You can set Internet Explorer, instead of Edge, as the default web browser in Windows 10 with Group Policy. With the help of Dism, you can also set IE as the default browser in your reference image. However, this alone is not enough to ensure that users always work with Internet Explorer.

Michael Pietroforte

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor of 4sysops. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) with more than 30 years of experience in IT management and system administration.

In a previous post, I explained how you can uninstall IE in case you only want to ensure that your users only use Edge to access the web. In another post, I described how you can work with Enterprise Mode Site List Manager to ensure that Internet Explorer is used for particular web pages and web apps.

However, I believe that many admins will pursue another strategy and continue to count on Internet Explorer in their network. Internet Explorer is a well-tested browser that offers maximum compatibility and is highly customizable with more than 1,600 Group Policy settings.

Edge, on the other hand, is a truly Spartan browser that currently offers only a handful of Group Policy settings. If you move to Edge, you have to inform users about the new browser, ensure that favorites are imported properly, and then hope that the new browser won’t bump into web applications that were developed for previous Internet Explorer versions. Perhaps you just don’t want to demand too much from your users and allow them to keep working with Internet Explorer until everyone is used to Windows 10.

To ensure that your users continue to work with Internet Explorer instead of Edge, you have to do three things. You first have to set Internet Explorer as the default browser in your reference image or use Group Policy to set the default browser in your network. Then, because it is not possible to uninstall Edge, you also have to replace Edge with IE on the taskbar and remove Edge from the Start menu. Without the last two steps, your users will keep using Edge even if you set Internet Explorer as the default browser.

Setting Internet Explorer as the default browser has two effects. First, whenever a user clicks an HTTP or HTTPS hyperlink in a document (in Word, for example), Windows will launch Internet Explorer instead of Edge. The second effect is that local HTML files will be opened in IE.

Set Internet Explorer as the default browser via Group Policy ^

Unfortunately, no simple Group Policy switch exists to do the trick, and the entire procedure is a bit longwinded. First, you have to manually set Internet Explorer as the default on a reference machine. Click Start and then Settings > System > Default apps. Under Web browser, you can configure Internet Explorer as the default.

Setting Internet Explorer as the default browser in Windows 10 Settings

Setting Internet Explorer as the default browser in Windows 10 Settings

Next, you have to export this setting to an XML file with the Dism tool that is shipped with Windows 10:

This commands exports all file associations on your reference computer to an XML file on a network share. Thus, you have to make sure that you didn’t modify other app associations that you don’t want to deploy in your network. By the way, you can also use the method described here to set Chrome or Firefox as the default browser.

Next, you can deploy this XML file with the Group Policy Set a default associations configuration file, which is located in Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > File Explorer. Unfortunately, no user configuration exists for this policy.

Setting a default associations configuration file

Setting a default associations configuration file

Set Internet Explorer as the default browser in a WIM image ^

You can also easily modify your reference images with Dism before you deploy Windows 10. You can use the same XML configuration as for the Group Policy. If you are responsible for OS deployment in your organization, you probably know how to modify WIM images. After you export the default file associations, you have to mount your WIM image, import the configuration, and then write the changes to the WIM file:

Importing file associations into a WIM image

Importing file associations into a WIM image

Perhaps you want to verify that the changes have been applied to your image. You can do this with this command before you unmount the image:

Internet Explorer is the default application for http and https

Internet Explorer is the default application for http and https

Remove Edge from taskbar and Start ^

If you want to prevent users from working with Edge, you have to remove its icons from the taskbar and from the Start menu.

Unfortunately, no straightforward way exists to configure the taskbar via Group Policy. One way to get rid of the Edge icon on the taskbar is to unpin Edge on a reference machine, export the Taskband Registry key (HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Software > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion > Explorer > Taskband) to a REG file, and convert the REG file to an XML file that you can then import into Group Policy Preferences (User Configuration > Preferences > Windows Settings > Registry).

This method allows you to deploy a specific taskbar configuration. However, when I tried to pin Internet Explorer to the taskbar and deploy the corresponding Taskband setting, the link in the taskbar no longer worked. (Update: See comment bellow.)

A problem with this method is that users can’t pin their apps to the taskbar. This also applies to the Remove pinned programs from the Taskbar Group Policy, which you can find in User Configuration > Policies > Administrative Templates > Start Menu and Taskbar.

Removing pinned programs from the taskbar

Removing pinned programs from the taskbar

Things are bit easier with the Start menu if you are working with Windows 10 Enterprise. You can configure Start on a reference computer, export the configuration to an XML file, and deploy it via Group Policy. Even though the policy description doesn’t mention Microsoft’s latest OS, the policy works fine on Windows 10. I’ve described the method in detail in a previous blog post.

