How to Open .lnk Files on Mac

Do you have some .lnk files and are wondering what they are? You’re most likely unable to open them on your Mac. If you are trying to figure out what they are and how to open them, then you have come to the right place. They are very simple files and there’s not much to them.

In fact, they’re not really of much use on a Mac because they are Windows shortcut files. That being said there is a way to open them and they do contain some information that could be useful in some instances.

My name is Eric and I have worked with a variety of operating systems and many different file types. As a software engineer, I have learned ways to open files and find information from them when needed. When I get a chance I like to help others learn about different file types.

If you would like to learn more about .lnk files, keep reading. We will take a look at what they are, what they are used for, how we can open them on a Mac, and what kind of information we can get from them.

Let’s get started!

What are LNK files?

If you are seeing .lnk files, you are most likely finding them on a flash drive, a USB hard drive, or some other media that has data on it from a Windows PC. I know this because .lnk files are native to Windows operating systems.

These are actually the shortcut files you see on a Windows desktop. When on the desktop of your PC you don’t see the .lnk extension but it is there. If you use Windows Explorer to navigate to the desktop folder and have the settings enabled to show extensions, you will see them.

Windows shortcut files contain data that help the system determine where the actual file is located and what application if any is needed to open or run the file. There is also other information contained in the file such as parameters that are passed to the application.

How to Open .lnk Files on a Mac

Although these files can’t be used on a Mac as they are intended to be used on a Windows system, there is an easy way to open them. You just can’t use them as a shortcut like you would on a PC. If you double-click on one, you will get a message like the one shown below.

If you do this, just click on the Cancel button to get out of this window. Although there are options here to try to deal with the file, they don’t always work the way we want them to. I will show you a quick and easy way to open them below.

Step 1: Locate the .lnk file in Finder

Step 2: Right-click on the .lnk file

Step 3: Select Open With and then select the

If you don’t see the selection under Open With, click on Other… and then find the application in the window and select it to open the file with it.

Once the file opens, you will see something similar to the file below.

What Can I do With the .lnk File on My Mac?

Now that you are able to open the .lnk file, you will see some text and a lot of random characters that look like garbage. This is because it is not a text file it is a binary file. So, now that you have it opened, you may be thinking what can I do with it or use it for.

The quick answer is nothing. As we discussed above this is a Windows shortcut file and there is no way that we can use it for its intended purpose on a Mac. In other words, we can’t double click on it and have it start up an application. Your Mac doesn’t know how to interpret the information.

Even if it did, the application that the shortcut is meant to start up is probably not even on your Mac and if it was it would not work. Other than figuring out what the file is, there is one reason that you may want to open it and that would be to get information from it.

If for some reason you wanted to know what the shortcut originally opened and where it was located on the windows machine, you can find this from the .lnk file.

As you can see above, the application is run by the system shell32.dll and it was the Skype application that was located in the user’s Progam Files directory.

This may not really matter to anyone but if for some reason you lost the original files and the shortcut files were copied to or left on the USB drive, you might be able to use this information to figure out where the original files are at.

If you are a programmer or software developer, you might be able to use this information to figure out how the application was being started and where it is normally located, who designed it, and other miscellaneous things about it. There is also other information you can glean from it.

Can .lnk Files Harm My Mac?

For the most part, .lnk files are harmless. As we have discussed above, they are just shortcut files from a Windows PC. With that being said, there is a possibility that someone could disguise a dangerous file that has a virus or malware in it as a .lnk file. 

So as with any other files, always use caution when opening them on your system. If you don’t know where it came from, you may be better off just leaving it alone. You might be curious as to what it is for, but it may not be worth the risk of opening for the minimal information it contains.

How Did .lnk files Get on My USB Flash Drive?

There are many ways that the files could have ended up there, but one common way is from someone trying to copy files to the USB drive from a Windows PC by dragging and dropping them. 

Sometimes the drag and drop action from a PC drive to a flash drive only creates shortcut files to the original files instead of copying the whole files to the drive.

Can I Just Delete the .lnk Files?

Now that you know how to open the files and you can see what is in them, you have probably discovered that you don’t have much use for them. If you don’t, there is probably no reason to keep them and you can go ahead and delete them or move them to the trash.

If they are no use to you, they are just taking up space on your computer. There’s really not much else that you can do with them at that point.

Final Words

If you have found some .lnk files on a removable drive or they have somehow gotten onto your Mac, you may have been unsure of what they were or even worried they could be dangerous. In most cases they are harmless and if you wish to open one of them you now know how to do so.

