Something old, something new: Console file managers

I should know better than to mention console programs any more, because as soon as I do, someone tosses out another one and I have to try it. Curiosity gets the better of me and I can’t help myself.

Such was the case with ranger, an unusual file manager mentioned for its similarities to vifm. Take a look and you’ll see why I used the word “unusual” to describe it.


The directory tree shifts to the left as you explore in ranger. Moving up or down the list and then stepping to a new directory shifts the panes left or right accordingly. Right now there don’t appear to be much in the way of lines or boxes as visual guides, but this is still a work in progress from what I can see, so maybe they’ll appear later.

Moving your selection bar over a directory shows you a preview of what’s in that folder, and jumping to the right shifts the entire display to the left. And as you can see, file types are displayed in different colors, with a breadcrumb path along the top and file information at the bottom, along with a disk space count.

It takes a little while to get used to ranger, because the principle at work here is quite innovative. This is the only file manager I know of that scrolls horizontally, in columns, as you browse a file tree.

Like vifm, ranger uses vi-style keystrokes and commands to handle most chores. F1 shows you all the important commands, as well as how to get out of ranger … but saying it follows vi’s style might be enough for you to figure that out. 😉

I’m going to keep an eye on ranger, mostly because it’s innovative, but also because it might turn into something very unique in the field of console file managers. At a time when it seems like everything has been done, and most efforts are actually rehashes of tried-and-true techniques, something new is worth watching.

Shifting gears only slightly, here’s something that has a history going back all the way to 1995: fdclone.

I know of fdclone obliquely, admitting only that I found it on a hand-me-down computer a year or two ago, and wondered what it was. If I understand it correctly, fdclone is an effort to mimic an ancient file tool called “fd,” which was popular in Japan as far back as 1989. So when we talk about software with a long lifespan, fdclone is a contender.

The layout here is very Norton Commander-ish, which appeals to some of us and is a turnoff for others. If you don’t have support for Japanese character sets you might see some oddball fonts at work, as you can see in my screenshots. As far as I can tell there’s no color at work here, and the keystroke labels you see on the screen might take a little time to get used to.

This is certainly no worse than most other console file managers, even if it seems rather bland by comparison. As you can see the tree mode is intuitive and easy to manage, and there is documentation in English as well as instructions on how to configure and build it.

And when you consider it reached version 3.00e in February 2010, this is not something that is going to expire any time soon. Fifteen years is a tremendous lifespan for any project. (P.S.: Ubuntu users have it in their repos; Arch/Crux users must build this one by hand.)

There you have it: Two file managers for the console, separated by about 15 years in the histories of their inceptions. As always, if you know of any others that I should explore, I would be happy to try.

13 thoughts on “Something old, something new: Console file managers

  1. Gabi

    Actually, the idea of using columns is not new- the Mac OS X file manager (Finder) has used this since the earliest version of Mac OS X, and I think this was inherited from NextStep. I think Dolphin also does this, but the last time I tried it I felt it’s just not done right, for some reason I can’t fully explain.
    Anyway, I’m glad to find out there’s another one that uses column views; I think it’s a really nice way to browse file systems and I wish more file managers did this.

  2. Jan

    The continuous traversal of directories did come out of NeXt. Nice to see it come back outside of GNUstep.

  3. kamiheku

    Yay, ranger! 🙂 And hey, there is actually an option to draw borders, called “draw_borders”. Configure it in your

  4. Muskegwanderer

    The Midnight Commander is wonderful but complex and a bit of an eye full. For really simple tasks, like scooting about and viewing and editing text files, Pilot can’t be beaten. This app’s ability to append selected file paths and names in the Launch function is especially useful.

    1. mulenmar

      A lot of Midnight Commander’s complexity and functionality is optional, you can choose not to include things when you compile it (the FTP functionality, for example). 😉 I compiled a rather tiny version that only had the functionality of the original Norton Commander once. 🙂

  5. msx

    Awesome! Not only shows text files, even graphic files (probiding you have installed feh).

    You have my email, let me know if you want to translate Ranger to spanish =)

  6. tomas

    How do you see hidden files with this thing? 😀 Yes, I’m a newb trying out things way out of my league 😀

  7. Pingback: Information, please « Motho ke motho ka botho

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