Guide to Efficient Use of Total Commander

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

Author's Total Commander configuration
  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

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

Directory menu configuration dialogs

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

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

Example configuration of file coloring -- Click for full size

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

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