Using Norton Commander!

You must be in the root directory in both windows, so check that it says C:\ at the very top of each window. If it doesn't, then one or both windows are in a sub-directory. Press Home, and the bar will move to two full stops (UP-DIR). Press Enter and you will come one step closer to the root directory. Keep going until both windows are in the root directory. Tab toggles between the windows. Move around in the directories and sub-directories so you become familiar with the layout and the controls. Try Home, End, PgUp, PgDn, the arrow keys and Tab.

Place the bar in the right window. We shall make a new directory in the root. Press F7 and call it EXTRA ' providing you don't already have a directory with that name. Notice that the bar automatically jumps to the new directory EXTRA. Press Enter. This selects the directory.

At the top of the window, it says C:\EXTRA. The directory is empty and contains no files or sub-directories. Two full stops is a tool that takes you closer to the root when you press Enter. The DOS prompt at the bottom of the screen shows the current drive and directory of the bar. What is very convenient about NC is that while you are manoeuvring around in NC, you can also write normal DOS commands at the normal DOS prompt. Use Tab to toggle between the windows and watch how the DOS prompt changes. Place the bar in the right window so you are in the sub-directory EXTRA.

Take a 3½" floppy disk that contains files. In one corner of the disk, there is a sliding tab. Using your fingernail or a ball-point pen, push it to one side so that the hole is visible. Now the files on the disk cannot be deleted and new ones cannot be written onto it; your disk is now "write protected." You can still read the files, though (the term reading a disk means getting information from it, while writing mean saving information to the disk). Put the floppy disk in the disk drive.

We now wish to see the contents of the floppy disk, A, in the left window. Press Alt+F1 and press the A key on the keyboard. The screen will be blank for a moment as it reads drive A and shows the contents. Alt+F2 selects the right window in the same way.

Place the bar in the right window. We will now copy all the files in the root directory of the floppy disk to the EXTRA directory.

Copying files with XCOPY

Type (with this prompt):


The files are copied and the left window is updated. With XCOPY, you state what you want to copy, from where and where to. Here, we take advantage of the fact that the command inserts standard values for what's not specified. The complete line that we should have written is:


The full stop means "all files." As the prompt is in directory C:\EXTRA, this is inserted automatically for where to. The default is all files, so we left out the period/full stop after A:

If we had wanted to copy the other way, that is from EXTRA to A, we would have written


i.e. "copy all files in the current directory to A:." Most often, you will be copying between two different drives, typically between the hard disk and a floppy disk.

The command XCOPY could have been executed without first looking at the contents of the floppy disk with Alt-F1 but I think it is a good idea to look first. You don't even have to be in NC to use XCOPY. The advantage of using NC is that you can easily change directories, even at two different locations at the same time.

But make sure you write the right thing, stating the to and the from correctly. If, for instance, you have all your word-processing files in the same directory from which you regularly make backups, it is important to copy from C to A ' and not the other way around because XCOPY and COPY do not warn you (until DOS 6.2) if you are in danger of overwriting files that already exist.

If you are a bit unsure about XCOPY, then in the beginning it is best to use NC alone without entering DOS commands at the prompt. Later we'll see how to mark or choose files.

The only drawback of XCOPY is that it can't copy hidden files.

Hidden files

Hidden files are hidden for a very good reason: the user shouldn't touch them. They are hidden from DIR and DELete, which means that you can't delete them in DOS with DELETE and you won't be able to see them with DIR. This is very reasonable because in normal circumstances, the user does not need to delete a hidden file.

If you want to delete, copy, rename or move a hidden file, you must press F9, options, configuration and put x in Show Hidden Files, after which you can manage hidden files with NC.

Selecting files

You will usually select certain files in order to do something with them: copy, delete or move them. Put the bar in the right window. We will delete some of the files that we copied into C:\EXTRA. Make sure you are in C:\EXTRA (it must say C:\EXTRA at the top of the window).

