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Guide to Efficient Use of Total Commander

By Ilya Gulko

Revision 1.5.2; June 1, 2004

A lot of useful information about OFMs (Orthodox File Managers) can be found on the Softpanorama OFM Page. An OFM is a file manager that emulates, at least to some extent, Norton Commander. Total Commander is one of these. The newest version of Total Commander, at the time of writing, is 6.03a. If you're using an older one, it's a good idea to upgrade, since the newer versions contain new features, as well as bugfixes.

Note: Windows Commander has been renamed to Total Commander.

Table of Contents

  1. Initial Setup
    1. General
    2. Directory Menu
    3. Start Menu
    4. Button Bar
  2. Efficient Use
  3. Tips
    1. Synchronizing Files Through FTP
    2. Moving Files with Rename
    3. Using the Parallel Port Link
    4. Defining Colors for Different File Types
    5. Using the Multi-Rename Tool
    6. Copying a File's Name
    7. Using the Vertical Layout
    8. Displaying All Files in a Directory Tree
  4. Links
  5. Final Words
  6. Supplement: keyboard map

Initial Setup

Total Commander is very configurable, and you should take advantage of this. Go through the entire Configuration dialog, and set it up the way you like it. If you don't understand what an option does, consult the manual. This may take you 15 minutes, but the program will work the way you want it afterwards. Some suggestions follow.


  1. Since Commander's strength is in its keyboard usability, the toolbar will probably be of little use. Keep the function key buttons until you learn them and no longer need to look at the buttons to see what each one does.
  2. Disable the icons (Commander calls them symbols) unless you really need them. If you really like icons, Only standard symbols is a good choice, since you won't be slowed down by the process of retrieving the icons from each file.
  3. Use a fixed-width font for the File list font and Main window font settings. Some good choices are Courier New and Lucida Console.
  4. Enable the Use inverted cursor option under the Color settings. This will make it easier to see what file is currently selected.

Directory Menu

Think of the directories you use often, and add them to the directory menu. Do so by pressing Ctrl-D (or double-clicking on the path bar) and then choosing Configure. To make the directory menu more efficient, add shortcuts to the menus by including the ampersand (&) character before the shortcut letter. You'll add more directories later as you use it.

For example, to make the shortcut letter "E", you would make the title of the item "Drive &E", instead of "Drive E". This will make the item in the list and in the menu appear as "Drive E" (the letter E is underlined), which means that you can just press E to activate it. It's a good idea to try to map the left-hand keys first, since you will be pressing the D in Ctrl-D (which drops down the directory menu) with the left hand. "Ctrl-D,E" is a lot quicker to press than "Ctrl-D,I", since you have to press I with the right hand (or risk injuring your fingers).

Other Tips:

Start Menu

Total Commander's Start menu can be very useful for performing complex operations on selected files. For example, you can configure one-keypress virus scanning by adding an item to the Start menu and setting up a shortcut for it. The dialog that appears when you go to Start | Change Start Menu provides sufficient information to do this. Just substitute the values it specifies for where the filename would normally be.

Button Bar

The Total Commander button bar is also fully customizable. You can alter it in many different ways:

Efficient Use

When using Total Commander, always remember that the keyboard is quicker than the mouse. At first, you may need to have the function key buttons in view to remember what each key does. Later on, however, you may realize that you don't need them, and hide them to save screen space.

When moving around the directories, use the arrow keys. You can move left and right as well as up and down. To switch to the "Brief" view, press Ctrl-F1. You may also use the Home/End/PageUp/PageDown navigation keys. The selection of files is done by either holding down shift while moving around, or pressing the spacebar when a cursor is over the file you want to select. When using the spacebar method on directories, the space they occupy will be shown in the status bar. You may also select large groups of files with the right mouse button.

Total Commander also supports browser-like back/forward navigation. The same shortcut keys - Alt-Left for back and Alt-Right for forward - apply here. You can also use the mouse with the toolbar buttons. Backspace will take you one directory level up.

