Any time a user installs a new application on a Mac, it becomes the default Mac app for that file type. For example, PDF files open by default in the Mac Preview app. However, if a user downloads and installs Adobe’s Acrobat Reader or Adobe Acrobat DC, the default file type will change so that all PDF files will open with Adobe Acrobat. We’ll show users how to take control of what apps open when they double-click a certain file type. Changing the Default Mac app is a simple procedure that will save users some time and avoid annoyances.

Why Change Default Mac App for a File Type

Why would you want to change a default Mac app for a file type? Let’s say you want to open a video file using VLC Media player instead of Apple’s QuickTime Player. Maybe you want all JPG picture files to open in a photo editor instead of OS X Preview.

I have to set the default telephone app on 10 iMacs and don't want to register 10 iCloud-accounts just to do the facetime login and being able to open the preferences there. That's ridiculous. Installed RCDefaultApp and set the default telephone app there but the phone-icon in contacts application is still greyed-out. Default apps are the programs that automatically launch when you perform an action on your Mac. For example, if you haven’t installed and set up a different browser yet, any web link you click will open on Safari, Apple’s proprietary web browser.

These and other file types open in a default program set by the operating system. The installation procedure of some apps will change the default. They’re not supposed to change the default Mac app for a file type without the user’s agreement. However, you may not see the dialog box that asks for permission. Likewise, the programmer may not ask for the permission in a way that makes it clear that the program’s changing your default app. Follow the steps below to fix this or change it.

How to Change Default Mac App for Any File Type

Find a file of the type you want to change the default mac app for by opening Finder. Some file types won’t show you the extension that identifies the type of file. The extension is the ending of the file. For example a picture file type known as JPEG has a file ending of JPG. So a file might carry the name photo0003.jpg. Notice the three letters after the period are JPG. Other common file types you may wish to change include …

  • PDF – portable document format also called Acrobat files, which open in Preview by default
  • GIF – another image format called Graphics Interchange Format which opens in Preview by default
  • DOC – a document file often associated with Word or some other word processor
  • DOCX – a proprietary Microsoft Word format
  • MP3 – music files, which open in iTunes by default
  • M4V – a video format
  • MP4 – another video format
  • MOV – movie files, which open in QuickTime by default

When a user opens Finder and looks at a file, they might not see these endings. To make sure you can see yours, open Finder and then, from the Finder menu at the top left select Preferences. You can also use the keyboard shortcut COMMAND + , (the comma).

Inside the ensuing dialog box open the Advanced tab by clicking Advanced in the top right corner of the box.

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Click to put a check mark in Show all filename extensions in that dialog box. Exit the box by clicking the red button in the upper left corner. From now on you’ll see all the file extensions of every file in Finder.

Now search for a file with the extension you want to change. For example, you installed Acrobat and the installation procedure moved the default app from the OS X Preview app to Adobe Acrobat DC. You don’t want to open the Adobe Acrobat document creator program from Creative Cloud suite just to view a PDF file. Instead, you want to see all PDF files in Preview. Find a PDF file stored on your computer using Finder. If you can’t find one use the search box in Finder. It’s in the upper right corner (see below).

Once you find a file, right-click on the file and choose Get Info from the menu that pops up.

A dialog box will open. Look for the Open With section. You’ll see a drop down box.

The drop down box will list all the OS X apps that can handle that file type. Choose the preferred program and it will instantly change the default Mac app for that file type.

The Change All button will change all file types for that app so that any other customizations will revert back to defaults. For example, all file types that normally open with Microsoft Word will change back to opening with Word. If you changed one of the types, like the DOC file format making it open in another word processor while keeping DOCX files assigned to Word, clicking Change All will change both back to Word. So pick it only when you know what you’re doing.

You may want to go back into Finder’s preferences to hide file extensions after you finish because all apps will start showing their .app file extension. If seeing the .app extension annoys you follow the steps above to hide the extensions in Finder Preferences.

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The Mac default apps that come with your new Mac are great for everyday functionality. They fulfill their core purpose elegantly and simply. But when it comes to preferences to adjust and knobs to twist, Mac default apps have never been the best choice. That void is filled by third-party app makers, who include more customizable options in their own apps.

