Managing default file associations apps in Windows 10 and Windows 11 is one of the most important features when managing Windows. In this article we will see how to specify Adobe Reader DC as the default PDF reader and how to distribute the configuration automatically with GPOs (Active Directory) or SCCM (Configuration Manager).
In Windows 10 and Windows 11, file association is User-based. Therefore, to deploy the default file association you must first configure a reference machine and then export its configuration to an XML file that you will distribute to the rest of the computers.
Export default applications by file type
The first step in managing default file association is to export your configuration to an XML file.
When you run some applications (such as Adobe Reader) the program asks you if you want to configure it as the default program for certain types of files. If you have not done so, you can configure it in the settings of “Settings > Apps > Default apps > Choose defaults by file type“. Here you look for the extensions that you want to manage and choose the default application:
In Windows 11 you have a search engine to specify an extension and assign an application. In the following image we have searched for “.pd” and assigned Adobe Acrobat Reader DC to extensions. PDF:
Once the configuration is done, open a Command Prompt (as an administrator) and use a DISM command to export the current user’s settings to a . XML:
Dism.exe /online /Export-DefaultAppAssociations:C:\Temp\DefaultApps.xml
Now you have a DefaultApps.xml with all of our user’s default file associations. In case you want to remove some associations, you can delete the lines.
In the example below, all lines not associated with Adobe Reader DC and PDF files have been deleted:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Association Identifier=".acrobatsecuritysettings" ProgId="AcroExch.acrobatsecuritysettings" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
<Association Identifier=".fdf" ProgId="AcroExch.FDFDoc" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
<Association Identifier=".pdf" ProgId="AcroExch.Document.DC" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
<Association Identifier=".pdfxml" ProgId="AcroExch.pdfxml" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
<Association Identifier=".pdx" ProgId="PDXFileType" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
<Association Identifier=".xdp" ProgId="AcroExch.XDPDoc" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
<Association Identifier=".xfdf" ProgId="AcroExch.XFDFDoc" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
<Association Identifier="acrobat" ProgId="acrobat" ApplicationName="Adobe Acrobat Reader DC" />
Now you can distribute the XML of default file associations by file type using one of the following methods.
Distribute the default file associations using GPOs
The most common method of distributing the default application file is with Active Directory’s Group Policy (GPO). Create a new GPO and go to the section “Computer Configuration > Policies > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > File Explorer > Set a default associations configuration file” and configure it with the DefaultApps.xml’s path.
As you can see from the images, you need to use a network share that all computers in the domain can access. It is also possible to copy the DefaultApps.xml to each computer and put a local path, but this makes it difficult to update the .XML. In my case I recommend using a share, specifically the sysvol.
Every time you want to add a new association in Windows 10 or Windows 11, you will only have to update the DefaultApps in the network share. Automatically when your devices update their policies, they will check the DefaultApps.xml and apply the changes.
Microsoft documentation say that despite having this GPO applied, users will be able to configure the application association in Windows. This is partially true, as the interface is not locked and the change can be made. But each time the policies are updated, the GPO settings will be reapplied.
Distribute the default file associations using SCCM / Configuration Manager
Another alternative to distribute the default application file is with Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (MEMCM, formerly called SCCM). To do this we can distribute a Package or launch a step of “Run Command Line” from a Task Sequence. With both methods, you must include within the package the DefaultApps.xml and launch the following command:
dism.exe /online /Import-DefaultAppAssociations:.\defaultapps.xml
You can distribute the package to the computers or add the step in a Task Sequence of New Computer as follows (after installing the Windows 10 or Windows 11 and restarting):
View default apps by extension in Windows
You can see the list of default applications set for each extension with the following CMD command:
dism.exe /Online /Get-DefaultAppAssociations
Remove default apps by extension in Windows
To remove all the default applications by extension configured in Windows you can run the following CMD command:
dism.exe /Online /Remove-DefaultAppAssociations
With this command you will eliminate all the customization made both manually and by GPO or SCCM, but in case there is an active GPO / Distribution it will be configured automatically again.
FAQ about default file associations in Windows
In Windows 10 and Windows 11 you can configure the default file associations by file type in “Settings > Apps > Default apps > Choose defaults by file type” as indicated in this manual.
You must create a GPO in Active Directory and configure the “Computer Configuration > Policies > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > File Explorer > Set a default associations configuration file” section by adding an .XML that you have previously created with this manual.