One of the most frequent questions people ask me is about managing default file associations in Windows 10. I will demonstrate how to set Adobe Reader DC as the default PDF reader and then show you how you can deploy the configuration with Configuration Manager or Group Policy.

Jörgen Nilsson

Jörgen is a principal consultant at Onevinn in Sweden. His work focuses on enterprise client management and system management. He is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in Enterprise Mobility. He also speaks at events such as Microsoft TechDays, Microsoft Management Summits, and TechEd.

In Windows 10, we can no longer use Group Policy Preferences to control file associations, because these settings are now user-based, instead of system-based as they were in Windows 7. To deploy the default file associations, you first have to configure the settings on a reference machine and then export the configuration in an XML file that you can deploy in your network.

Exporting default file associations ^

When Adobe Reader DC starts for the first time, the program prompts you to set it as the default program for PDF files. You also can configure the settings in the Control Panel under Programs > Default Programs > Set Default Program. There you have to select Adobe Reader and "set this program as default."

Set Adobe Reader as default program

Set Adobe Reader as default program

You can verify that .pdf is associated with Adobe Reader DC in the Control Panel under Programs > Default Programs > Set Association. Note that you can sort the list by the Current Default column.

Verifying default file associations

Verifying default file associations

Once you do that, you have to open a command prompt with the user account from above and use the DISM tool to export the current settings to an .XML file, as shown below.

Exporting default file associations

Exporting default file associations

Now you have a .XML file with all the file associations from that user. People often ask me if it is possible to deploy just one file association or if they must use the entire file, which also contains all the default settings. The answer is, yes, you can import just the association you need.

In my example below, I removed everything that is not associated with Adobe Reader DC, so we end up with the following XML file:

Now you can deploy the default file associations with one of the following methods.

Deploying default file associations with SCCM ^

You can import the default file associations during OS deployment in Configuration Manager using a Run Command Line step in the Task Sequence, either using DISM /Online when the OS is installed or with DISM /Offline when the Windows image is applied and the computer has not yet started the newly installed OS. I usually work with the /Online method.

First, create a package in Configuration Manager that contains the defaultapps.xml file and then create a .cmd file in that directory with the following content:

We then add this file to our OS deployment Task Sequence after installing and restarting Windows.

Windows 10 Task Sequence

Windows 10 Task Sequence

Deploying default file associations using Group Policy ^

You can also deploy the default file associations using Group Policy: Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > File Explorer. The documentation on Technet states that the user can change the settings afterward, but that is only partially true. You can configure the Group Policy as shown below to deploy the default file associations:

Set a default associations configuration

Set a default associations configuration

I used a file share in the example above. Make sure that domain computers can read both from the share and from NTFS. You could also copy the .XML file to the machines and apply it from there.

If the file is updated with a new file association, the client will check the content every time someone applies Group Policies. Thus, there is no need to do anything more than update the XML file with new file associations, and they also apply to the clients.

The user can change the file associations after logon, because the corresponding UI is not locked down. However, the next time the user logs on, the file associations that are included in the .XML file will be applied again.

Changing default browser to Internet Explorer ^

At the moment, the only way to set Internet Explorer as the default browser in Windows 10  is to use the Group Policy option. Windows 10 will revert to Microsoft Edge if we change it to Internet Explorer using the DISM tool during OS deployment, showing the following systray message: "An app default was reset."

App defaults reset

App defaults reset

Wrap-up ^

  • If we want to set default file associations for end-users, we must do it during OS deployment using Dism.exe or with a script before the user logs on the first time.
  • We can set the default file association for just a specific extension, so there is no need to include everything in the file we import.
  • If we configure the default file associations using a Group Policy, the users can change it, but it will revert to our configuration.
  • If we want to enforce the default browser to Internet Explorer, we must use the Group Policy option.

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34 Comments
  1. Steve N 1 year ago

    Hello! I have been trying really hard to get the default association for .WAV to change to Windows Media Player by default.

    I've already got the GPO in place to reference an .xml to change things to IE and Adobe Reader:

    <DefaultAssociations>
    <Association Identifier=".htm" ProgId="htmlfile" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
    <Association Identifier=".html" ProgId="htmlfile" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
    <Association Identifier=".pdf" ProgId="AcroExch.Document.DC" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
    <Association Identifier=".url" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.URL" ApplicationName="Internet Browser" />
    <Association Identifier=".website" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.WEBSITE" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
    <Association Identifier="http" ProgId="IE.HTTP" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
    <Association Identifier="https" ProgId="IE.HTTPS" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" /></DefaultAssociations>\

    I cannot figure out how to change .WAV to default to Windows Media Player. Using the following does not work:

    <Association Identifier=".WAV" ProgId="WMP11.AssocFile.WAv" ApplicationName="Windows Media Player" />

    Any suggestions?

    2+

  2. Reza Parvizi 7 months ago

    Is there any way so that I can set:

    look for apps if there is Adobe Acrobat Standard DC set it is a default, if not set the Adobe Reader as a default app?

    2+

  3. Barry 3 months ago

    I love how dism STILL exports PDF as opening in Edge, despite the UI showing Reader. MS is so desparate for people to use Edge they're actually changing what dism respects for export. Sad.

    0

  4. Karl 2 weeks ago

    I was having issues getting my XML file to apply via GPO and discovered that you can only use ONE XML file GPO per PC.    I had one GPO that used this method to set Adobe Reader DC as the default for PDF files.  Then months later I setup another identical GPO to change Chrome to the default browser.   The RSOP showed that both policies are applying but only the Adobe policy was actually working.   I was stumped until I tested the Chrome policy on a few PCs that did were not part of the Adobe policy and found that the Chrome policy was working on those PCs.

    So you only get one shot at setting file type associations using this method.  Your XML file needs to include all the customizations in one.  If you are like me and want Adobe Reader for your PDF files and Chrome for your browser, you will need to put them both in a single XML file and apply that with a single GPO.

     

    As a side note, I have used the file extension .XML without issue on all builds of 10 from 1607 thru 1903.  I always put the XML file in the root of the policy GUID subfolder.  I have never placed any comments in the XML file.

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  5. BazzaD 3 days ago

    Aaaaand with 1909 it's changed again. Errors and resets on login with new profile after preferences imported. We imported 1709 settings, and get errors. We are now in the process of attempting to get 1903 preferences and getting less than expected results when exporting preferences. Nothing listed for Office, PDF's are still pointing to Edge even after we change the user default to Adobe etc etc.

    Why is this STILL so painful for such a small simple seeming issue?!

    0

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