Dave's Midnight Commander Notes/Cheatsheet

Created: 2021-01-15 Updated: 2021-12-02

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 when you run mc, try:

$ mc foo/ sh://myserver

Where foo/ is a local relative directory and myserver is a remote machine (this example assumes that ssh myserver would also work).

You can also 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.