How To Change a File’s Default Application

Why Would I Want To Do This?

When you open or access a file on your Mac, it tries to be smart and helpful and choose what it thinks is the most appropriate program to use with that file type. In most cases the default should be okay and acceptable but sometimes you may want to associate a particular file type with a different program. One example that I ran in to was with text or .txt files where when I would double click on them they would open in TextEdit rather than my preferred application which is TextWrangler.

The process to set a new default file association isn’t difficult but it’s not really all that intuitive either so let’s show you how to do this now.

Open once or open always?


Before we fully commit, if you want to keep the default program associated with the file type but want to use a different program just for this session – the Open with menu is really handy. It lists a bunch of options that you can choose from which should be able to work with a file of the chosen type. Selecting a program from here will override the default (indicated by the check and the blue text) and let you access the file in your chosen application. This is a one time only deal though and it won’t update the association for future openings.

You can access the context menu by right clicking on a file or with a control – click directly on the file.

The File inspector is your friend


We’re going to dig in to the File Inspector here which we’ll access via the context menu by right clicking or control-clicking on a file and then choosing the Get Info option.

Inspect the Inspector


The Inspector is a very handy tool to do all sorts of powerful and interesting things with a selected file. You can view all sorts of data, change the label color, rename or add comments and much more. We’ll skip past all of this for today and jump down there to the bottom where you’ll see the Open with: section.

  1. We’ll click on the arrow to expose that full section.
  2. We’ll also roll up some of the other sections we don’t need by collapsing their arrows.

Review your Inspector


With a lot of the other stuff hidden, we can see from the image above that TextEdit is currently set as the default application to open documents of this type. We’re going to pop open that choice selector and choose our new default.

Make your new choice


You’ll see we get a choice of programs that are capable of opening and using that file type to choose from. In this case we want TextWrangler so we’ll just go ahead and select it from the list.

If you don’t see the program you want to use on the list you can select the Choose… option at the bottom and manually select the application from it’s currently installed location.

Make it permanent


Once you have the proper application selected click on the Change all button to commit to this choice full time.

Confirm your choice


This is a mighty big decision here so your computer is being a buddy and letting you know what you are doing and what the consequences are. Don’t you wish we always had someone like this around to make sure all of our decisions were so sound?

We know what we’re doing here though so go ahead and click OK

Close your inspector


Unless you’ve got other business in here, you can go ahead and close the Inspector.

Check your work – Tada!


I like to double check to make sure that I accomplished what I set out to do so I’ll double click on my file there and make sure it opens up in my selected program. It does Indeed. Nice Work!

You can use this same process to change the default program for any file type. Perhaps you want your images to open in Photoshop rather than Preview or your CSV files in Excel, or MP3 files in Winamp rather than iTunes. Teach your Mac how to take good care of you and it will try to do that moving forward.