Fix your Mac showing generic icons for files

Identifying files by their icon is perhaps more important than being able to locate the programs you use, since for the most part you will likely be browsing your files when using the Finder on your Mac. However, there are some instances where the icons for your files will just appear as generic white documents, leaving you unable to distinguish them and less likely to identify them. This may happen for a number of reasons, including using incompatible third-party cleaner tools for your Mac, or problems with restoring from backups. If you are finding yourself in this situation, then there are several things you can do to restore your icons.

Rebuild OS X’s Launch Services

OS X associates programs and files with the system’s launch services, which gathers a list of the programs on your system and the file types that they can handle, and then links them so when you open a file, the appropriate program is launched to handle it.

As part of this association, OS X will adopt icons within the handling program to use with these files. If this association is broken in the launch services, then the system may not know what files your programs are capable of opening, which in turn may have OS X resort to a generic icon for these files.

To fix this specific problem, you can try resetting the system’s launch services, which can be done by running the following command in the OS X Terminal. Note that the command is buried deep in the system so it is very long; however, you should be able to copy the following multi-line version of it and paste it into the Terminal to run it:

ons/A/Support/lsregister -kill -seed

In addition to launch services, OS X contains a few system caches that handle application icons so the system does not have to constantly pull them from programs you have installed. These are buried in the system’s temporary folder structures for the system and user accounts, but can be found and removed by running the following command in the Terminal

sudo find /var/folders/ -name -exec rm {} \

When done, reboot your Mac into Safe Mode (hold the Shift key at startup) and then restart normally. Note that after removing these caches and rebuilding the launch services, that you may have to open the programs again before the files these programs handle will regain their icons.

The info window’s Open With section contains an option to “Change All” documents of this type to open with the selected program.

Specify the handler for the files

Another quick option that may reset the file’s status in the system’s launch services is to re-associate it with its handling program, which can be done in the information window for any file of its type:

  1. Select the file and press Command-i to get information on it
  2. Expand the Open With section
  3. Choose any program from the drop-down menu other than the current one, even if the current is the desired one.
  4. Click the “Change All” button and confirm this action
  5. Re-select your initial (or desired) program, and again click “Change All.”

Uninstall duplicate applications

Conflicts for handling different files may occur if you have (or have had) multiple versions of the same program on your system. For instance, if a program was at version 1.0 and you installed a separate instance of version 2.0, then files associated with version 1.0 may not open if you remove this program, even though version 2.0 is present. Granted specifying these files to open within version 2.0 should have the system make the proper association; however, an easy way to avoid such conflicts is to remove older software versions unless you absolutely need them.

Sometimes applications may not be in expected places, two of which are the Macintosh HD > Applications folder, and the Users > username > Applications folder (not created by default); however, they can be anywhere else if you have moved them, even on external hard drives.

Reinstall the application for the affected file types

Finally, you might try reinstalling the programs you have for handling these files. If there is damage to your files’ current installations, then the system might not be able to access the icon resources for them. A quick solution to this and similar problems is to re-download the program, or otherwise reinstall it.


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