Conclusion ^

Microsoft tries hard to make its customers work with its latest software. Even though I always recommend adopting new technologies as fast as possible, I know that not all organizations can move at the same pace. Thus, I wish Microsoft would offer just one simple Group Policy setting that allows admins to set the default web browser, including the corresponding modifications to the Start menu and the taskbar. One way to avoid all this trouble is to work with the Windows 10 Enterprise LTB because this Windows edition comes without Edge.

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49 Comments
  1. Matthias 2 years ago

    when you add the Internet Explorer via Registry to Taskbar, you also have to copy the Link from
    "%AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\TaskBar"

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    • David 1 year ago

      What do you mean, copy the link to where?

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  2. Michael Pietroforte 2 years ago

    Mathias, that makes sense. I added a hint to the article. Thanks a lot!

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  3. Jude 2 years ago

    Hi, Michael, great article! In a non AD environment, is it possible to distribute the defaultassociations.xml file using a software distribution tool?

    Is it stored locally on the Win10 machine that I could replace the one that is currently there with the reference one?

    Thanks!

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  4. Author
    Michael Pietroforte 2 years ago

    Jude, Group Policy settings just change the Registry. So you should be able to use any deployment solution that allows you to modify the Registry. You can find the corresponding Registry keys in the Group Policy Settings Reference.

    2+

  5. shawn 2 years ago

    Hi Michael,

    I followed your instructions to set IE11 as the default browser via local group policy, but it's not working for me. When another AD user logs on to computer their default stays as Edge. They have to manually change default browser.

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    • Author
      Michael Pietroforte 2 years ago

      Did you verify with gpresult that the policy was really applied? I would also check whether the user PCs have access to the share with the XML file

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  6. Harvey 2 years ago

    Hi Michael,

    I'm trying to set Firefox as the default web browser on a couple of Windows 10 computers for anyone that logs on.

    The problem I'm facing however is that despite using the group policy method in your first example and it applying the default program isn't being set when a new user logs in.

    Thanks

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    • Author
      Michael Pietroforte 2 years ago

      I think I didn't try it with new users. What happens when the user logs on a second time? And did it work with Internet Explorer?

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      • Harvey 2 years ago

        I plan on running Deep Freeze on the computers to wipe them after every boot. Even if a user logs in again their profile will a "new" user.

        I admit I have not tried to make the default program IE.

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        • Author
          Michael Pietroforte 2 years ago

          You could try to run gpupdate on the computer after Windows finishes creating the profile. You can also work with a default profile that uses the corresponding Registry settings.

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  7. Chris 2 years ago

    Is there a way to set the defaults through GPO once and then let users decide what they want to use after that?  We want to set IE 11 as the default at first but if the users want to use Chrome or FireFox we don't want to prevent them.  With the Set a default associations configuration file the defaults get set every time the users log in.

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    • Chris 1 year ago

      Figured it out, by importing the Default Associations configuration file into the registry the default programs will take place (SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\System!DefaultAssociationsConfiguration).  Then on logout I have a script running to delete the registry key.  This way users can change and save default programs they want to use.

       

       

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      • Robert 3 months ago

        Can you go into more detail step by step how you did that please?

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  8. Ben 1 year ago

    I have been working with the defaultassociation.xml file in conjunction with the Set Default Associations group policy setting.   The exported xml file has seemingly all of the Internet Explorer entries, the export was done after making IE the default of the computer (this program has all defaults - In control panel\default apps).    However, when using the policy setting to import the xml file, the results have been the same "This program has 11 of the 15 defaults".

    I have done the export many times and the import of this is configured correctly, I have ran gpresult and rsop, the setting seems to be configured properly and supposedly applying.  However, It does not seem to work fully down to the end user, it leaves 4 of the 15 options on Edge, which unfortunately is not going to be acceptable for our Windows 10 rollout.

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    • Ben 1 year ago

      Well, though I was having this issue when pointing to a network share that also contains many other settings, this process did not work.  However, when using policy preferences to copy the file locally and then adjusting the policy to point to the local file, the process worked.

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  9. Jason 1 year ago

    Some questions:

    1. Will this apply to existing users or only new users?

    2. Will this apply only at first login or every login?

    3. If this applies at every login, can the user still set defaults during his/her session?

    4. Does this still work on Windows 10 1607 (Anniversary Update)?

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    • Author
      1. The policy also applies to existing users
      2. The policy is applied whenever the computer restarts
      3. Users can change the setting for the current session
      4. Just tried it on Windows 10 1607 and it worked
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      • Robert 3 months ago

        Can you tell me how Chris stated above he was able to get the app association to work for first use? I need to be able to image a new windows 10 machine and have the default web browser be IE 11 but I want the user to be able to change it after that. The default association gpo with the xml hard sets the association and the user can't change it. I have been struggling with this for a long time. Do you know how to accomplish this?