While these files can contain a small amount of useful information, they really are not of any use on a Mac computer. In the end, you can probably just remove them if you wish.

If you have another way to open them on your Mac or some unique use for them, let me know. I would love to hear from you and learn more about them.

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  • Greg F

    I took an old desktop computer to have data put onto a Seagate external drive. My wife Rebecca and I have been together since we were 16. I had tons of photo’s of us from 2005-2011. When I got the hard drive back from the place were I took it (Central Computers), I noticed dozens of folders missing of our photos and lots of new folders and files that I never installed or used. I did find some .lnk files that look to be the names of old photos. Does article mean that there’s no way to view or recover these?

    • Eric

      Hi Greg,
      I’m sorry to hear that this has happened to you. I have lost photos before and it can feel devastating to lose all of your memories. Unfortunately, it sounds like they may not have copied your data properly. If you are seeing .lnk files, it means that shortcuts were created instead of the actual files being copied. You may be able to take a look at the contents of the .lnk files to see where they link to as shown above. If you still have the old computer you should be able to go back on it and still get the photos from there. It seems like the company that was supposed to copy them to the external drive did not do this correctly so you might want to go back to them and see if they can remedy the problem, but if you now don’t trust them, I perfectly understand. If you still have the original computer and hard drive you can try to move them yourself or maybe find another person or company that can do it properly. I hope that the old computer/drive is still available and you don’t lose your photos as I know this is really frustrating.

      • Ajayi Tomiwa

        I just used that method and it worked!

    • Ajayi Tomiwa

      You can! I stumbled upon this from someone on Quora:

      .lnk files get created as a result of virus from windows machine and it cant be opened directly.

      I will let you know the easiest method to retrieve data from the USB.

      1) Connect USB to Mac and open it.

      2) Go to search box on top right and press space bar once.

      3) By default search will be highlighted at search>this mac, click on the USB name beside that.

      4) Press + sign at right hand side beside save option

      5) From the dropdown which says ‘any’ choose ‘folder’ and you will see all the folder present in the USB. Copy and save it.

      Hope this helps!!!!!

      • Ezekiel

        Hello, Tomiwa

        So, I tried this and it didn’t work
        I’m anxious, man

  • Jeff


    I wish to interact (upload/download) with a USB thumb drive plugged into a Windows 10 computer from a iMac 10.14?

    • Eric

      Hi Jeff,
      The main thing is to ensure that when you copy files from Windows to the thumb drive you are copying the actual files and not just creating shortcuts (.lnk files). Accidentally creating shortcuts instead of copying the actual files can sometimes happen when you drag and drop files to external media. Because of this I recommend not using drag and drop but selecting the files on the Windows computer, right-clicking on them, and then selecting copy. Then go to your thumb drive and paste them in there. Once the copy process has been completed, take a close look at the property files and ensure they are not .lnk files by looking at their extensions. Hope this helps and good luck to you!

  • Liz

    I have a .ink file and I opened with text edit. and yes it is illegible. I am on a mac. Is there a way to now find out how to get the actual information I need from this document?

    • Eric Winkler

      Hi Liz,
      I’m glad that you were able to open the file, that is the first step. I assume that the information you are looking for is where the original file that this shortcut was linked to is located. This can be difficult but you will want to look through the file until you see something with a path. It may have something like C:\foldernames\morefoldernames\etc. Once you find that it will give you the location of the original file on the machine that the .lnk file was taken from. I hope this helps!

  • Doug Wood

    I have some LNK photo files that I took with my cell phone that I processed thru software called art filters. Since I Use a mac but I have an android
    phone I have to download the images to PC and
    then load them to a thumb drive. I have not had
    lnk problem before so I am wondering what went
    wrong. They are just jpeg files that always worked before. I hope you can help. Thanks.

    • Eric Winkler

      Hi Doug,

      Unfortunately .lnk files are not the actual photo files. Although you may at times see an image in the thumbnail of the file, they do not actually contain the image. They are just links or shortcuts to the actual image file.

      This sometimes happens when copying things to a thumb drive. Either the links only (the .lnk files) were copied to the drive or when the copying process was done, it did not really copy the files but only created links to the original files.

      If you try opening one of the .lnk files as I describe above, you can probably see the location of the image file which should be a JPEG file with a .jpg or .jpeg extension.

      If you are unable to do that, you might just take a look on your PC and do a search for *.jpg or *.jpeg and see if you find the original files. Most likely they were downloaded from your phone to a specific location on your PC.