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MC Context Sensitive User Menu

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The shell is a powerful software development tool whose utility is hard to overestimate. Shell scripting is an integral part of just about everything system administrators do.

One of the most interesting innovation of Orthodox file managers was so called user menu. It is similar to Windows Start button which was created ten years later but still it is more flexible because items that are displayed in it depends on the context (type of the current file, the presence of highlighted files in the current  panel, etc).

The file manager includes a special file where you can store your scripts. This file can be automatically generated (assembled) from individual components that can be tested separately using make.

The user menu is a menu of useful actions that can be customized by the user. When you access the user menu, the file from the current directory is used if it exists, but only if it is owned by user or root and is not world-writable. If no such file found, ~/.mc/menu is tried in the same way, and otherwise mc uses the default system-wide menu /etc/mc/ (in version 4.8 and up)

Lines that start with anything but space or tab are considered entries for the menu (in order to be able to use it like a hot key, the first character should be a letter). All the lines that start with a space or a tab are the commands that will be executed when the entry is selected.

Comments are started with #. The additional comment lines must start with #, space or tab.

The structure of the user menu

The format of the menu file is very simple: items are separated with the blank line(s) and consist of blocks of indented line with a header:

Let's look into a simple example:

i   Display ipconfig information
    ifconfig -a

I   Display ipconfig man page
    man ifconfig 

In this case we see two menu items with headers consisting of a single like and containing no visibility predicates. That means that those items will always be displayed in the menu.  You can use macrovariables as ordinary shell variables

X Extract the contents of a compressed tar file

    tar xzvf %f

Here is a more interesting example that uses %D macrosymbol: 

J Copy current directory to other panel recursively

    tar cf - . | (cd %D && tar xvpf -)

The menu can also contains comment blocks that are started with '#'. The additional comment lines must start  space or tab.  That permit temporary deletion of the items from the menu

This is essentially the functionality similar to Windows Start menu. Although it was invented before Windows (in 1986 with version 1.p0 of Norton Commander it is more flexible as entries are arbitrary scripts..  But what makes is far superior is visibility predicated and ability to use macrovariables. With visibility predicates instead of one static menu MC users set a set of different menues depending of context exisating in the panel. For example if the panel does not conatin selected files all entries related to this context will be excluded.

There is also ability to overwrite more global entries with more local, specialised entries.  When the user presses F2, mc checks in three places to find a menu,. The first found menu is used:

The fact that mc checks for ownership and rights provide the possibility dynamically switch from the user menu to system wide menu and back: to hide user menu from the path all you need is just to change permission to 000. 

Let's look into slightly more complicated example:

v     Edit the current file using vim 
       vim %f

V     Edit all selected
       vim %t

It is clear that if there are selected files we probably do not need the item that edits a single file and we can both mark with the same hotkey "v". 

Visibility Conditions

Visibility conditions (or simply conditions) is a method of hiding "irrelevant" items from the user menu invented and implemented in Midnight Commander. The current implementation is ad hoc, but possibly can be reworked and in future based on LUA or some other macro language with standard library.

For example, if particular menu item works only with selected files on active panel, there is a capability to hide this element in "displayed user menu" (which is dynamic and is subset of items defined in user menu) when no selected files in present on active panel.  And if particular element of the panel works only with tar and gtz archive, it is possible to specify that it is excluded if the current file does not have a suitable extension. In way this is a generalization of extensions menu to each item of the user menu.  

MC  "visibility conditions" should preceded the line that specifes the hotkey. Condition starts with single special character.

You can combine default and addition conditions by starting condition with += or =+ (or +=? or =+? if you want debug trace). If you want to use two different conditions, one for adding and another for defaulting, you can precede a menu entry with two condition lines, one starting with + and another starting with =

Conditions syntax

Condition syntax:
  <cond>          = <sub-cond>
  or:		  = <cond> | <cond> ...
  or:		  = <cond> & <cond> ...

Sub-condition is one of following:

f <pattern>	current file matching pattern
F <pattern>	other file matching pattern
d <pattern>	current directory matching pattern
D <pattern>	other directory matching pattern
t <type>	current file of type
T <type>	other file of type
! <sub-cond>	negate the result of sub-condition

Pattern is a normal shell pattern or a regular expression, according to the shell patterns option. You can override the global value of the shell patterns option by writing shell_patterns=x on the first line of the menu file (where "x" is either 0 or 1).

