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Associate Extensionless Files with Notepad in Windows XP

There are several files that appear not to have extensions in Windows XP. Perhaps the best known example is the HOSTS file. Files such as the HOSTS file that appear to be “extensionless” actually contain an invisible period “.” — or dot — at the end the file name. It is this invisible dot that will enable us to select a specific program with which to open files with no extensions.

Jump through the hoops

As web developers, we are constantly checking and consulting server-generated error_log files. Like the HOSTS file, the error_log files appear to have no associated extension. In Windows XP, opening extensionless files requires opening the “Open with…” dialogue box and scrolling through a long list of file types. And, although there is a checkbox option within the dialogue box enabling users to “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file,” the option is “greyed out” and useless. Thus opening an extensionless file requires four or five extra “clicks”, as well as the extra time it takes to jump through the hoops. This may not sound like a big deal, but try opening any number of files by this method and the extra clicks begin to add up.

After opening our millionth error_log file using the “Open with” method, we decided to confront the problem and devise a solution. After a bit of research, we were presented with several options: editing the registry, installing software, or tweaking Windows “Folder Options”. After fiddling with the registry and installing some software with no real progress, we decided to try the heretofore unsuccessful “Folder Options” method. Sure enough, armed with an invisible dot and a slight tweak, we were finally able to convince Windows XP to associate extensionless file types with Notepad, our program of choice for such files.

The Solution (Notepad)

Although this solution is relatively risk-free1, requiring no registry editing or software installation, the process is fairly sensitive, requiring careful attention. Below are two methods: the first associates extensionless files with Notepad, while the second does such with WordPad. Both assume you are running on a Windows XP operating system.

Here is the method of associating extensionless file types with Notepad in WinXP:

  1. Open Windows Explorer and go to Tools › Folder Options › File Types.
  2. Click the “New” button and type “.txt” in the “File Extension” field.
  3. Click on the “Advanced” button and the “Associated File Type” should read “Text Document”. If it is blank, or says something else, close everything out and start over, making sure to follow the steps in order.
  4. Finally, in the “File Extension” field, replace the “.txt” with a single dot, “.”
  5. Click “OK” and exit. Find or create an extensionless file and check it out.

The Solution (WordPad)

Here is a similar method of associating extensionless file types with WordPad in WinXP:

  1. Open Windows Explorer and go to Tools › Folder Options › File Types.
  2. Click the “New” button and type “.txt” in the “File Extension” field.
  3. Click on the “Advanced” button and the “Associated File Type” should read “Text Document”. If it is blank, or says something else, close everything out and start over, making sure to follow the steps in order.
  4. Open the “Associated File Type” dropdown menu. Scroll down and select “Wordpad Document”.
  5. Finally, in the “File Extension” field, replace the “.txt” with a single dot, “.”
  6. Click “OK” and exit. Find or create an extensionless file and check it out.

Footnotes

  • 1 It is always a good idea to backup your registry and other critical documents before implementing any system changes.

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Creative thinker. Passionate about free and open Web.
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22 responses
  1. Jeff Starr

    Thank you for sharing this information with us.. Although I have already configured my primary computer to open all extensionless files with notepad (via the method described in the above article), I am looking forward to trying this new, expedient "hostsx.bat" method on my trusty laptop (running Win98SE). Definitely an excellent tip that could really speed things up around here.
    Thanks again!

  2. I found this site while looking for a solution to the hosts file editing annoyance. Since this is the only extensionless file I edit regularly, I don’t necessarily want to map them all to notepad (though I did find my solution here :).

    My initial idea was to create a shortcut that opened hosts with notepad (I use winXP) – something like notepad C:\WINNT\system32\drivers\etc\hosts

    This returned a dialog box saying hosts.txt didn’t exist, and asked if I wanted to create it. Modifying the argument to the notepad command by adding the “.” after hosts does the trick nicely though: notepad “C:\WINNT\system32\drivers\etc\hosts.”

    No more open with. Thanks perishable.

  3. Jeff Starr

    c.emery,
    Very nice! The comments now officially have become more informative than the original article. Thank you for contributing your insights with us — you are too kind!
    Jeff

  4. Looking for something like this for years … it was extremely annoying indeed (and typical Windows in the same time). Now looking for something that links unregistered files to Notepad, by default. 99% of the “new” extensions (after FORMAT) are linked with Notepad ..

  5. Thanks for this! I used to have extensionless files registered to notepad on Win 98 (I think using asterisk as the filetype). I’m glad someone found a way to do it on XP.

  6. Jeff Starr

    My pleasure — thanks for the feedback! :)

  7. Thanks! This worked, but didn’t solve the problem I thought it would: searches for a word in a file don’t check files without extensions (silly me–I though associating files without extensions as text files would fix it). But I did finally find the fix:
    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/309173
    It is amazing how well they buried the check box to include unknown file types in searches. The fact that the indexing services options control searches with indexing turned off is just the start. I recommend following the instructions in the kb article even if you don’t want to change anything–just for the entertainment value!

  8. Jeff Starr

    Quote: “It is amazing how well they buried the check box to include unknown file types..”

    SBW dropping an informative, insightful comment on your post: free.

    Reading through ancient Microsoft documents just for the “entertainment value”: priceless.

    :)

  9. **** YES.
    Thank you for this, I work with notepad++ and I am always accidentally saving extensionless files, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!

  10. Jeff Starr

    Absolutely, positively, my pleasure — thanks for the feedback, hobs! ;)

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