How to make any program the default on Windows 10

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 16, 2016
Updated • Jun 13, 2018
Windows, Windows 10

When Windows 10 users want to change default apps on their system, they will likely stumble upon the "default apps" options menu in the operating system's Settings application.

There you find a list of core types of applications, email, maps, music player, photo viewer, video player and web browser, and options to map individual apps or programs so that they take over the role on the device.

Microsoft maps default programs to these by default, Microsoft Edge as the default browser for instance. It has happened in the past that updates reset some or even all file and protocol associations on the operating system.

Changing default apps

windows 10 default apps

Do the following to manage default apps in the Settings application:

  1. Use the keyboard shortcut Windows-I to open Settings on the Windows 10 PC.
  2. Go to Apps > Default Apps.
  3. Click on a default application to change it. This opens a selection menu to select another program or use the Store to find an application to use.

One issue that Windows 10 users may run into when they try to change default apps is that programs may not be listed in the selection menu.

Microsoft displays installed apps and programs in the menu when you click on one of the default apps or programs to change it, and displays a link to find suitable apps in Windows Store.

What it does not do, however, is display options to pick a program manually which means that you cannot set portable programs as the default application in Windows 10 using the menu. Any program that is not recognized by Windows as installed or associated with the file type cannot be selected using the Apps menu.

Resolving the issue

While you cannot make portable apps or other programs not listed by Windows the default application using this configuration screen, you can use another way to make the necessary modifications to the operating system.

The Settings menu won't help you there, however, as all options that it provides limit the selection to installed programs or apps, and Windows Store.

Microsoft wants you to use the Settings application to assign file types to programs. The company removed the option to use the Control Panel to associated file types with programs in Windows 10 version 1803.

Problem is: the company did not improve the Settings application in this regard. It still does not feature a "browse" option to pick a program manually from the system.

We suggest you use Nirsoft's free FileTypesMan program to regain full control over the functionality. Check out our review of FileTypesMan here for additional information.


FileTypesMan lists all known file types in the interface on load and its associations. To change the association simply select it and press F4 to open the change prompt to select a different program.

Information below is valid for Windows 10 version 1709 or earlier

The classic Control Panel, for as long as it is still part of Windows, offers a solution.

Update: Microsoft changed the Control Panel options in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update so that they redirect to the Settings application instead. The Settings application, however, lists installed programs or Windows Store apps only. There is no option to set a program not suggested by Windows as the default handler for a specific protocol or file type.

You may open the classic management screens in the following way. Note that it is likely that Microsoft will remove these eventually:

  1. Tap on the Windows-key, type cmd.exe and select the result to open the Command Prompt.
  2. Type control /name Microsoft.DefaultPrograms /page pageDefaultProgram to open the "Set your default programs" Control Panel window.
  3. Type control /name Microsoft.DefaultPrograms /page pageFileAssoc to open the "associate a file type or protocol with a program" Control Panel window.

Use Windows-Pause to open the Control Panel. If you don't have a Pause-key, tap on Windows, type Control Panel and hit enter.

Select "Control Panel Home", and on the next screen "Default Programs".

control panel

Select "Associate a file type or protocol with a program" on the screen that opens.

default programs

This loads all known file types and protocols in a long list. Each extension or protocol is listed with its file extension or protocol, a description, and the current program associated with it.

set associations

There is no easy way to do this, which means that you have to locate all file extensions or protocols that you want to map to a program manually in the listing.

This can take quite some time depending on the program. A media player can be associated with dozens of file types for instance.

To change the association of an extension or protocol double-click on its line in the listing.

Note: If you get "Windows can't open this type of file", select "try an app on this PC" first.

Windows displays a selection menu that resembles the one from the Settings application but lists an option at the very bottom to "look for another app on this PC".

look for another app on this pc

This option loads a file browser that you use to select the executable file manually on the system. It enables you to select portable programs and programs not listed by Windows in the Settings menu.

Note: You may need to click on "more apps" in the menu first, then scroll all the way down until you find the option listed in it.

Repeat the procedure for all file extensions and protocols you want to map to the program.

Tip: You may also want to try the "set your default programs" option of the Control Panel applet. This makes things easier as it allows you to map all supported file extensions and protocols to a program. Windows may not list portable programs in the menu, however.

Closing Words

Windows users who don't run portable apps on their system may never encounter the issue, but those who do will run into issues when they try to map it to file extensions or protocols as Microsoft has not added that option to the Settings application.

Is it an oversight, metrics that show that portable application use is insignificant, or one way to promote Windows Store apps? We don't know at this point, but it is something that Microsoft should address before it removes the Control Panel for good.

How to make any program the default on Windows 10
Article Name
How to make any program the default on Windows 10
Find out how to make any program on Windows 10 the default application for a specific file type, protocol or purpose.
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  1. Dan Donx said on January 15, 2023 at 10:29 am

    What mental age of reader are you targeting with the first sentence? 10?

