Fixing File Associations in Windows

Every once in a while, you cleanup a computer from malware infections and everything seems to look good after a reboot. All is well it seems. However, you then notice that upon clicking on programs and your data files, they don’t want to open! The icons are still showing and whatnot but Windows seems to have forgotten how to open them. This seemingly complicated error is nothing more than what techies call “file association errors”. This is one of the reasons why cleaning up a malware infected computer can sometimes be challenging. If you’re lucky, getting rid of malware involves a simple scan from one of your favorite anti-malware scanning software and a reboot of the computer. If you’re unlucky, the malware that was installed will leave behind a host of post-uninstallation errors and problems that you’ll now have to deal with. Corrupting your file associations in Windows is just one of the many headaches a malware removal procedure can leave behind. Luckily, fixing file association corruption isn’t as hard as it seem thanks to brilliant people out there who took the time to help us create individual registry fixes to remedy the problem.

If you normally open your PDF files with Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader and all of a sudden you’re presented with the “Open With” dialog box after a malware removal procedure, then that is a simple sign of a file association error. Although your PDF reader application is still installed, Windows doesn’t know to use it because the data telling it to do so is either missing or corrupted in the registry.

Open With Box

For applications, one of the first things you might want to do is to reset the association links so that Windows will know to open up a specific file type with a specific application by default. There are different ways to do this but there are two mostly known ways to do it and that’s what I’ll go over here.

    • Within the Application Itself. Many applications give you the opportunity to set that program to be the default application to open up for whatever extensions or file types it itself can handle. For example, an image viewing utility such as the popular IrfanView will want you to use it every time you double-click on a picture with the extensions .gif, jpeg, .bmp, and .png. With most applications, you can usually find the ability to set these file associations somewhere within their Options or Settings menu. Settings Menu
    • Using Windows Default Program Utility. The other method to set file associations is to use Windows built-in utility. Open it by heading over to:
      Control PanelAll Control Panel ItemsDefault Programs

      You’ll want to select the “Associate a file type or protocol with a program” option. If you want a specific program to be the default program to open for all file types it can handle, then select the first option labeled “Set your default programs”. I personally don’t use that option because I use various utilities to open various files. For example, just because IrfanView can handle .PNG files doesn’t mean I want to make it the default for that file type. Instead, I want to make Photoshop handle that task instead.

      File Types
      Once you have the option selected, you’ll now need to select the appropriate file extension you want to associate a default program with. Once done so, hit the Change Program button and browse for the program executable you want.

      Default Programs

In most cases, this should help remedy the problem. However, what about other types of files that don’t really belong to a specific program in general? For example, what do you do if you cannot open any type of executable programs at all? What about Control Panel items? For this, we need to turn elsewhere for a fix.

Registry Fixes

As mentioned earlier, Windows rely on the registry for file association information. If that portion is badly corrupted, you’ll need to rewrite it with the correct information. However, many users, myself included have no idea on what to write back to the registry unless otherwise instructed. Because the registry is such a vital storage location, any wrong doing can cause your computer to function incorrectly. Luckily though, a couple of websites have done all the work for us in providing the information we need to write back to our corrupted registry to fix the file association errors!

Head over here if you are using Windows XP! Head over here if you are using Windows Vista! Head over here if you are using Windows 7!

Basically, all you need to do is find out which file extension or file association problem you are having issues with and download the registry file. The lone registry file is usually inside a Zip archive so extract it with your archive utility of choice. Windows by default should also be able to unzip them without any additional tools.

If you are having Zip file association errors, then you wouldn’t be able to unzip the registry file in the first place! Therefore, the authors have this specific registry fix as a stand-alone download (no unzipping necessary). Just right-click and select Save-Link-As. The resulting file should have a .reg extension like the rest of the other registry fixes.

Once you have the registry file extracted, you are now ready to merge the information within it to your own registry files. If you are curious to see exactly what will be written to your registry, simply right-click on the file and select Edit from the menu. The file should now open in Notepad and you will be able to see what exactly is inside that registry fix, although it wouldn’t do most of us any good since we wouldn’t know what the heck is going on anyways!

Registry Notepad

To write the information to your registry, right-click on the file and select Merge from the menu options. You’ll be presented with a message stating the obvious dangers of working with the registry. Hit Yes to continue. The changes should take effect immediately. However, if it doesn’t, give your computer a simple reboot and try opening your files again. If everything went well, they should now open with the default application within Windows.

Registry Warning

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