Easily Set File Association in Mac OS X Using “Always Open With” App

Aug 15, 2011 - 37 Comments

Finder Setting and changing file type associations – that is, the application that launches by default when a file icon is double-clicked or otherwise opened – is extraordinarily simple in Mac OS X.

All you need to do is follow a few quick steps, starting off in the OS X Finder:

  • Right-click on any file that you want to associate with an application
  • Hold down the “Option” key to show the “Always Open With” menu
  • Choose the application to associate that file type with

Note that if you don’t have the right-click configured on the Mac, you can also use a two-fingered tap on a trackpad to mimic the right-click, or you can hold down the Control key to mimic the alternate click.

Set File Associations in Mac OS X to Always Open With an App

This sets a semi-permanent association between the chosen app and the file type, and the file-to-app association will remain unless something else either overrides it during installation, which can be fairly common with some applications, or unless you change it again yourself. Keep in mind that if you do want to change the file association again, all you need to do is Option+Right-Click on another sample of that file type and choose another app with the “Always” option.

Longtime Mac users may also be familiar with the other way to do this through the “Get Info” menu, which can work for both a one time use association for that specific file, or once within the Get Info window, by hitting the “Change All” button for that file type, to reassign all files of that format to the chosen application. For most cases, the option-right click method is much faster though, and it’s also easier to explain to newcomers, and all around more user friendly since it’s accessible from anywhere in Finder without having to launch a new window.

This ability has been around for a very long time in OS X, and you should find it in everything from the earliest releases of Mac OS through 10.1 all the way through OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, and beyond.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Thohi says:

    The fact that I had to look this up means that it is NOT – in fact – “extraordinarily simple”. On Windows this is an intuitive selection available in the context menu, and sets the extension association permanently (or rather, until you CHOOSE to change it again), rather than arbitrarily until your Mac decides to change it for you. I don’t understand Apple fanboys’ devotion to this backwards way of doing things, and then labeling it as “easy”.

    • Romit Man Man says:

      Cool story Thohi I’m glad you were able to associate your files with the right apps on the Mac. As you agree it’s very easy to change the application to file association in OS X, much easier than Windows ever was!

  2. AppleKing says:

    Hello OSXDaily,

    thanks for the hint, but as already stated that this works also in all other Mac OS versions, so even in OS Classic there was already this functionality. Please change the “Lion” from the headline. As we already have Mountain Lion and many readers are beginners, and don’t know if this works with their version of “Mac OS” as they can perhaps use Puma, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard or what ever…

    • Paul says:

      Excellent point, we made an adjustment to the post to clarify that this indeed works in Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, and all other versions of Mac OS X. Thanks for the input!

  3. Olav says:

    This did not solve my problem and a few minutes with Google did not give a solution either. So, my files are generated automatically on the form name.sh.o123456, with the numbers 1-6 being a counter, so could have any value. Using “Get info” only associates with a single file. Maybe I have to write a script that changes all the filenames to *.txt ?

  4. David says:

    How do I change a specific file association programmatically?

    I want approximately 1/2 my .pdf files to open with Preview and 1/2 to open with TeXShop, so I would like to be able to write a script that changes file associations for me.

  5. […] If you’d rather use a third party S/FTP client like CyberDuck or Transmit, set TextWrangler as the default associated text editor for the filetypes in OS X. Now you can use TextWrangler to open remote items, and […]

  6. Pete says:

    Enough with the hating man! I really appreciate the help. The Option thing didn’t work for me so I used the Get Info method described in the link at the top of the page and it worked like a charm! Thanks so much. This has REALLY been bugging me man!

  7. Nikki says:

    I also use RCdefaultApp http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/14618/rcdefaultapp to change it, but the checkbox for document files for MS Word 2011 are dimmed (i.e., you cannot uncheck them to disable using MS Word 2011 as the default app to launch with .docx or .doc files). It seems you cannot override them. Is there any way to unlock MS Word 2011 from using as the default app for its associated files?

  8. Nikki says:

    For some reasons, it doesn’t work for MS Office 2011. I hate Office 2011, and I want to change it back to Office 2008.

    I can only change one file at a time, for instance, from MS Word 2011 doc to MS Word 2008 doc. But when I tried to “change all”, they all revert back to MS Word 2011.

    How can I change the document to launch a previous version of the same app (such as MS Word 2011 back to MS Word 2008) without it reverting them back to 2011 version?

  9. Dean Holmes says:

    I have looked everywhere and finally found the way to do this. So simple. This fixed a long time issue that was showing Outlook as the default app for emails.

    Thank you

  10. Hut says:

    This method lets you change the default application for one file only, the “Get info” method lets you change it for all files that have the same extension.

  11. Sam says:

    Good information. Option Right Click “Always Open with” doesn’t reassociate the application to use for all items – under OS X 10.7.2.

    However Get Info method does the trick perfectly.

  12. aksuska says:

    This does not (at least *always*) work. I had a situation where upgrading Xcode screwed up my file associations. Doing the “always open with” *only* worked on a file-by-file basis, as it did in previous systems. Using the Get Info method, however, works like a charm. Using 10.7.2 if it matters…

  13. ali says:

    give you five stars => *****

  14. Amnuay says:

    For Quicktime seems it scan and change to its default. I tried to natively open with VLC too. It works for a while. After sometime it changed back to Quicktime again…. Any ideas how to turn this function of Quicktime off?

  15. Gabe says:

    Its sure that it associates the app with the file type and not only the specific file? Just because i tried to associate .avi files with VLC 5 mins ago, and it only associated the specific file, and not every file :( (btw the rcdefaultapp what Tim recommended works, but option+right-click combo would be a faster way)

  16. javier says:

    Why all the commenter hate? This is a great technique.

  17. fergy says:

    cheers for the share…..

  18. Doctor K says:

    Sometimes I just got the feeling OSXDaily editorial are ex Microsoft employees who started to explore OS X recently.

    And that’s a start… keep up the good work guys.

    BTW. Please explain what are these red yellow green butons in the left top corner for? I just cannot figure it out for myself.

    • Will says:

      Doctor K,

      Keep in mind that we have a diverse readership ranging from complete newbies to advanced users. You are welcome to submit tips and information you think would be compelling to any range of interests to osxdailycom@gmail.com

      BTW the red yellow and green buttons are close, minimize, and maximize ;)

      • Doctor K says:

        It’s not about diversity of readership. It is about spreading the wrong info especially for newbies. Since this feature exists for quite a long time it’s somehow irresponsible not to check it out first. That’s all.

        Thanks for the buttons tip. A new world of possibilities just opened in front of me… :-)

        • Will says:

          Most of us use OS X Lion full time so it’s difficult to check compatibility on prior versions of Mac OS X, but I do see your point.

          As always, thanks for the feedback!

  19. douglas says:

    This is a great trick and I didn’t know about it, old or new who cares it is a good one

    • Emmet says:

      Does anyone know how to do this with an appointment received through mail? Sender is making the appointment in Outlook on a PC then inviting by mail. I want to open with Calendar. I can command-click and choose Calendar each time, but if I just click, it launches an appointment in Entourage … which … I … hate.


  20. Ryan says:

    There’s already this feature in 10.6.8

  21. Tim says:

    Actually, I’ve had poor luck using Apple’s built-in method. Many times, things suddenly default back to a different application than what I had set. I’ve had much better, consistent luck with RCDefault App (http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/14618/rcdefaultapp).

  22. sure dude says:

    The above procedure works equally with MacOS X 10.6.8.

  23. Stuart says:

    You can also do this in Tiger, Leopard & Snow Leopard. Good work on those big breaking stories.

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