    Why not write an article on how to *avoid* upgrading from W10 to W11. Analogous to those like me who avoided upgrading from 7 to 10 for as long as possible.

    If your paymaster Microsoft permits it, of course.

  2. Dexter said on January 15, 2023 at 11:14 am

    5. Rufus
    6. Ventoy

    PS. I hate reading these “SEO optimized” articles.

    1. cdr said on January 15, 2023 at 3:32 pm

      I used Rufus to create an installer for a 6th gen intel i5 that had MBR. It upgraded using Setup. No issues except for Win 11 always prompting me to replace my local account. Still using Win 10 Pro on all my other PCs to avoid the bullying.

  3. sv said on January 15, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    bit pointless to upgrade for the sake of upgrading as you never know when you’ll get locked out because ms might suddenly not provide updates to unsupported systems.

    ps…. time travelling?
    written. Jan 15, 2023
    Updated • Jan 13, 2023

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 16, 2023 at 5:49 am

      This happens when you schedule a post in WordPress and update it before setting the publication date.

  4. Anonymous said on January 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Anyone willing to downgrade to this awful OS must like inflicting themselves with harm.

  5. basingstoke said on January 16, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I have become convinced now that anybody who has no qualms with using Windows 11/10 must fit into one of the following brackets:

    1) Too young to remember a time before W10 and W11 (doesn’t know better)

    2) Wants to play the latest games on their PC above anything else (or deeply needs some software which already dropped W7 support)

    3) Doesn’t know too much about how computers work, worried that they’d be absolutely lost and in trouble without the “”latest security””

    4) Microsoft apologist that tries to justify that the latest “features” and “changes” are actually a good thing, that improve Windows

    5) Uses their computer to do a bare minimum of like 3 different things, browse web, check emails, etc, so really doesn’t fuss

    Obviously that doesn’t cover everyone, there’s also the category that:

    6) Actually liked W7 more than 10, and held out as long as possible before switching, begrudgingly uses 10 now

    Have I missed any group off this list?

    1. Heinz Strunk said on September 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      You have missed in this group just about any professional user that uses business software like CAD programs or ERP Programs which are 99% of all professional users from this list.

      Linux doesn’t help anyone who is not a linux kid and apple is just a fancy facebook machine.

  6. ilev said on August 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    Microsoft has removed KB5029351 update

    1. EP said on August 24, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      only from windows update though
      KB5029351 is still available from the ms update catalog site

  7. Anonymous said on August 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    1. This update is labaled as PREVIEW if it causes issues to unintelligent people, then they shouldn’t have allowed Preview updates ot install.

    2. I have installed it in a 11 years old computer, and no problems at all.

    3. Making a big drama over a bluescreen for an updated labeled as preview is ridiculous.

    This is probably another BS internet drama where people ran programs and scripts that modified the registry until they broke Windows, just for removing stuff that they weren’t even using just for the sake of it.
    Maybe people should stop playing geeks and actually either use Windows 10 or Windows 11, but don’t try to modify things just for the sake of it.

    Sometimes removing or stopping things (like defender is a perfect example) only need intelligence, not scripts or 3rd party programs that might mess with windows.

  8. john said on August 24, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Windows 11 was a pointless release, it was just created because some of the Windows team wanted to boost sales with some sort of new and improved Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft cannot support one version well let alone two.

    1. John G. said on August 25, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Windows 11 is the worst ugly shame by Microsoft ever. They should release with every new W11 version a complete free version of Starallback inside just to make this sh** OS functionally again.

  9. EP said on August 25, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released a statement regarding the “unsupported processor” blue screen error for their boards using Intel 600/700 series chipsets & to avoid the KB5029351 Win11 update:–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–Error-Message-of-Windows-11-Update-KB5029351-Preview-142215

  10. EP said on August 29, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    check out the following recent articles:

    Neowin – Microsoft puts little blame on its Windows update after UNSUPPORTED PROCESSOR BSOD bug:

    BleepingComputer – Microsoft blames ‘unsupported processor’ blue screens on OEM vendors:

  11. Leonard Britvolli said on August 30, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    While there may be changes or updates to the Windows 10 Store for Business and Education in the future, it is premature to conclude that it will be discontinued based solely on rumors.

  12. sembrador said on September 5, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    My advice, I left win 15 years ago. Now I’m a happy linux user (linuxmint) but there is Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu depending on your needs.

  13. EP said on September 6, 2023 at 11:55 am

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released new BIOS/firmware updates for their Intel 600 & 700 series motherboards to fix the “UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR” problem (Sept. 6):–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–caused-BSOD-on-MSI-s-Intel-700-and-600-Series-Motherboards-142277

  14. Raphael Benzo said on September 24, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    I try to disable the Diagnostics Tracking Service (Connected Devices Platform User Services) but it wont let me disable it, any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Tank you for your help

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