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  10. mvd 1 year ago

    Hello,

    great article.

    Is there also an option by GPO to assign the default association to a user instead of a computer?

    This specific policy is not available in the user-part of the GPOs.
    Thx

    1+

    • Author

      Thanks! Unfortunately, there is no corresponding user policy. Maybe it has to do with this old idea that the browser is a core component of the operating system and therefore you cannot only set a default browser for the Windows installation and not the user.

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  11. Mvd 1 year ago

    Hi Micheal,

    thx for your answer.

    The Policy isn`t available for users, but are there any options to force this policy for only users and not to computers?

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    • Author

      There is no trivial way to do this. Even if you manage to apply the policy only for certain users, for instance with a login script, you still have to restart the computer right after the user signs to ensure that the default browser is changed. I somehow doubt that your users will appreciate this procedure. Consider giving up on IE.

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  12. BabyFace 1 year ago

    Hi, Michael

    I tried this gpo, and it removed Microsoft Edge in the process, which in terms shutdown many components.  Is there a way just to set IE 11 as default browser only?  thanks.

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    • Author

      What do you mean "removed Microsoft Edge"? The procedure only sets file associations.

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  13. Buster Forman 1 year ago

    Thank you for a good article.

    What happens if I only set internet explorer in the XML file. Will all existing associations on the AD computer disappear?

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    • Author

      My guess is that the other default associations won't change, but I didn't try it. However, why would you want to edit the exported XML file? You only risk messing things up and you will enter uncharted territory. To be on the safe side, it is always best to follow documented procedures.

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      • BCol 1 year ago

        Michael.   I have the same question. The answer is, because not all computers on my domain need or have the same versions of programs.  If I use my export house wide, I have lines in my exported XML file that reference "Adobe Acrobat Reader DC", for example... but I have machines that might not be on that version.  Another example, are different version of Citric ICA client.

        Another question along this line... what if we upgrade from Reader DC to some newer future version of Adobe Reader... do we have to go into this xml file and edit and upkeep EVERY single association as every program in here is updated?  Seems totally absurd.

        So it would be good to know if we could include ONLY the lines regarding I.E, and leave all the rest out... in the hopes that this xml file merges with other default programs.  The fear is of course, if I remove the acrobat association from the XML file, will that break the default association on the computer it is deployed to.

        I can't imagine a scenario where you WOULDNT want to modify this file before deployment.   Maybe I will go uncharted and see what I get on a test box.  Microsoft is awesome, and totally sucks, at the same time.

        1+

        • Author

          I didn't try modifying the XML file. I suggest you try these for all relevant applications in a test environment. If third-party applications are involved you have to do this in anyway. The procedure as such is uncommon. So you better make sure that it really works in your environment before you deploy it.

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  14. James Carlyle 1 year ago

    Hi

    I have found this article to really helpful but I have to ask a question. Where do you copy “%AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\TaskBar” to stay on the TaskBar ? I have tried creating the shortcut but I must be missing something. Sorry if I am missing something obvious and asking a silly question.

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  15. shane 1 year ago

    It asks with what it should open? Not just opening as default. i have only done the first step and haven't removed edge?

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  16. Mark Scott 1 year ago

    Does this GP work for Windows 10 Pro? or only Education and Enterprise?

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  17. BCol 1 year ago

    So I haven't gotten around to testing a modified XML file yet, because I can't seem to get this to work at all yet, with my unmodified XML file.

    -I have a test OU
    -My test computer is there
    -Test GP Scope looks correct, applied to the test OU and Domain Computers in filtering
    -My exported XML is on my file share with all the rest of my startup/login scripts
    -Test GP is successfully being applied to the computer, verified with gpresult -r from an admin cmd
    -I double click a shortcut to a website, and it launches EDGE.

    I have done all the steps, but it appears I am missing something.  What version of windows 10 are you using this on? We are using 10 pro.

     

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  18. BCol 1 year ago

    Well, I guess nevermind!  Everything has been set up just fine, but it wasnt' actually applying in windows until something like the 10th reboot.   We have seen a lot of issues with windows 10 applying group policy in a manner you would expect.  9 machines will process a GP just fine, but the 10th wont for another 10 or 20 minutes with extra restarts.   Doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason.

    Anyway... testing the stripped down XML file now

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  19. BCol 1 year ago

    Sorry to keep hammering your blog here, but I am done with my stripped down XML file, and at least with my test windows 10 box in front of me, including ONLY the entries I want to include seem to work exactly like you would want.  It will change THOSE entries, but leave everything else alone.

