How to set default apps in Windows 11

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 23, 2023
Windows 11 Help

Setting up default applications should not be difficult on any platform, but sometimes, companies have certain goals in mind that affect usability. This has been the case since the release of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system, and has been an ongoing problem with the release of Windows 11.

While Microsoft promised to give users more control over default apps, e.g., here and just recently here, the reality so far has been that Microsoft has made it difficult to set non-Microsoft apps as the default and keep the setting that way through updates or other Microsoft shenanigans.

Microsoft still has not addressed some of the major complaints that users have had for a long time. While there is a Default Apps section in the Settings app, it lacks options to set all supported file types to a specific application. There are a few exceptions, web browsers a notable one, but the "set default" button is only available for these and not the majority of programs on the system.

Setting default apps in Windows 11

default apps windows 11

Here are the default options to make an application or program the default file handler on Windows 11 devices.

  1. Use the keyboard shortcut Windows-I to open the Settings app.
  2. Switch to Apps > Default Apps.

Microsoft's operating system displays the installed applications on the device on the page that opens. There is also an option to search for a specific file type or link type, and options to set defaults by application, file type or link type.

Selecting an application on the Default Apps page lists all file types that it supports. For most applications, it is necessary to assign file types or link types manually. This is done by clicking on one of the lines and then selecting the currently selected application as the default for it.

This may work if an app supports a few file and link types, but some support hundreds. It takes a long time to assign all of these to a program using the default option. The only exception to this are browsers, which have a "set default" option.

Usually, it is better to find out if an app supports setting it as the default handler for all the file types it supports. Some applications support the feature in their preferences, others only during installation. It may even be worth a re-installation of the app to make it the default in that case.

Microsoft may also display a prompt to users, if they try to change a default. This is the case for Microsoft Edge and PDF files, but it is very likely that other file types or programs are also handled with special privileges.

default apps microsoft edge

Setting defaults by file type or link type works similarly. It is one change at a time, and that may take a long time to complete.

Windows 11 includes another option to change file type associations, but it is also limited to one change at a time. Open File Explorer and right-click on a file to change the association for its file extension. Select "more options" and then properties from the menu.

There is a change button, which you may use to associate a different program with the file type.

change file type windows

Closing Words

Microsoft has made it purposefully difficult to change file associations on Windows 11. While that ensures that malicious or rogue apps may not use this for malicious activity, it is also preventing users from changing file associations in a comfortable straightforward manner. Why not add a "make default" option for all apps in Default Apps? Many users may not even be familiar with all the file extensions and link types that an app supports, and it may be overwhelming to set these up.

Now You: how do you set default apps on Windows?

How to set default apps in Windows 11
Article Name
How to set default apps in Windows 11
Find out how to change file associations on Windows 11 devices for file types and link types.
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  1. leland said on March 23, 2023 at 8:06 pm

    Windows 10 and 11 have an issue for me at least where I can’t set IrfanView as the default viewer unless I first do a repair of the Photos app. After that I can change the default viewer again for JPG, BMP and PNG. I have seen the issue on about 20 computers in the last year when setting up new computers. This has happened with 10 and 11 version 21H2 and 22H2. So for those of you experiencing this issue this is the fix.

    1. basingstoke said on March 24, 2023 at 6:34 pm

      You should just make an “OEMDefaultAssociations.xml” file, and it will forever permanently manage default apps (one thing i’m not sure about is if user changes “after-the-fact” will stick).

      It takes me 3 clicks to set ALL default applications on a brand new computer,
      1) navigate to folder with the .xml and a shortcut to system32
      2) drag and drop
      3) allow UAC

      All domain users get it, and local too.

  2. basingstoke said on March 23, 2023 at 6:30 pm

    Interesting question:

    Does the old “OEMDefaultAssociations.xml” in System32 trick still work in Windows 11?

    It’s a built in method for setting default app associations machine wide, you can even make the xml on one computer and import into another, (not hardware specific).

    It’s nice because it’s rock solid (MS won’t reset your defaults… actually, I wonder if Windows takes it’s defaults from that xml?).

  3. VioletMoon said on March 23, 2023 at 4:35 pm

    “Microsoft has made it purposefully difficult to change file associations on Windows 11.”

    I’ve never found it difficult, but I restored the classic context menu. Maybe that makes a difference.

    Your last instructions are simple enough: 1. Right-click a file; 2. Open with; 3. Choose another app; 4. Choose an app and select “Always use this app to open *.*–four clicks is “purposefully difficult”? It’s no different from Windows 10.

    Okay, I have five different file types on my desktop–.txt, .mp3, .docx, .pdf, .png. Countdown–in three minutes [actually a few seconds less] all the files are associated with a desired program.

    Seemed rather simple and efficient to me, but I’ve been clicking around on a Windows computer for at least 20 years.

    “Choose Default Apps by File Type”–The method takes some “serious” scrolling and eye-finger coordination to stop at the right file extension, but, again, it’s definitely within the skill set of even the most novice user.

    Simply stated, I don’t get the logic inherent in the article.

    1. Michel Gagnon said on March 24, 2023 at 6:32 pm

      I generally agree with you. What I don’t like in the current scheme:

      – Step 3 should also exist for protocols
      – The whole process shouldn’t have to be done again as soon as add a new application.

      For example, if I have set Word to open .docx files, installing OpenOffice, which can also open .docx files, should not replace the default I have already set. I’ll change it myself if I want to.

    2. John G. said on March 24, 2023 at 2:08 am

      Just tweaking something first to tweak something second to tweak something third and so forth, that’s W11 for sure. Tweaking W11 all the whole day to work like W10. LOL.

    3. Paul(us) said on March 24, 2023 at 1:54 am

      Well, put VioletMoon.

  4. John G. said on March 23, 2023 at 4:02 pm

    W11 has the worst way to set default apps ever in the MS whole history. I don’t know why all the MS development team have not been fired at this time.

    1. Herman Cost said on March 24, 2023 at 1:01 am

      That comment makes some perhaps unwarranted assumptions about the development team’s motivations. That team clearly did this on purpose to push the large majority of unsophisticated users towards using the Microsoft defaults. Fired? You can be sure they were rewarded for doing precisely what they were instructed to do.

      1. John G. said on March 24, 2023 at 2:01 am

        @Herman, you are right probably, however I don’t want to agree you. I meant that I could agree you but it’s so weird to think that MS promotes the lack of skills of its own development team that I definitely don’t want to agree. Who the hell could ever wanted to sabotage itself or its own product?

  5. TelV said on March 23, 2023 at 1:36 pm

    I did it the way you described in the article Martin, but it’s tedious like you say. Your book which I purchased in paperback form was also useful. Any chance of it appearing in digital format in the not too distant future?

    At the moment though I’ve gone back to using Windows 8.1 which is much more user-friendly and will continue to do so until forced to switch.

    1. assurbani said on March 23, 2023 at 1:41 pm

      why 8.1? either seven or ten. Windows 8 never existed.

      1. basingstoke said on March 23, 2023 at 2:32 pm

        Yes Windows 8 existed, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you have to memory-hole it. It was the last “good” OS before Windows 10 came along with it’s absolute loss of user control, whether it was better than 7 is questionable.

        I’ve got a laptop with 8 and it’s still a nicer experience than 10, sure, some tweaks are needed, but that’s also true for 10.

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