:\Program Files) or in the x86 program files directory (C:\Program Files (x86)). This directory was invented to hold programs that are run as if they are on a 32-bit system. The procedure works the same way, so – if you have a 64-bit version of Windows – be sure to check here too if you don’t find what you’re looking for.



Setting File Defaults

Another option for setting default programs for particular file types is to use the Set Associations Menu. You can do this any time, not just when you’re trying to open a specific file. Simply open Windows Search and (1) type inSet Default Programs”. Then (2) openDefault Programs” from the search results.


If you’re using Windows 7 you can reach this menu by going to (1) Control Panel and then selecting (2) All Control Panel Items and then (3) Default Programs and (4) Set Associations.

In the menu, (3) chooseSet your default programs.


Browse for the program you prefer in the list provided and (4) selectChoose defaults for this program” to see the various file types it can support.


(5) Select the various file types you’d like your preferred program to open from the list provided. Just put in a check in the boxes beside the file types.


When you’ve checked your preferences, select (6) Save at the bottom of the screen.


Finding Difficult Programs

As you are searching for the right program to use when opening your files, you may encounter some challenges – in particular the difficult pathways to find the programs. Here are a few of the hardest files to find.


To find the Firefox executable, firefox.exe, you will start in the Mozilla directory.

Windows Explorer

Windows Explorer, or explorer.exe is found in the Windows folder (C:\Windows)


notepad.exe is also found in the Windows folder (C:\Windows)

Google Chrome

Chrome, or chrome.exe, can be found in the Google folder.

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop executable, or Photoshop.exe, can be found in the Adobe folder.

Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat, acrobat.exe, is used to open PDF files and can be found in the Adobe folder.