    For example, my current XML file consists of only 6 entries, all for internet explorer.  I installed a 3rd party PDF viewer on my test box (a favorite of mine called pdfxchange viewer). Anyway, I manually set my default browser to EDGE, and pdf app to pdfxchange viewer instead of Reader DC....  ran a gpupdate and restarted.   Logged in, and vuala, my default browser changed to IE, and my PDF default didn't change. It remained my 3rd party app.

    If I swap my XML file in the GP to the one that includes my adobe pdf entries and restart, that file successfully changes both default apps.

    Good enough for me, I think!  Just for reference, here is my current XML file:
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <DefaultAssociations>
    <Association Identifier=".htm" ProgId="htmlfile" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
    <Association Identifier=".html" ProgId="htmlfile" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
    <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>

     

     

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    • JonG 1 year ago

      You are the man! I used a slightly updated version of the XML file (with a few other associations) and it works like a charm. Thanks goodness I found this info!

       

      <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
      <DefaultAssociations>
      <Association Identifier=".htm" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.HTM" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".html" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.HTM" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".mht" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.MHT" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".mhtml" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.MHT" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".partial" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.PARTIAL" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".svg" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.SVG" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".url" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.URL" ApplicationName="Internet Browser" />
      <Association Identifier=".website" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.WEBSITE" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".xht" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.XHT" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier=".xhtml" ProgId="IE.AssocFile.XHT" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier="ftp" ProgId="IE.FTP" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier="http" ProgId="IE.HTTP" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier="https" ProgId="IE.HTTPS" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier="mk" ProgId="IE.HTTP" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      <Association Identifier="res" ProgId="IE.HTTP" ApplicationName="Internet Explorer" />
      </DefaultAssociations>

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  20. John 1 year ago

    Thank you so much , that's saved my life .

    I have done the xml and published it and boom works like a charm 🙂

    God bless you .

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  21. john 10 months ago

    which registry key i need to modify for set the IE as default browser if i don't want to use GPO

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  22. Ryan 9 months ago

    Question,

    If I make this edit to a wim image - will users be forced and locked into IE11 as their default? or does that allow them to change/update to chrome?

     

    I think I read some of the regkeys, gpos and xml deploys locked this and chrome users would not be allowed to adjust?

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    • Author
      Michael Pietroforte 6 months ago

      If you enforce this via Group Policy, standard users can't change the policy.

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  23. Sandeep Goli 6 months ago

    But this breaks after you sysprep the image. When a new desktop is created from the golden syspreped image theFTAs are reset to defaults. Is there any solution for sysprepped images?

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    • Author
      Michael Pietroforte 6 months ago

      If you modify the WIM image after you sysprep your master image, the settings should persist. However, I prefer the Group Policy option anyway because this gives you maximum flexibility.

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  24. Ryan Ostrander 2 months ago

    Where do I copy the link from "%AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\TaskBar" to so this will work. Everything else in this article was spot on but this isn't very clear to.

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    • Author
      Michael Pietroforte 2 months ago

      I didn't try this, but I think Matthias meant that after you pinned IE to the Tasbkar you have go to "%AppData%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\TaskBar" in File Explorer. You should see a link to IE there. You have to copy the file to this location on the machines where you want to add IE to the Taskbar.

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  25. Sam 2 months ago

    If I enforce default associations via Group Policy, will the user be able to change any of the settings? For example, .pdf on my computer (from which I generated the defaultassociations.xml file) is associated to Adobe Reader. However, some users in my organization have Adobe Acrobat, and PDFs on their machine should open in Acrobat. Could I just omit .pdf from the .xml file, and would that allow the user to choose their own association?

    You mentioned the possibility using registry settings instead of GPO. If I recall correctly, you can have a registry setting apply initially, but then let the user modify it after that.

    Btw, this article was very helpful. Thanks!

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    • Author
      Michael Pietroforte 2 months ago

      You can just create two AD containers and work with different policies for the two users groups.

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  26. CE 2 months ago

    This no longer works for Windows 10 Enterprise version 1703 for wrestling control away from Edge. After running the GPO rule on a new user logon- notifications immediately pop up saying a default application has caused an error and the default application has been reset to Edge. And Edge reclaims EVERYTHING. ALL assigned associations for itself, including .pdf (whether you have a 3rd party pdf app installed or not). Forcing it to run again will not fully render the default application associations you want. Edge will not give up control of the .pdf or .epub extension unless you manually change it in the control panel. Plus, even after re-importing the xml file by running the GPO rule or DISM manually, windows will still ask you on first launch what program you want to use to open the document, including everything you attempted to set for Internet Explorer or pdf's. And guess which app appears at the top for applications to open urls, websites, pdf's, etc? You guessed it; Edge.

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  27. dandan ye 2 months ago

    how can I enable policy setting not configured/enabled/disabled automatically for "set a default associations configuration file"?can we change the state by registry?

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