How to Open .URL Files (Internet Shortcuts) Using Different Browsers from the Right-Click Menu

I’m sure most users would have more than one web browser installed in their systems. People may prefer Internet Explorer for browsing certain types of sites – say for official or intranet sites, and a different browser for casual web browsing. Double-clicking a .URL (website shortcut) always launches the browser that’s configured as the default. By adding different browser options in the right-click menu for URL files, you can choose a non-default web browser from the list and quickly launch the website in it. One way to make this possible is by adding the Open with… context menu option, which does not exist by default for .URL files. Apart from Open with… there are many ways to launch a website shortcut using a non-default web browser, of which some of the methods are covered in this post.

Method 1: Using Classic "Open With…" Menu

Download url-openwith-classic.zip, unzip and run the REG file. This adds the Open with.. command to the right-click menu, by adding the following registry key:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\InternetShortcut\ShellEx\ContextMenuHandlers\OpenWith

… with the (default) value data set to "{09799AFB-AD67-11d1-ABCD-00C04FC30936}"

If the non-default browsers aren’t listed in the first screen, click More apps

Method 2: Adding web browser shortcuts to the Send To menu

This is the most common thing people use, the most useful Send To menu. Simply open the SendTo folder of your user profile (type shell:sendto in Run dialog) and place the browser shortcuts in that folder. You may simply right-click a .URL, click Send To and open the URL in a non-default browser.

Editor’s note: Some browsers such as Google Chrome simply open the .URL file as a text file, instead of opening the web address mentioned in the file. This is because they don’t include a .URL handler registered by default. This is a known issue, reported in their official forum: Issue 114871 – chromium – Chrome doesn’t recognise .url files properly. And here is how it looks when you use one of the above two methods to open a .URL using Chrome.

Of course, there are Chrome Plug-ins that parse the .URL file and make Chrome launch the web address instead of outputting the file contents in the browser. Alternately, you can use Method 3 or 4 in this article to avoid the above problem.

Method 3: Using the "Modern" Open With menu (lists registered web browsers)

Download url-openwith-modern.zip, unzip and run the REG file. Additional "Open" command is added to the right-click menu for URL files, with a sub-menu containing the list of browsers installed in the system. This lists all the web browsers installed and properly registered using Default Programs. This registry edit works in Windows 8 and Windows 10 only. The following registry key is added using this method:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\InternetShortcut\shell\Open With

… with the String value "ExplorerCommandHandler" set to "{4ce6767d-e09b-45dc-831d-20c8b4ea9a26}"

The browsers list is shown right-away, and other applications apart from browsers aren’t listed. The Shell populates this list from Default Programs registration, and so it’s usually right on the money. However, applying this registry setting would result in the addition of a 2nd Open command (with a sub-menu) in the right-click menu, as seen above. The menu command name, as well as the menu icon could not be customized via the registry. As said earlier, this modern Open-with works only in Windows 8 and Windows 10 systems.

Method 4: Adding a Cascading menu that lists all browsers

This method makes use of the excellent Cascading menu feature introduced first in Windows 7, and this works in Windows 7 and higher (Windows 10, 8)

1. Download url-openwith-cascade.zip and extract the contents to a folder.

2. Double-click to run the file BrowsersMenu.reg.

3. Move the Vbscript file BrowserLaunch.vbs to your Windows directory. In the Access Denied dialog that appears, click Continue.

Note: The script file BrowserLaunch.vbs simply parses the .URL file, gets the web address and then launches it using the chosen browser. The script is simply a launcher/stub script, and the contents of it can be read using a text editor like Notepad.

Now you have a neat looking Open with… Cascading menu with a list of browsers mentioned in the REG file.

Further customization: If you have a browser in the list that’s not actually installed in the system, you can remove it from the menu by simply modifying the registry value here:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Classes\InternetShortcut\shell\Open with…

… the value to be modified is SubCommands

It’s value data is by default set as:

urlChrome;urlChromeIncog;urlMSEdge;urlIexplore;urlIexploreInPriv;urlFirefox;urlFirefoxPrivate;

For example, if you don’t use Chrome, you can modify the value data to:

urlMSEdge;urlIexplore;urlIexploreInPriv;urlFirefox;urlFirefoxPrivate;

It should be fairly easy to adapt the registry settings in Method 4 for additional web browsers. Or if you want me include more browsers in the menu, drop a note in the Comments section below.

About the author

Ramesh Srinivasan founded Winhelponline.com back in 2005. He is passionate about Microsoft technologies and has a vast experience in the ITeS industry — delivering support for Microsoft's consumer products. He has been a Microsoft MVP [2003 to 2012] who contributes to various Windows support forums.

16 thoughts on “How to Open .URL Files (Internet Shortcuts) Using Different Browsers from the Right-Click Menu

  1. Thanks Ramesh – having declined the IE default invitation (‘don’t ask again’) after starting again, everything now seems to be as it should – IE IS the default anyway and I can Open with… Chrome (but I’m also offered MS Edge and Mozilla Firefox – can I suppress those?).
    Also, is it possible to include an option of Chrome in incognito mode?

  2. @John: Resetting IE as default hides the Open with. Re-running the REG file (would clear the UserChoice key) would get back the Open with option. Next time when IE asks to set it as the default, click No. Clicking No would still work as the URL protocol associations are already intact in a different place. Per my tests, only IE does this and not any other browser.

    And no that’s not what I intended. The open with is supposed to work even if default browser is set. Only problem is that IE neutralizes the Open with option when set as default. So, reset ie as default, and then apply the edit. Next time click “No” when Ie wants to set itself as default. If nothing helps, pls drop me a mail and we’ll work on it. Should be a simple setting.

  3. Thanks Ramesh. That worked initially, but the next time I opened a .url file I was asked whether I wanted Internet Explorer to open this type of file by default. As I DID want this to be the default position, I clicked YES.
    Now ‘Open with…’ has disappeared from the context menu – and I can’t seem to reverse my selection by deleting the default association using the Control Panel tools.
    Without a default selected, you would need to choose which browser on EACH occasion – pretty inconvenient and a poor trade-off (in my view) – is that what you intended?
    By the way, is there any way to include (as an option) a Google Chrome Incognito window?

  4. @John: My mistake. Updated a small setting in the REG file. Pls redownload and run it. It should work.

  5. I was excited by this prospect, but I can’t make it work.
    I run Win7 and used the Cascade method. I downloaded the zip file and extracted the content, running the ‘menu’ file and moving the ‘launch’ file to Windows folder (accepting the warning shown above).
    However, my context menu for a url does NOT include ‘Opens with…’.
    You mention adding the list of browsers MANUALLY – how?

  6. @Fleet Command: Thanks for the kudos, John. To me, customizing Windows is always fascinating, and writing about it even more fascinating..and will try to make some good posts like this one.

    As for W10 resetting the default browser to MS-Edge (the Mozilla CEO’s letter?), MS seems to be working on that problem, as I heard from a social n/w post by MS staff. My W10 PC isn’t affected by the problem though.

  7. Hi, Ramesh. These days you’ve published what I think is the best posts of your entire blogging career. (I went all the way back when I first see this blog.) In this case, you addressed a concern for which a Mozilla CEO (if I am remembering rightly) wrote an open letter to Microsoft.

    It is good that you still find fun or useful things to blog about. I myself have stopped blogging. These days, all see is chaos and confusion.

Comments are closed.

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