Be sure to make use of the internal zip packer and unpacker. Press Alt-F5 to pack a group of files, and Alt-F9 to unpack them. You may also navigate inside of archives, including nested archives. Just select one and press Enter like always. This also works for other archives, such as RAR, ACE, CAB, and the self-extracting versions of these (Press Ctrl-PageDown to navigate inside of a self-extracting archive.)

If you need to do something via the menus, try to remember the shortcut key next time. If the menu item doesn't have a shortcut key, you can map one to your liking. Go to the Configuration dialog, and open the Misc tab. On the bottom, you'll see the Redefine hotkeys area. If you don't, you're probably using an older version - the feature was introduced in version 4.02. Remapping the keys may seem a bit awkward at first. You must first choose the key combination by checking the Control, Alt, and/or Shift buttons and choosing the key that goes with them from the selection box. Then, select the command you wish to map the key to. Finally, click the checkbox button to make the key binding take effect.

Selecting files is very easy. Just right-click a file to select it. Right-click again to deselect. You can also drag the right mouse button to select groups of files. Selection with the keyboard is very versatile. Here's a short list of shortcuts you should be familiar with (I only listed the most useful ones):

Keystroke Function
Spacebar Select or deselect the file at the cursor.
-/- (number pad) Select/deselect files using a mask you specify.
Ctrl -/- Select/deselect all files.
Alt -/- Select/deselect all files with the same extension.
* Reverse selection.


Synchronizing Files Through FTP

If you're a webmaster and have FTP access to your web server, updating your web page should be very simple. You can use Total Commander to easily synchronize the files on your computer with your web server. Just connect to the FTP server in one pane, and open the directory with the local copy of your files in the other pane. Now, press Shift-F2 to compare the two directories. All the files that are newer than the ones in the opposing directory are selected. If the file doesn't exist at all in the other pane, it is also selected. Now, go to the pane with the local files, and press F5 to copy all of the files that are not up to date. (March 31, 2000)

Moving Files with Rename

When renaming files, even when you press Shift-F6 or click the file twice, WinCmd uses the same algorithm as the REN command in DOS. This means that you can use the rename command to move files. For example, to move a file called file.ext one directory up, you can rename it to "..\file.ext". You can also specify a full path. For example, to move the same file to D:\, rename it to "D:\filename.ext". The idea is carried over to FTP - you can do the same thing. (May 09, 2000)

Using the Parallel Port Link

If you need to quickly move files from one computer to another, Total Commander is the ideal way, especially if the computers don't have network cards. Simply connect them with 8-bit crossed parallel cable and use Total Commander to move the files between them. This is supported under Total Commander 4.50 and newer, and the help file has detailed instructions. (July 07, 2000)

Defining Colors for Different File Types

You can make file browsing a lot easier by using the Define colors by file type option. This is very useful if you often work with a particular kind of file. To use this feature, go to the Options dialog (Configuration | Options) and then switch to the Color tab. Click the Define colors by file type button; You'll have to check the checkbox next to it if it isn't already checked. Besides defining colors by a file's name, you can also define colors by the file's attributes, size, or other options. For example, you could define the colors so that files larger than a certain size are easily visible, or so that executable files are a different color. It's a good idea to make directories a different color, especially if you aren't using symbols (icons) so that they stand out in a directory listing. The possibilities are endless! (July 07, 2000)

Using the Multi-Rename Tool

Learn how to use the Multi-Rename Tool, a new feature in Total Commander 4.50. It can be very useful if you need to rename a large amount of files using the same rule. Select all the files you want to rename, and then press Ctrl-M. If you need help, press F1 for detailed documentation. (July 07, 2000)

Note: As of version 6.0, the default shortcut for the Multi-Rename tool has changed to Ctrl-M. With versions prior to 6.0, use Ctrl-T.

