Change file associations on the Mac for single or multiple files

How to change file associations on the Mac for all files or just for one file, leaving the rest set to the default

Double click a file and the Apple Mac runs an app to open it, but which app opens which file type? How can you change which app opens a file? Here are 2 ways to change file associations in macOS.

Mostly when you double click a file on the desktop or in a Finder window, macOS opens it for viewing or editing in the right application. This might be Word or TextEdit, or Photoshop and so on.

Sometimes it chooses the wrong application though. For example, you might want to load a JPEG image into a photo editor for for editing, but macOS opens it in Preview instead.

Should a .doc file open in Word, Bean, TextEdit or Pages when it is clicked? Should a PDF open in Preview or Adobe Acrobat?

There are often two or more applications installed on the Mac that can potentially open a particular type of file and the right one is not always used.

A default application is associated with a particular type of file, such as TextEdit with .rtf files, Preview with .jpg files and so on. It is possible to change the default application.

It is also possible to change the default for a single file without changing any others, even though they are the same file type.

Let’s take a look at a couple of word processor text documents stored as .rtf files. When they are double clicked, they open in the default app, which is TextEdit. Suppose we want to use a different app to open the files.

Files on the Apple Mac desktop

Choose the app to open a file

Hold down Ctrl and click a file on the desktop or in a Finder window. A menu is displayed and it contains an Open With submenu. This submenu contains a list of applications that can open this type of file.

There are five apps on my Mac that can open .rtf documents, but your Mac will probably have a different list of files. Select an app on the menu and it opens with the file for viewing or editing.

Use Open With to open a file in the application you want using macOS on the Apple Mac

Set the default file association

Try that again, but this time after the menu has appeared on the screen. Hold down the Option key. Notice that the Open With menu becomes Always Open With.

Whichever app you select from the menu will be set as the default app for that file type. Select Bean for example, and Bean becomes the default. From now on, simply double clicking a .rtf file would open it in Bean.

Use Always Open With to open a file in the application you want using macOS on the Apple Mac and set it as the default

All files of this type become associated with whatever app you select.

Get file info

There is another way to change the app associated with a file. Click once on a file on the desktop or in a Finder window and then select File, Get Info, or just press Command+I.

An information window opens showing every detail about the selected file. Half way down is a section called Open With. Click the application shown and a list of apps is displayed. This is the same as before.

Press Command+I on the Apple Mac to open the file info window

However, there is one important difference. Whatever app you select here becomes associated with this one file. If Bean is selected for this file then double clicking it will open it in Bean. No other file of this type (.rtf) will be changed and they still open in the default app, which is TextEdit.

This is a powerful feature and it enables you to change file associations for only those files you choose. The rest remain set to the default.

Change all file associations

If you want to change all file associations, click the Change All button after selecting the app. Every app will then open in the selected app.

Change the file association on the Apple Mac to whatever app you choose

So you can have a default app for a single file or all files. It is worth remembering this because it might come in useful on occasions.





I'm using OSX 10.12.5 (Sierra). I was unable to reproduce the first set of steps for changing the default file association. Maybe I misunderstood. Did you use a mouse with the key clicks? Because with keyboard only, these steps do not work. Just FYI.

Using the "Get Info" steps do work as intended.

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