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Midnight Commander is not bad

Date: 2022-08-28

I am a big fan of command line based utilities, and I love the terminal. Sometimes I even have more than one terminal emulator installed on my system, just to try them out. My favorite is kitty at the moment, and it won't change for a while.

I also like file managers in the terminal. Makes life simpler, when you only do things with the keyboard. I am currently using lf file manager, which is a good one. Almost a great one, since I had a problem recently, when I wanted to install a game mod for Return to Castle Wolfenstein. For that I had to overwrite files and directories. However in default you can't do that. Instead they get a nice number after their name. I searched for solutions, but so far I couldn't find it. I haven't given up on it, but it made me to search for an alternative, since I don't want to go back to ranger.

Here comes Midnight Commander

Midnight Commander will be very familiar for people who used computers in the 90s. A two panel file manager, which looks oddly familiar to Norton Commander and its clones. You can install it from your distro's package manager, just search for the "mc" package. Pretty cool name, right?

I don't think the Linux people talks about this utility much. First of all, this is an old software. It was started in 1994.


Image is from wikipedia

How to handle this

Since we are in the terminal, keyboard shortcuts are everything. But don't worry, mc has mouse support too! You can reach the top menu with F9, while the bottom menu (help, menu, view, edit, etc.) is reachable with the other function buttons (F1-F10). Generally you can move between options with the arrow keys and choose it with Enter. If you see highlighted characters, you can just press that key on the keyboard to get there.

For example if you activate the top menu, with F9, now you can reach those menus, with L-eft, F-ile, C-ommand, O-ptions, R-ight.

However if you are get into the File menu, now you can only activate those menu options with the highlighted letters, so like Copy with C, or Delete with D. So it's only active for the current panel. Which is easy to see, since it has a nice, simple shadow under it.

We have individual shortcuts, which we can use from anywhere. Those you can see in the menu, after the command. Like using chmod (handy to change access to file privilages), which is C-x c. This means, that you press Ctrl+x (let it go) then press c. Then a nice panel comes up. You don't even have to know about the usual alphabetic or numbers for changing privilages. Basically it's all about who can read, write or execute a file.

Oh and you can switch to the other panel with Tab. Select files and directories with the Insert key.

So basically if you are familiar with how Emacs works, you will have an easier time. C- means Control key, M- means meta, aka Alt, S- means Shift.

It has themes!

If you go into Options -> Appearance, you can change the colorscheme, as well as turn off the shadow. And you can install additional themes in your "~/.local/share/mc/skins" directory.

For example, the dracula colorscheme has a good looking theme for mc. But of course github and other places can have nice themes too.

If you want some old school themes to use, here are some retro skins (Norton Commander, Volkov Commander, Far Manager). Pretty nostalgic, hehe.

Note: you don't have to restart mc to select newly installed themes. Also make sure you use a theme where you can see the selected files. Just saying…

Directory bookmarks

In mc you call them Directory hotlist, and you can get to it by C-\. Here you can manually edit the list, adding and deleting ones. Pretty handy to jump to a favorite directory. I don't know if you have a vim like shortcut, which I am used to in ranger and lf. Until this this have to do, or just set up an alias for directories in your favorite shell (bash, zhs, fish, etc.).

Still has access to terminal

If you press C-o (Ctrl+o), then you have access to the terminal emulator you are in, just basically hides mc, pressing it again, you will return to mc.

And of course even if you don't hide it, you still have a nice place for commands down there.

Disabling UI stuff

You can enable/disable stuff in Options -> Layout. Menubar, command prompt, keybar, etc.

Poor documentation, but…

Seriously, what the hell is this? A draft of a documentation? I know this is now an ancient software, but still. I might well as just start to write something and submit. xD

However you can still find people who are fans of this file manager and did find a longer video about it:

Overall (not first) impressions

I like mc, little bit nostalgic about it since it handles the same way as NC. You can copy with overwrite, so my main problem was solved. But of course there are many things I have to learn and adjust some of the things I got used to before in a certain way. There are a couple of problem with mc, like if you start playing a video, the video takes over mc until it's over or you quit playing the video.

This is post #26 of the #100DaysToOffload challenge, where we write 100 posts in a year. If you are interested in this event, check out the official website: Happy writing everybody! :)

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