How to Create an Association in Windows' Set Associations Control Panel

By Lynne Pettus

Use the Set Associations dialog box in the Control Panel to associate a file’s extension with a specific app so that the file opens automatically in the app you choose. Alternatively, select a program to open certain types of files by default using the Set Default Programs window. Both methods give the same result: your files open by default in the app of your choosing.

Using the Set Associations Window

Step 1

Search for “default programs” and select it from the search results to launch the Default Programs dialog box.

Step 2

Click the “Associate a file type or protocol with a program” link to open the Set Associations window.

Step 3

Scroll down and select the file type extension that you want to associate with a specific app -- for example, MP4 -- and then click the "Change program..." button. Alternatively, just double-click the extension. Both actions open the same dialog box for setting a file association.

Step 4

Choose the program to associate with the file type at the “How do you want to open this type of file?” prompt -- for example, “VLC media player” for an MP4 file. If you have several apps that are capable of opening this file type, you may need to scroll down to find the one you want. When you select the app, Windows takes a moment to make the association. If the app you want is not displayed, click on “More options” to view additional apps, and then make your selection.

Step 5

View the new association in the Set Associations dialog box. Click "Close" and then exit the Control Panel.

Using the Set Default Programs Dialog Box

Step 1

Open the Default Programs dialog box by searching for “default programs” and selecting it from the search results. Click the “Set your default programs” link to open the Set Default Programs dialog box.

Step 2

Choose the program from the list on the left to select which files it should open. With an app selected, the dialog box displays the number of file types already set to open with this program -- for example, "VLC media player" is already the default program for 67 out of a possible 113 file types it is capable of opening. To use this program to open all possible file types, click “Set this program as default.” Alternatively, select “Choose defaults for this program” if you want to fine tune which file types this program can open. This selection launches the Set Program Associations dialog box.

Step 3

Choose the file types that you want to open using this program. Check “Select All” if you want all file types. Click “Save” when you have completed your selections, and then click “OK” to close the Set Default Programs dialog box.

Tips & Warnings

  • A quick way to set a default program without having to explicitly open the Control Panel is to right-click on the file, select “Open with” and click “Choose default program...” This launches a dialog box similar to that in the Set Associations window.
  • If the Set Associations window does not display the app you want, even after clicking “More options,” scroll to the bottom of the app list and select either “Look for another app on this PC” if the app is installed on your computer, or “Look for an app in the Store” if you want to purchase a new app.
  • If you are using the Windows Modern UI, access the default programs settings by searching for “file types” and selecting “Choose a default app for each type of file.” The “Choose Default Apps by File Type” dialog box that launches lists all file extensions in the same way as the Set Associations window. To set a default app, use the “Choose default apps” setting under Defaults in the Search and Apps section of the Control Panel.
  • When you install a new program that is capable of opening a particular file type, it displays in the list of programs in the Set Association window and other windows in which you can choose default programs.