Learning Linux: Midnight Commander

July 19, 2020

Outside of the name being mildly erotic, the Midnight Commander utility for Linux is actually a really cool way to browse the file system on a Linux distro. Traditionally, the CLI has always had a certain way–a certain charm–of navigating the file system with which most people slowly become familiar, but Midnight Commander attempts to make browsing the file system a little easier on the eyes. Now, most of us are familiar with the term graphical user interface, or GUI. Midnight Commander uses an interface called a text user interface, or TUI. If you’re old enough to remember one of these, think of the likes of old DOS applications with their bright blue background and white text.

If you want to get started with Midnight Commander on your Linux distro, you can install it on Debian or CentOS with the built-in package manager. You can type in the name of your package manager and then “install mc”. Once the install is complete, getting into the app is as simple as typing “mc”. 

When you first launch the utility you will see what looks like two panes. These are two separate directories, which makes for easier copy and paste functions. You can easily switch between these two panes using the tab key. All of the other functions rely on the function keys at the top of most keyboard–the ones Steve Jobs wanted to kill off since the 80s. Since most manufacturers have follow Apple down this delusional path, on most keyboards you will have to hold the Fn, or Function key, in order to actually access these keys properly. If you’re lucky enough to own an IBM Model F keyboard, your function keys will be handily accessible on the left. Where they belong. Once you’re ready to exit your Midnight Commander session and drop back to a normal command line interface, just press F10. 

Ultimately, Midnight Commander is a blast from the past that happens to be fairly handy if you have the time, resources, and need to install this on a Linux server. But let’s be fair, most other people will be quite happy using their GUI interface and enjoy the ease of a drag-and-drop user experience. 

Ian’s Take

I firmly believe all Linux purist will accomplish anything they want from the command line.  This is a cool tool and I remember using it back in my DOS 6.0 days.

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