Type is one or more of the following characters:

For example rlf means either regular file, link or fifo. The t type is a little special because it acts on the panel instead of the file. The condition t t is true if there are tagged files in the current panel and false if not.

If the condition starts with =? instead of = a debug trace will be shown whenever the value of the condition is calculated.

The conditions are calculated from left to right. This means

= f *.tar.gz | f *.tgz & t n
is calculated as
( (f *.tar.gz) | (f *.tgz) ) & (t n)

Here is previous example reworks to use conditions. Note that we use negation of the condition "presence of tagged file" in the second menu entry.


+ t t
V     Edit all selected
      vim %t

+ ! t t
v     Edit the current file (type file)  
      vim %f

Here is another, more complex example of the use of conditions:

= f *.tar.gz | f *.tgz & t n
L	List the contents of a compressed tar-archive
	gzip -cd %f | tar xvf -

Visibility predicates blocks

You can program a series of conditions like a construct that resembles a case statement in shell. We will call this construct "visibility predicate block". The block consists of the main condition (that is specified with = sign) and one of more (often applicable only to files with the extensions specified in the main visibility predicate) sub conditions specified with "+" sign. If the main condition is false all menu items with sub conditions are skipped. If it is true than each sub condition is evaluated in addition to the main visibility predicate and if it is true the menu item is included in the menu. 

The typical usage is to distinguish between cases when there are selected files on the panel and cases when there is no such files.

Here is example of with  default visibility condition that specify several type of file that are processed in subsequent menu items.

= f \.pl | f \.sh | f \.ksh | f ^\.
+ t r & ! t t
5       prettyprint
        case %f in
	  *.pl perl -d %f;;
	  *.sh python bashlint     D="`basename %f .tgz`";;
	  *.tcl)    D="`basename %f .tpz`";;
	  *.sh)  D="`basename %f .tar.Z`";;
	  *.ksh)  D="`basename %f .tar.z`";;
	  *.tar.bz2) D="`basename %f .tar.bz2`"; set bunzip2 -c ;;
	  *.tar.F) D="`basename %f .tar.F`"; set freeze -dc;
6       check syntax
        case %f in
	  *.pl perl -c %f;;
	  *.sh python bashlint     D="`basename %f .tgz`";;
	  *.tcl)    D="`basename %f .tpz`";;
	  *.sh)  D="`basename %f .tar.Z`";;
	  *.ksh)  D="`basename %f .tar.z`";;
	  *.tar.bz2) D="`basename %f .tar.bz2`"; set bunzip2 -c ;;
	  *.tar.F) D="`basename %f .tar.F`"; set freeze -dc;

+ t r & ! t t
a       Append file to opposite
    	cat %f >>%D/%f

+ t t
A       Append files to opposite files
    	set %u
    	while [ -n "$1" ]; do
      		cat $1 >>%D/$1 || echo tag $1 >>$MC_CONTROL_FILE

+ t r & ! t t
d       Delete file if a copy exists in the other directory.
    	if [ "%d" = "%D" ]; then
      		echo "The two directores must be different"
      		exit 1
    	if [ -f %D/%f ]; then        # if two of them, then
        	if cmp -s %D/%f %f; then
        	    	rm %f && echo %f: DELETED
        		echo "%f and %D/%f differ: NOT deleted"
            		echo -n "Press RETURN "
            		read key
      		echo %f: No copy in %D/%f: NOT deleted.

+ t t
D       Delete tagged files if a copy exists in the other directory.
    if [ "%d" = "%D" ]; then
      echo "The two directores must be different"
      exit 1
        for i in %t
          if [ -f %D/$i ]; then
            SUM1="`sum $i`"
            SUM2="`sum %D/$i`"
            if [ "$SUM1" = "$SUM2" ]; then
          rm $i && echo ${i}: DELETED
          echo $i and %D/$i differ: NOT deleted.
        echo %f has no copy in %D/%f: NOT deleted.

The first subcondition is

+ t r

 That means that the corresponding menu item will be included in the menu if and only if  the current file is a regular file.

The second condition is + t t and means that one or several selected files exists in the active panel. In this case we will perform operation of the selected files instead of the current file.

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