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File browsing in a Linux terminal is alright, but it could be so much better. Midnight Commander is the program you’re looking for –  it gives you a two-paned file browser that makes working in the terminal so much easier. And the best part? It’s simple to get and use.

Getting Midnight Commander

To install Midnight Commander, all you need to do is to check your respective package manager. You might have to use different search terms to find it, such as “midnight commander”, “midnight”, or “mc”, but it’s a common application should all distributions should offer it. Once you’ve found it, install it, and you’ll be ready to go. You can launch it by opening the terminal and issuing the command “mc” (without the quotes).

First Impressions

Midnight Commander may look familiar to those who used DOS back in the day, thanks to its color scheme of blue, white, and yellow. However, don’t be afraid – you still get the full power of a Linux terminal, but using Midnight Commander just makes it far easier to visualize what files you have and how the folders are structured.


The most important feature is the two panes which you can use for file browsing. This is already more useful than the traditional terminal method of file browsing (cd, ls, etc) because you can have two locations pulled up at the same time in one window. This ultimately also makes other features such as copy and pasting much easier. You can switch between the two panes by using the Tab key.

Additional Features

Below the two panes, you’ll see a little bit of purple (or whatever your default terminal background color is set to be) where you’ll see a tip – teaching you how to get more out of Midnight Commander. You’ll also see a command prompt. This is included in Midnight Commander so that you can still run terminal commands while doing your file browsing, which is simply awesome. And it works very well too – you can run a cd command, and Midnight Commander will reflect the change in the currently active pane. If you want to run commands in the second pane’s location, just tab over and fire away.

For more functionality, you’ll see several actions along the very bottom of the terminal you can run, with numbers along with them. You can run these functions using your F keys, so if the function has a 3 next to it (like “View” has in the above screenshot), you’ll need to press your F3 key. You’ll find functions here such as Help, Menu, View, Edit, Copy, RenMov, Mkdir, Delete, PullDn, and Quit. Of course, if these aren’t enough, you can also use commands. If you need to brush up on your Linux commands, check out this great summary by Joel An A-Z of Linux - 40 Essential Commands You Should Know An A-Z of Linux - 40 Essential Commands You Should Know Linux is the oft-ignored third wheel to Windows and Mac. Yes, over the past decade, the open source operating system has gained a lot of traction, but it’s still a far cry from being considered... Read More .

Along the very top, you’ll find a few menus to control the left and right panes, as well as File, Command, and Options menus that give you plenty more (less commonly accessed) functions. However, all of these allow you to use less commands to make your life easier.

Oh, and another great thing about Midnight Commander is the fact that you can use your mouse in the terminal. This may make life easier for some, but isn’t mandatory by any means – which is how things should be.


Don’t like how Midnight Commander looks or behaves? You can go into various configuration options by choosing the Options menu from the top menu bar. Then, simply configure to your heart’s desire – collectively there are a surprising amount of things you can edit.


Overall, I really like Midnight Commander. It is extremely powerful as it combines both itself and the command prompt, yet the interface makes it so that even terminal beginners can feel a bit more comfortable using the terminal. If you haven’t tried using it yet, I’d definitely recommend that you take a look. Otherwise, if you still prefer full-on graphical file browsers, take a look at Nautilus, Dolphin Which Linux File Browser Is More Productive: Nautilus or Dolphin? Which Linux File Browser Is More Productive: Nautilus or Dolphin? Wsers of competing desktop environments will notice that they're using different file managers -- an important part of desktop productivity. Surprisingly, there are a lot of things that can go right or wrong with a... Read More , and Thunar Thunar vs. Nautilus: Two Lightweight File Managers For Linux Thunar vs. Nautilus: Two Lightweight File Managers For Linux Is Thunar a better file manager than Gnome's default, Nautilus? Read More .

Need more great Linux software? Check out our Best Linux Software page!

What tricks do you have for your terminal? What’s a great tip not many people know about using the terminal? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. peter
    December 17, 2013 at 4:14 am

    I love it. Heading to my Linux Mint installation. Thanks.

  2. Schvenn M
    December 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    To this day, I cannot function at full efficiency on Windows without Total Commander.

  3. Vineed G
    December 16, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    must have utility on linux

  4. George Hilbert
    December 16, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    It looks exactly like Norton Commander for DOS, even down to the settings menus and other drop-downs.

    • Peter Hood
      December 17, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      It reminds me of Xtree Pro Gold, which I used for migrating files from old to new PCs, and a lot more besides. Also PC Tools for DOS. Norton Commander was just one star in the firmament.

      • Anonymous
        January 7, 2016 at 10:33 am

        You Must Try Its Grandson Called ZTREE.

        You Can Use It Free For 30 Days.


  5. Zhong J
    December 16, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Can someone remind me: what's the default linux terminal in Debian and does it suffice at performing tasks?

    • Danny S
      December 31, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      It should be the regular Gnome Terminal, so yes. If you mean the shell, I think it uses bash.