How to Open Downloaded PDF Files


Lots of websites offer downloadable content these days. Popular among such content are downloadable PDF files. Has it happened to you that you downloaded a PDF file from the internet but it couldn’t be opened? If so, remain calm, because the solution is probably very simple.

Check File Extension

Sometimes when you download a file from the web, Windows doesn’t give the file an extension. So, instead of AwesomeFile.pdf all you have is AwesomeFile.

Since the file has no extension, Windows doesn’t know what program to use to open it. To give the user a way out of this situation, Windows displays one of two dialog boxes.

No File Extension

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

In case the file has no extension at all, Windows opens the Open with window where you can choose one of your already installed programs to open the file.

To open a PDF file, you can select Adobe Reader, Foxit Reader, or Sumatra PDF.

After you select a program, click OK.

Windows will now automatically open the file in question with your selected program.

Unknown File Extension

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

In case the file has an extension but it is not linked to any installed program, Windows will ask you what you want to do.

You can select a program from the list — this will open up the dialog box with all your installed programs.

Or you can ask Windows to find an appropriate program to open the file.

Or you can cancel the whole operation by clicking on the Cancel button.

Manually Changing the Extension

It is also possible to manually change or set a file’s extension in Windows.

To do this, open Windows Explorer (Win+E) and locate the file on your hard drive. If you have problems locating the file, it is probably a good idea to create a Downloads folder.

After locating the file, right-click on it and select Rename from the drop-down menu.

Alternatively, you can achieve the same effect by left-clicking on the file and pressing F2 on your keyboard.

Now rewrite the file’s name from AwesomeFile to AwesomeFile.pdf.

However, this trick will not work for files with incorrect extensions. If you want to rename to AwesomeFile.pdf, you have to do it via Command Prompt.

Launch Command Prompt from Start > All Programs > Accessories. In the Command Prompt window, type and enter the following command:


You can copy-paste commands to Command Prompt. However, when pasting them into the Command Prompt window instead of Ctrl+V use right-click and then select Paste from the drop-down menu.

Obviously, the file locations and names have to match the reality on your hard drive.


In most cases resolving the file extension issue will enable you to open the PDF file.

No PDF Reader Installed

But in some rare cases, the user has no PDF reader installed and that’s why the operating system isn’t able to open the PDF file.

In this case, I recommend downloading and installing one of the following three free PDF readers:

All three PDF readers can open PDF files. All three are equipped with all the necessary basic PDF file handling features including zooming, bookmarking, and printing.

If you use lots of PDF files on a daily basis, I’d recommend using either Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader. For opening and printing a PDF file once in a while, SumatraPDF will be quite enough.

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