There are also apps out there that awful major upgrades from Mac default app functionality. Take, for example: a truly broken email application that doesn’t seem to get any better. There are far better options out there on the Mac App Store, which you should definitely explore.

Once you’ve found a better default application, what do you do with the old app? It will keep popping up on contextual links and actions until you tell it to stop. Change your Mac default apps for email and everything else by following the instructions below.

Change Your Mac Default Apps: Mail

1. Open from your Applications folder.

2. In the menu bar, choose Mail > Preferences or press Command + , as a shortcut.

3. Pick your preferred email application from the drop-down menu next to “Default email reader” at the top of the window.

If you see some non-email applications in there, just ignore them. Applications can sometimes be overly broad with their file type associates, leading to things like iTerm showing as email apps. Don’t select those: they just won’t work.

Change Your Mac Default Apps: Calendar

1. Open from the Applications menu.

Set Default Browser

2. In the menu bar, choose Calendar > Preferences or press Command + , as a shortcut.

3. Select your preferred calendar application from the “Default calendar app” drop-down at the top of the window.

Change Your Mac Default Apps: Web Browser

Change your Mac’s default web browser in the General pane of System Preferences.

In the General pane, click the drop-down menu next to “Default web browser” and choose your desired default browser.

Again, some non-browser applications might pop up. Make sure not to select something like Evernote.

Setting Chrome as your Default Browser

Chrome can also set itself as the default web browser from within the browser.

1. In the menu bar, click Google Chrome > Preferences.

2. Under the “Default browser” section, click “Make Default” on the right.

3. Click “Use ‘Chrome’” in the macOS dialog box to confirm.

Setting Firefox as your Default Browser

Firefox can also adjust your Mac’s default web browser from within the app.

1. Click Firefox > Preferences in the menu bar.

2. In the Startup section of the General preference tab, click the “Make Default…” button.

3. Click the “Use ‘Firefox’” button in the macOS dialog box to confirm your change.

Change Your Mac Default Apps: Image Viewer

The default image viewer on your Mac is Preview. It’s a totally acceptable application for viewing files, but it has limited editing capability. If you want to adjust your image files, you might set a photo editor as your default image viewer application instead of Preview. This is the same process for changing default apps for any other file type, as seen below.

1. Default application associations are sorted on a file extension basis. Each file extension has its own default application. Find an image file with a common image extension to change the default image viewer application for all files of that type. The most common image extensions are .jpg, .gif, and .png.

2. Right-click on the image and select “Get Info.”

3. Find the Open With section of the Get Info window, towards the middle.

4. Click the Open With drop-down menu. Select the app you want to use as your image viewer.

If you don’t see the app you want, click “Other…” at the bottom of the menu.

6. At this point, the change only applies to this individual file. To propagate the change to all images with that same extension, click the “Change All …” button below the Open With drop-down.

This change will apply to all JPG files on this Mac. Preferences for other image types, like PNG and GIF, will need to be set separately. While this might be time-consuming, it does allow a greater degree of flexibility. You might not want to open an animated GIF, for example, with the same program you use to edit photos.

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Change Your Mac Default App for All Other File Types

Other files don’t always open with the application you prefer. Take HTML files, which open in your Mac’s default web browser. That’s not so useful for web developers, so you can change the default application to your preferred text editor instead.

1. Find the file you want to change and right-click it to choose the “Get Info” option.

Set Default Search Engine

2. Go to the Open With section in the Get Info window and choose the application you want to open this file type.

3. Click “Change All …” to apply the change to all files that share that extension.


How Do I Change The Default Email App On My Mac

If you’re not seeing the apps you expect in the Open With dialog, or apps are appearing multiple times, you might need to manually edit the file type associations by customizing the macOS context menu.

Apart from the changes on the list, there’s not much you can change using the system dialogs. But there are other ways to adjust Mac default apps. Some application, like Path Finder, provide a way to suppress macOS’s built-in Finder and replace it with its own functionality. That’s a rare option, but it does exist. If you find a system replacement app, you should look for it. You might be able to wiggle around your Mac default apps for app types not listed here.

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