Dave's Midnight Commander Notes/Cheatsheet

Created: 2021-01-15
This page is a draft and This may be incomplete, incorrect, or just a stub or outline. I've decided to allow myself to put draft pages on my website as an experiment. I'm hoping they will:
  • Help me address my backlog of article ideas.
  • Serve as a "living" TODO list of things to work on.
  • Be useful to myself or others in their incomplete forms.
As always, I'm happy to accept feedback on anything I publish including draft content.

I lost my way for a while, but now I’m coming back to orthodox file managers with Midnight Commander on Linux. I had previously been a huge fan of Far Manager on Windows.

Keyboard shortcuts

This is not (yet?) a complete cheatsheet, just the most useful stuff (my opinion).


  • UP, DOWN, PGUP, PGDN, HOME, and END all work as expected to move the selection

  • TAB switch between left and right panels

  • ALT-o open selected directory in other panel (and moves selection to next directory)

  • ALT-i open same directory in other panel (both will now list the same directory)

  • CTRL-u swap panels

  • CTRL-r refresh file/dir list

  • ALT-SHIFT-h open directory history

  • ALT-y go to back a directory in your history (then ALT-u to go forward)

MC also has lots of powerful file viewing options such as:

  • F3 - view file in built-in viewer (and F4 in viewer to view in hex mode!)

  • CTRL-x q - toggle "quick view" mode with viewer in other panel

Actions for files and directories

  • F7 create new directory

  • SHIFT-F4 create a new file

These commands work for a single selected file/dir (the highlight that moves with your keyboard’s UP and DOWN keys) or on all "tagged" files/dirs (see below).

  • F5 copy a file (default copies from current panel to other panel)

  • F6 move a file (default moves from current panel to other panel)

    • You can also give the file a different name so this is also the "rename" feature

  • F8 delete

  • CTRL-x c chmod - change "mode" permissions

  • CTRL-x s chown - change owner

I already mentioned F3 to use the internal MC viewer, which I think is great. For editing, I prefer to use my external editor of choice (Vim) - so I use Options > Configure and uncheck "Use internal edit".

  • F3 - view file in built-in viewer (then F4 while in viewer for hex mode!)

  • F4 - edit file in built-in editor (but see my note above about using external editor)

"Tagging" files/dirs is like "selecting", but keep in mind that "the selection" in MC is the file/dir that is highlighted in the current panel. You can tag files by selecting them, glob patterns, and even regex:

  • INS tag/untag a file (ALT-SHIFT-8 inverts selection)

  • + (SHIFT-=) tags by search pattern! (then use pattern "*" to tag all)

  • - untags by search pattern (again, use pattern "*" to untag all)

  • CTRL-x s create a relative path symbolic link to file/dir in other panel

    • CTRL-x v same, but with relative path


Shell commands are always available in the little command line at the bottom. Just start typing to enter commands as you normally would.

  • CTRL-o toggles full screen subshell

Virtual filesystems

One my favorite features of MC is the ability to open archived files (*.tar.gz) or remote file systems (over ftp, ssh) as if they were just another directory.

To open a FISH ("Files transferred over shell protocol") connection to a remote server via SSH, just:

Use the Right panel (or Left, you decide) and select "Shell link" and type in the SSH server name (domain or alias if you have one configured in ~/ssh/config) and off you go (assuming you have keys set up and that sort of thing - a bit ouf of the scope of this article - get ssh <server> working and you’ll be able to use <server> here).

This makes one-off file transfers extremely handy.

Being a text-based interface, you can also, of course, install and use MC directly on remote systems as well in a regular terminal session. But then you’re using it "local" to that server and virtual filesystems are no longer involved.