Copying a File's Name

To quickly copy a file's name, press Shift-F6 and then Ctrl-C or Shift-Ins to copy its name. Press Escape to cancel the rename process. (January 06, 2000)

Using the Vertical Layout

Starting with version 4.52, Total Commander includes an option to view the file panes vertically, instead of side-by-side horizontally. This is very useful when you need to look at a lot of files in the Full view. To use this feature, go to Show | Vertical Arrangement, or press Alt,W,V. Choose the menu again to turn it off. (January 22, 2000)

Displaying All Files in a Directory Tree

Total Commander 4.52 also includes a great command to view all files in a subdirectory. This is useful in many different situations, such as renaming a group of files that are distributed among a tree of directories. To use this feature, just press Ctrl-B. If you don't have version 4.52, you can duplicate this feature with the following steps:

  1. Open the Find Files dialog by pressing Alt-F7.
  2. Leave the Search for field blank, and press the Start search button (or just press Enter).
  3. Press Feed to listbox (Alt-L).

This feature can also be used in conjunction with the Multi-Rename Tool. Be careful when using it, though, as it can take a very long time to list all of the files in a big tree, such as the root directory of a drive.(January 23, 2000)


Total Commander Home
Newest version available for download, support, registration, add-ons.
Softpanorama Society Orthodox File Managers Site
Information about other file managers for many different platforms.
File Managers at the Open Directory

Final Words

Like any powerful tool, Total Commander won't work the way you want it right away. Until you use it a little and learn how it works, it may even seem a bit uncomfortable. But don't be discouraged, as the payoff is too great to ignore. You'll do all your file management a lot faster. An experienced person using Total Commander may seem like a magician to observers.

