How To Change & Fix Broken File Type Associations In Windows 7

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file associations windows 7There is one question that is asked over and over again on MakeUseOf Answers and the published copy draws in lots of visitors and new comments every week. The question is How can I change or fix .lnk file associations on Windows 7?

This article will not only share the solution to the above question, it will also discuss what file type associations are, how you can change them in general, and why so many people have issues with .lnk file associations in Windows. If you have been running into this issue again and again, it’s time to examine its cause and find out how to deal with it or better yet, avoid it altogether.

What Are File Associations?

A file association connects a file type with an application that can open this type of file. For example, you can associate .mp3 music files with either Windows Media Player (default) or with a media player of your choice, such as VLC or Winamp. You can also associate other file types with the same program. However, there are file types that these programs cannot open. For example Windows Media Player cannot open document file types. You will need to associate these files with a different program and hence make a different connection.

file associations windows 7A special case are .lnk file associations. In Windows, files carrying the .lnk (LNK) file extension are shortcut files that often link to an executable, i.e. an .exe file. This way you can have many small sized shortcuts in different locations to a single, potentially large sized file. Shortcut files are typically found on the desktop and in the start menu, but you can create and use them almost anywhere on your computer.

How Can I Change Or Fix A Bad File Association?

Fixing or changing a file association is very simple. For example, if you accidentally associated .pdf files with a program that cannot open them, you can change the association back to Adobe Reader (or another PDF reader that can open them). Simply follow this procedure:

  • Right-click the respective file, for example a PDF file.
  • Select > Open With from the right-click menu.

windows 7 change file association

  • The > Open with window will open and now you can either pick a program from the list of > Other Programs or click the > Browse… button and find the application you want to open this file type with.

windows 7 change file association

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  • If you want to make the change permanent, check the box next to > Always use the selected program to open this kind of file.

windows 7 change file association

  • Finally, click > OK and, given you checked the respective box, all your PDF files should now open with the program of your choice.

If you want to get an overview of all file associations on your computer or change several at once, you can go to > Start > Control Panel > Programs > Default Programs > Associate a file type or protocol with a specific program. Here you can browse all file types. Click on > Change program… to pick a new tool to open the respective file type.

file associations windows 7

Note that .lnk files should not be associated with a specific program (unknown application) and hence you cannot fix a broken .lnk file association this way!

How Can I Fix A Broken .lnk File Association?

This file type association usually attracts little attention, unless it stops working. It can stop working for two major reasons: either the file association is broken or the registry got corrupted.

The easiest way to fix it in Windows Vista and Windows 7 is to download and run the lnk file association fix from this website (direct download). To run the fix, you need to have Administrator rights. Unzip the file to the desktop, right-click the > lnkfix_vista.reg file and click > Merge. The file will make the necessary changes to the registry to fix the file association. After it is done, reboot your computer and the problems should be gone.

The website also features fixes for other bad file associations, including .exe, .zip, and .com file association fixes.

Why Do So Many People Have Issues With .lnk File Associations?

As mentioned before, .lnk files are not typically associated with a specific program and what corrupts them is doing just that. This annoyance can be achieved by malware. However, it probably happens more by accident, when people go through the > Open with dialog and accidentally associate the shortcut with an application. The only way to avoid the latter is to pay attention. The former can be avoided by using a firewall and antivirus program, running malware scanners, and generally not visiting dubious websites or downloading and opening files from questionable sources.

If you have suddenly developed an interest for file type associations, you should also have a look at these two articles:

Did you ever have to fight with bad .lnk file associations or other file types suddenly opening in the wrong program? What caused the issue in your case?

Image credits: lucadp

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Comments (15)
  • Catherine McMullen

    I was saving a pdf file and i accidentally saved it as a shortcut and now I cannot open the file can you help

    • Tina

      Catherine, you can manually change the file type from .lnk to .pdf If it’s on the desktop, right-click file, open file location to open the folder. Else, just go to the respective folder. Make sure file extensions are shown for files in that folder (Folder Options > View > remove checkmark on “Hide extensions for known file types”), then rename file name and change the extension. You can ignore the warning. Good luck!

  • Adam Williams

    I just did this, thank you. You’re a life saver. I did think there must be an easier way to restore the icons rather than rebooting and I found that if you restart explorer.exe this restores them without the need to reboot:
    1) Start the task manager
    2) Select the Processes tab
    3) Right hand click explorer.exe and select End Process (all your icons will disappear)
    4) Select File and New Task (Run)
    5) In the run box type explorer.exe and select Ok
    This should solve the issue.

  • Tomas

    Thanks To you Guys now my friends computer is fixed all of you guys for making thsi program
    in first i didnt believed that it would work but now when my friend pc is fixed i can believe that your programs ar working

  • Berhane

    but mine is different if I used the open with and click on it all shortcuts and files will change their figure and cannot open would you help pls

  • Alexander

    Thank you so much! Saved my life!!!!!

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.