Put the bar on the file and press Ins (on some keyboards, it is called Insert). You can either use the little grey, or the big white, Ins key but with the latter your NUMLOCK light must be off. The whole line will change color, probably to yellow. The file is now selected (marked).

Notice that the bar automatically jumps to the next file. This was determined by the configuration (F9+Options+Configuration) Ins moves down. In version 3.0, you can't mark a directory, only files (version 4 can temporarily). Mark some of the files. Move back to one of the yellow (marked) files and press Ins. It will be de-selected. This is how you select files. Select some but not all of them. Press F8 to delete them. First you are warned that you have selected some files to delete. Press Enter. You are warned again and can still back out using Esc or choosing Cancel. Press Enter. The files are deleted.

The function keys are shown at the bottom of the screen. When you press the Alt key, you see the options available with Alt+ combination. F5, F6 and F8 mainly manage selected files, or the file on which the bar rests. So if any files are selected, the actions will only affect the selected files (no matter where in the directory the bar is). The only condition is that it must be in the window (directory) where you want the command to take effect. If no files are marked, the command will affect the file the bar is marking.

We will now move some files from one directory to another. The right window is still in C:\EXTRA and you have some files left (I hope). Tab to the left window. If you are not on C, press Alt+F1 and then C. Go to the root by pressing Home and Enter until you have C:\ on the top line of the screen.

Press F7 and call the new directory DELETE. Go into the directory. The left window is now in C:\DELETE and the right window is in C:\EXTRA. Tab to the right window. Select some files with Ins. Now press F6. The program says

Rename or move x files to


F6 and F5 will by default assume that you want to move, rename or copy to the directory that is in the other window ' a time-saver. Press Enter. The selected files are moved to the other directory. The files are no longer present in the directory EXTRA but in DELETE.

You may be wondering why a file can be moved so quickly from one directory to another. Though it is called move, the file actually remains in the same physical location on the disk. DOS manages all files in the File Allocation Table (FAT). Here, information is kept that shows a file's physical location and which directory it is located in. If a file is moved, it is only the directory name in the FAT that is changed, and that doesn't take much time.

Now, let's copy all the files in DELETE to EXTRA. Tab so that the bar is in the left window. Press the large grey plus key (+) at the very right of your keyboard. A window on the screen shows

Select the files


I suggest *.* (meaning all files), but you can enter something else, if you want to. Pressing Enter marks all the files in the current directory. Notice the bottom line in the window that shows you the number of files and their size. The grey minus key (') works the other way around; it deselects.

Press F5 and Enter. The files are now copied to EXTRA. I mainly use the plus key to see how many files there are in a directory and how much space they take up. If I want to do something with almost all the files in a directory, I first select them all and then deselect the files I don't want with Ins.

Another useful detail concerning the plus key: if you mark and copy files to a floppy disk but there isn't enough room on the disk for all of them, the copying process continues until there is no more space on the disk. The clever part now is that NC has unmarked the files already copied. Just insert a new floppy and continue until all files have been copied.

Back to the example. The right window is still EXTRA and the left window is still DELETE. Place the bar in the right window. Select all files again and press F5 and Enter.

NC registers that all the files about to be copied already exist where you are copying to, and asks: Overwrite, All or Skip. In the English version, you can use the keys O, A or S (Esc does the same as S). Pressing O overwrites the current file, A overwrites all selected files and Esc avoids overwriting the current file. (If you are using a foreign-language version of NC, you might have to use other letters.) Experiment until you understand the system. Be aware that pressing Esc once only works for one file, while A works for all files.


F6 can do three things ' 1) move a file to another directory, 2) give a file a new name within the same directory or 3) rename a directory - a directory is actually just a file, though a very special type of file.

When a file is moved from one directory to another, it looks as though it shifts location but in fact it is just given a new name; remember that a file's full name includes drive + directory + name + extension.

