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How to Change the Default Application for a File Type in Mac OS X

If you’re a recent Mac OS X convert, you might be wondering how to force a particular file type to open in a different application than the default. No? Well, we’re going to explain it anyway.

This is most useful when you’ve installed something like VLC and want to open your video files in that instead of the default, which is QuickTime Player.

Changing the Default Application for File Types in OS X

It’s really easy to change the default application a type of file opens in. Just click on one of the files and choose File > Get Info from the main menu or use the Cmd+I keyboard shortcut. You can also right-click, Ctrl-click, or two-finger clicking the file and select “Get Info”.

Once that dialog shows up, you can head down the “Open With” section, change it to the application you’d prefer, and then click “Change All”.

You should see a prompt verifying you really want to do it, where you’d click “Continue”.

That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Changing a Specific File to Open in a Different Application

If you just want to change that one file, you can bring up the context menu by right-clicking, Control-clicking, or two-finger clicking the file. Choose Open With –> Other.

Select the application you want to change it to, and then click the “Always Open With” box. Click “Open” and that individual file will always open with the application you chose in the future.

Note: If you’re trying to play a file off a read-only network share, you won’t be able to do this. You’ll have to copy a file to your Mac’s local storage to make the change, or otherwise you’ll get this error message:

And there you go, now you can open your video files in VLC instead of QuickTime.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/3/11

Comments (6)

  1. Yoshiyah

    That seems awfully complicated, even for Macs. I have to say, Windows is about 8 steps easier.

  2. Todd

    Good Eats! I knew I had more in common with the How To Geeks than just computers. Add geeky food shows to the list. LOL

  3. Carlos Ferrari

    @Yoshiyah: it seems complicated ’cause you’re not paying attention to the “Changing a Specific File to Open in a Different Application” mentioned above and it’s pretty similar to Windows.
    The difference is that on Macs there are other options than that and even some others that weren’t covered in this article.

  4. Todd

    Shouldn’t condone piracy by showing your illegally downloaded episode of Good Eats.

  5. Richard

    The change of default video viewer to VLC (or anything else) doesn’t work for me. All is well until I go the little window that is headed by Spotlight with a menu below including “open with”. Well, the menu items have nothing in them and the items don’t respond to clicking. The box is completely inert. I have a new iMac with OS X 10.6.6. Could there be something there that disables this area?

  6. xdr

    It’s much easier than this… Simply delete quicktime and use VLC.

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