How to set the default apps in macOS

Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge

You may not spend much time thinking about the default apps you’ve got set up on macOS until they suddenly get configured the wrong way — and you find that, say, the app that pops up when you click on an image file is not the one you want to use.

Out of the box, your Mac will use Apple’s own tools for most tasks: click on a web link in Mail and you’ll see Safari, for example, or double-click on an image you’ve downloaded to your system and up pops Photos. However, you might want to use different apps, or maybe a freshly installed app has decided to make itself the default and you want to undo the change (web browsers often do this, asking to become the default when they launch for the first time).

So it’s useful to know how to set the default apps yourself. We’ll go over setting the default apps for specific file types and setting your default browser and email app (which is a slightly different process).

Set default apps for specific file types

The Open With dialog lets you set default apps.

To set the default app for a particular file type on macOS, first use Finder to find a file in that format:

Right-click on the file and choose Open With > Other. You can also select the file, open the File menu, and pick Open With > Other.
On the next dialog, you should see a selection of apps and, below that, an Enable drop-down menu. If you don’t see the menu, click Show Options in the lower left.
From the Enable menu, select Recommended Applications to only see apps normally associated with the file type you’ve chosen (the others will be grayed out). Select All Applications to see everything.
Select the app you want to use for the file type.
Check the box marked Always Open With (it’s below the Enable drop-down) to always open files of this type with that app. If you only want to use the app this one time, leave the box unchecked.
Click Open to launch the chosen app and see the file.

There’s another way to do this that you can use if you prefer.

Right-click on a file and choose Get Info

Expand the Open with: section.
Pick an app from the drop-down menu, and use the Change All button to make the same adjustment for every file saved in the same format.

Set the default email app and web browser

Email apps and web browsers handle links rather than files, so they’re configured differently. One scenario where your default email app kicks in is when you follow an “email me” or “get in contact” link on a website.

To set a default app for your email

Launch Mail from the Applications folder in Finder.
Open the Mail menu, then choose Settings.
On the General tab, open the Default email reader drop-down menu to see your other choices.
Any change you make is applied right away.

To set a default app for your browser

Set your default web browser from System Settings.

Open the Apple menu, and choose System Settings.
Switch to the Desktop & Dock tab.
From the Default web browser drop-down menu, choose a browser.

The change is instantly applied, and the next time you follow a web link (or double-click on an HTML file stored on your system), your chosen browser will appear.

Remember that browsers can also handle a range of file types, including PDF documents and popular image formats, so you can deploy them as basic file viewers, too, if you want.

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