How to Manage File Associations in Windows

In this article, Doc explains how and why we can change file type associations in Windows, and how to set multiple program associations for files.
Published: Aug 22, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

This question submitted by Pat Melton, Carla McBean, Eric Cavanaugh and numerous others

As most anyone who uses Windows knows, certain file types are associated with certain programs. Many file types have one default program that will open them. For example, DOC files go with Microsoft, TXT files go with Notepad, XLS files go with Excel, and on and on. The ability to associate a file type with a program is really handy. Why? Because it means that you can simply double-click on a file and it will be opened by the program it is associated with.

For those of you who are relatively new to computers this may not seem like such a big deal, but for old-timers like me file association was a huge advance established by Windows. In the old days you had to open the program and then open the file. It didn't matter if the file in question could only be opened by one program. You still had to open the program first. So, the ability to associate specific file types with certain programs was an advance.

One problem I've found with advancing and expanding technology is that the more you have the more you want. So, in working on your computer, you may not want to open a particular kind of file with just one program. For example, this article is being written in a text editor, but the file extension is HTML because when I use that file extension the editor shows me the HTML code that I put in the text. First problem -- HTML files, by default, are associated with Internet Explorer. Okay, well that's fine if I want to see an article as it would look on a Web page, but it won't help me if I want to open the file for editing.

Fortunately, there is an easy work-around for this problem. You can associate a file type with more than one program. It's easy enough that just about anyone can do it and I'm going to give you really clear instructions. The first thing we have to do is access the area where your computer's file types are kept. In Windows XP and 2000 you can find that in the Folder Options section of the Control Panel. In Windows 98 you'd want to open Windows Explorer and select the View menu. Once you've arrived there, you'll see that there are multiple tabs. Just select the one labeled File Types.

Under File Types you'll see a fairly long listing of all the different file types on your computer. For this example we'll use text files which have an extension of HTML. Find the HTML file extension in the list and highlight it. On the dialog box you'll now see something like:

Details for HTML extension

Opens with Internet Explorer

Right across from that you'll see a button labeled Change and you'll want to click on that. You will now find yourself in a dialog for editing the file type. Click the New button and a dialog will open up that asks you to define a new action. In this example, the action I want to accomplish is to be able to open an HTML file with either Internet Explorer or my text editor, which is NoteTab Pro. So, in the Action box I'll type something like:

Open with NoteTab

I'll use the Browse box to find where the executable file for NoteTab is located. Once I've done that I can click OK and I'm done. Note that if you want you can put in multiple programs. So, if I wanted I could have:

Open With NoteTab

Open With Notepad

Open With Firefox

That's it, you're done! Now, when you right-click on a file you'll see "Open in NoteTab" as one of the options. You can do this with any file type. Just remember, that if you add too many your right-click context menu might get pretty crowded. It's a handy, quick way to let yourself associate multiple programs with one file type.

I'd like to thank Pat Melton, Carla McBean, Eric Cavanaugh and numerous others for asking this question.

If you have a question on how to do something on the computer you can submit it via e-mail by clicking HERE. You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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