Copyright © 2000-2004 Ilya Gulko

Supplement: keyboard map

F1 Help
F2 Reread source window
F3, F4 List files, Edit files
F4, F5 Copy files, Rename or move files
F7 Create directory
F8 Delete files to recycle bin /delete directly - according to configuration (or Delete)
F9 Activate menu above source window (left or right)
F10 Activate left menu or deactivate menu
Alt-F1 change left drive
Alt-F2 change right drive
Alt-F3 Use alternate (external or internal) viewer
Alt-Shift-F3 Start Lister and load file with internal viewer (no plugins or multimedia)
Alt-F4 Exit | Minimize (with option MinimizeOnClose in wincmd.ini)
Alt-F5 Pack files
Alt-Shift-F5 Move to archive
Alt-F6 Unpack specified files from archive under cursor, or selected archives (use Alt-F9 on Windows 95)
Alt-F7 Find
Alt-F8 Opens the history list of the command line
Alt-F9 Same as ALT-F6 (because ALT-F6 is broken on Windows 95)
Alt-Shift-F9 Test archives
Alt-F10 Opens a dialog box with the current directory tree
Alt-F11 Opens left current directory bar (breadcrumb bar)
Alt-F12 Opens right current directory bar (breadcrumb bar)
Alt-Shift-F11 Focus the button bar to use it with the keyboard
Shift-F1 Custom columns view menu
Shift-F2 Compare file lists
Shift-F3 List only file under cursor, when multiple files selected
Shift-F4 Create new text file and load into editor
Shift-F5 Copy files (with rename) in the same directory
Shift-Ctrl-F5 Create shortcuts of the selected files
Shift-F6 Rename files in the same directory
Shift-F8/Delete Delete directly / delete to recycle bin - according to configuration
Shift-F10 Show context menu
Shift-Esc Minimizes Total Commander to an icon
Alt-Arrow left / Arrow right Go to previous/next dir of already visited dirs
Alt-Arrow down Open history list of already visited dirs (like the history list in a WWW browser)
Num - Expand selection (configurable: just files or files and folders)
Num - Shrink selection
Num * Invert selection (also with shift, see link)
Num / Restore selection
Shift-Num-[-] Like Num -, but files and folders if Num - selects just files (and vice versa)
Shift-Num-- Always removes the selection just from files (Num - from files and folders)
Shift-Num-* Like Num *, but files and folders if Num * inverts selection of just files (and vice versa)
Ctrl-Num - Select all (configurable: just files or files and folders)
Ctrl-Shift-Num - Select all (files and folders if CTRL-Num - selects only files)
Ctrl-Num - Deselect all (always files and folders)
Ctrl-Shift-Num - Deselect all (always files, no folders)
Alt-Num - Select all files with the same extension
Alt-Num - Remove selection from files with the same extension
Ctrl-Page up Change to parent directory (cd ..) , or Backspace
Ctrl-< Jump to the root directory (most European keyboards)
Ctrl-\ Jump to the root directory (US keyboard)
Ctrl-Page down Open directory/archive (also self extracting .EXE archives)
Ctrl-Arrow left / Arrow right Open directory/archive and display it in the target window. If the cursor is not on a directory name, or the other panel is active, then the current directory is displayed instead.
Ctrl-F1 File display 'brief' (only file names)
Ctrl-Shift-F1 Thumbnails view (preview pictures)
Ctrl-F2 File display 'full' (all file details)
Ctrl-Shift-F2 Comments view (new comments are created with Ctrl-Z)
Ctrl-F3 Sort by name
Ctrl-F4 Sort by extension
Ctrl-F5 Sort by date/time
Ctrl-F6 Sort by size
Ctrl-F7 Unsorted
Ctrl-F8 Display directory tree
Ctrl-Shift-F8 Cycle through separate directory tree states: one tree, two trees, off
Ctrl-F9 Print file under cursor using the associated program
Ctrl-F10 Show all files
Ctrl-F11 Show only programs
Ctrl-F12 Show user defined files
Tab Switch between left and right file list
Shift-Tab Switch between current file list and separate tree (if enabled)
Insert Select file or directory.
Space Select file or directory (as INSERT). If SPACE is used on an unselected directory under the cursor, the contents in this directory are counted and the size is shown in the "full" view instead of the string . This can be disabled through 'Configuration' - 'Options' - 'Operation' - 'Selection with Space'.
Enter Change directory / run program / run associated program / execute command line if not empty. If the source directory shows the contents of an archive, further information on the packed file is given.
Shift-Enter 1. Runs command line / program under cursor with preceding command /c and leave the program's window open. Only works if NOCLOSE.PIF is in your Windows directory! 2. With ZIP files: use alternative choice of these (as chosen in Packer config): (Treat archives like directories <-> call associated program, i.e. winzip or quinzip) 3. In the list of last used dirs (History, Ctrl-D), open the directory on a new Tab.
Alt-Shift-Enter The contents of all directories in the current directory are counted. The sizes of the directories are then shown in the "full" view instead of the string . Abort by holding down ESC key.
Alt-Enter Show property sheet.
Ctrl-a Select all
Ctrl-b Directory branch: Show contents of current dir and all subdirs in one list
Ctrl-Shift-b Selected directory branch: Show selected files, and all in selected subdirs
Ctrl-c Copy files to clipboard
Ctrl-x Cut files to clipboard
Ctrl-v Paste from clipboard to current dir.
Ctrl-d Open directory hotlist ('bookmarks')
Ctrl-f Connect to FTP server
Ctrl-Shift-f Disconnect from FTP server
Ctrl-i Switch to target directory
Ctrl-l Calculate occupied space (of the selected files)
Ctrl-m Multi-Rename-Tool
Ctrl-Shift-m Change FTP transfer mode
Ctrl-n New FTP connection (enter URL or host address)
Ctrl-p Copy current path to command line
Ctrl-q Quick view panel instead of file window
Ctrl-r Reread source directory
Ctrl-s Open Quick Filter dialog and activate filter (deactivate with ESC or CTRL-F10)
Ctrl-Shift-s Open Quick Filter dialog and reactivate last-used filter
Ctrl-t Open new folder tab and activate it
Ctrl-Shift-t Open new folder tab, but do not activate it
Ctrl-u Exchange directories
Ctrl-Shift-u Exchange directories and tabs
Ctrl-w Close currently active tab
Ctrl-Shift-w Close all open tabs
Ctrl-z Edit file comment
Ctrl-Arrow up Open dir under cursor in new tab
Ctrl-Shift-Arrow Up Open dir under cursor in other window (new tab)
Ctrl-Tab/Ctrl-Shift-Tab Jump to next tab / jump to previous tab
Ctrl-Alt-Letter Quick search for a file name (starting with specified letters) in the current directory (Support hotkeys Ctrl-X, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V and Ctrl-A; use Ctrl-S for search filter on/off)



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