What to do when Chrome stops letting you download PDFs

This article falls into the category “Chrome does strange things when downloading files”. Every once in a while I like to write articles that simply document weird problems and their solutions/workarounds. I guess if I ran into the problem and spent some time trying to fix it, some of you will too. So this is for people who have spent the last 30 or 40 minutes trying to find an answer from Google as to why Chrome is doing weird things with their downloads and hoping for an answer.

I have an answer – sort of.

Sitrep (status report)

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My wife does the accounting for our small business. This means that every week or so she has to download a whole bunch of bank, credit card and supplier statements. She files them on our accounting share on the Synology NAS, so we have them for tax, reporting, or any other responsible needs that arise. She’s been doing this for as long as there have been statements online.

There is a little variation in the process, depending on how each site codes its download links. But it’s still a matter of clicking on a link or right-clicking and selecting Save As. The PDF downloads to the folder she does her organizational magic with.

But earlier this week, that changed. Instead of downloading the file, it opened in Preview (she’s using a Mac). And instead of being able to Save As to the correct folder, the preview would only allow the Save function to save to the Downloads folder, and it wouldn’t allow it to name the file. It basically picked an index code and used that as the filename. So for each file, she had to go to the Downloads folder, rename the PDF, and move it to where she wanted it stored.

Alternatively, she could use the print function in Chrome and choose to save it as a PDF, but then she had to navigate to the destination folder each time. This added many clicks to her workflow, as each file now required her to find the destination folder she wanted.

The Semi-Hidden PDF Documents setting in Chrome

And so, I looked into the problem. At first I thought I had found the answer. There were a number of articles that pointed me to a PDF documents setting directly in Chrome. To access this setting, you can’t just type “PDF” into the Chrome settings search bar, as that would be too easy.


Instead, you need to go to Settings, then click Security & Privacy, then Site Settings, then Additional Content Settings. At this point, you will see the PDF Documents option. Click on it, and you have this screen:


Now work with me here. Doesn’t this seem to solve the exact problem I was describing? Instead of opening the PDFs, just click that obvious little Download PDFs radio button and you’ll be…waiting…to download PDFs? To the right? Yeah, not so much.

Apparently, this button toggles Chrome’s internal PDF viewer on and off. Like, totally off. If you click Download PDF Files, Chrome’s built-in viewer stops working – completely. You can test this by setting the button to Open PDFs in Chrome, then going to File->Open File and opening a PDF.

If Open PDFs in Chrome is selected, your PDF will open. Now flip that radio button to download PDFs and do the same. Go to File->Open File and open the same PDF. This time you will get nada, zero, zilch, nothing. This is because you have disabled the PDF viewer. You have basically disabled the plugin or module that controls the display of PDFs in Chrome.

Tell me that’s an intuitively obvious side effect of choosing Download PDFs. Go ahead. Tell me.

make it worse

Okay, I’m nothing if not creative. If changing the Download PDFs setting didn’t fix my wife’s PDF download problem, it may have been the default app. Maybe if I changed the default app for PDFs from Preview to Chrome, the PDFs would open fine in Chrome.

So I selected a random PDF file on his desktop, did a Get Info, and changed Open With from Preview to Google Chrome. I then clicked the Change All button to make it the default behavior for all PDF files.


It helped… not at all. This made the situation worse. Now, instead of downloading or saving as, the file opens in Preview, it opens in the Chrome PDF viewer. And then he reopened it in the Chrome PDF viewer so that there are two copies of the PDF open in separate Chrome tabs.

Why? I do not know. Just because. Hey, if you know why, go ahead and tell us in the comments below.

Needless to say my darling was discouraged. So I went back to the internet. Lo and behold, I found a clue.

Do better

I dug into the settings. I googled a lot. I tried all kinds of things. And then I came across a post in the Google support forum about opening files in IE. Yes, the solution to my PDF download problem was hidden in a Chrome support forum post about Internet Explorer.

The Google-fu is strong in this one.

The message was titled “Downloads from opening Chrome in Internet Explorer”. The original poster described a problem that was very unlike the one my wife was having, except that Chrome was doing weird things.

A few posts down, a user by the name of Moriah Krause posted the answer. Moriah also included the following screenshot. Look where the green arrow is pointing.


See where it says “Open certain file types automatically after downloading”? I had never seen this option before. In fact, I looked on all my computers, and it’s not there. You access it by clicking on Settings->Advanced->Downloads. Just for the sake of supplementing, I did a Google Image search and posted some screenshots of the Advanced->Downloads options which doesn’t show “Open certain file types automatically after downloading”. They only show two options: Location and Ask where to save each file.


So you and I can be forgiven for not knowing how to check this option because it’s like Brigadoon. It almost never exists. But on my wife’s computer, it was there. Simple as day. She had an issue with Chrome automatically opening the PDF (a file type) after downloading. The option doesn’t specify which file types are “certain file types” because that would spoil the surprise.

But I was there. The human Google. Husband Man. Wizard of all Geekdom. The tech guy. So I put on my metaphorical wizard hat, waved my wand (well, I poked my mouse), and clicked Erase.

And that was it. It worked.

Do you know why?

Do I know why my wife’s computer fell into this weird state? No. Do I know how to get it back to that state or when “Open certain file types automatically after download” shows up in Chrome? No. But my wife is happy, and that’s all that matters.

That said, if you know what caused this behavior, what file types are “certain file types”, or if you can shed more light on this situation and its solutions, please share with us in the comments below. below. And happy downloading!

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