Place the bar on any file in C:\EXTRA or C:\DELETE. We will rename the file OLGA.DOC. Press F6, type OLGA.DOC and press Enter ' and notice that NC blanks when you type the first character. The file has now got a new name. Now we will rename the file KRISTINA.DOC. Press F6 and you need only write KRISTINA.*.

The asterisk at the end means that you want to keep the extension. The file is now named KRISTINA.DOC. Similarly, if you want to call the file KRISTINA.LET, you simply type *.LET. Tip: if you want to stop F5 or F6 suggesting a move to the other window, use Ctrl +F1 or Ctrl+F2 to close it. The same combination will open it again.

Now NC knows that you don't want to move the file to another directory. This is particularly useful if you just want to make a slight amendment to the name or want a copy of a file with an almost identical name. The file name will be shown, so first press an arrow key (to show you wish to edit), then you can correct the name. If you type a letter, the name will be deleted. Try it!

Sometimes you want to give a new extension to several files that have the same one. Let's say that you have given all your word-processor documents DOC as the extension ' or that the program automatically did. You would now like them to have the extension LET instead. Just be sure that you haven't already got a file with an identical name+extension.

You can select them one by one using Ins or mark them all by using the grey plus key and then typing *.DOC. You have now marked all files with the extension DOC. Press F6, type *.LET and then press Enter. All the files now have the extension LET.

If you want to make copies of all files with the extension DOC, you should use F5 instead of F6 and, the same as before, write *.LET. This places the files with two different extensions in the same directory. Now delete all the files in the two directories C:\EXTRA and C:\DELETE, and finish by deleting the directories.

View/edit text files

F3 and F4 open text files just as a word processor would. With F3, you can only view, not edit. F4 can edit a text file that is no more than 26,464 bytes long. NC has a small editor. If you want to start a different editor with F4, press F9, Options, Editor, select Extern and type the path for the program you wish to use. I use NC's built-in editor to make minor changes in text files such as AUTOEXEC.BAT, CONFIG.SYS, INI files and BAT files. It is easy and fast. You search within a file using F7.

Ctrl+Y deletes a complete line and Home, End, PgDn and PgUp work as they usually do in most other programs. If you have changed something and want to exit, just press Esc and you will be asked whether you want to save the file or exit without saving.

Searching for files

Sometimes you know that you have a file but you have forgotten where it is on your hard disk. Press Alt+F7, write the name, e.g. MUSIC.DOC, and press Enter. Or you can type just some of the name if you can't remember the full name. MU* locates all files that begin with MU (muck, munch, music). The program searches the whole drive and lists all the matching files it finds. Move to the desired file, press Enter and you have selected it.

Creating a new file

Shift+F4. Type the name and press Enter twice.

Recent DOS commands

Utilize Ctrl+E is to recall DOS commands used earlier. With Ctrl+X, you browse forward again. This is the same as the up arrow key and down arrow key in DOSKEY.

Switching window on/off

Ctrl+O temporarily removes NC from the screen. Try it. You would normally use it when you write a DOS command and NC conceals the result. If you know that the next entries are DOS commands, and you want to follow them on the whole screen, you can switch off NC's display temporarily by pressing Ctrl+O. Now you are in DOS and can use DOSKEY if it is active. When you type Ctrl+O again, you must use Ctrl+E to recall commands.

Switching windows

Ctrl+U swaps over the two windows. It is useful when you have chosen directories for the two windows ' and then decide you would rather have them the other way around. It is probably a good idea from the beginning to make up your mind where you want A and C when you work with floppy disks. There is a certain logic in using an alphabetical order, and as you read the English program instructions from left to right, you should probably keep A on the left. If you have two floppy disk drives, A and B, do the same. This lessens the chance of making mistakes while copying.

Changing directories

Alt+F10 is used to change directory quickly. When you type a letter, NC finds the first directory starting with that letter. As you type more letters in the directory name, NC gets closer to its target. If two directories have the same initial letters, then use Ctrl+Enter to jump to the next one. You can also move around using the arrow keys. Then press Enter. The window in which the selection bar was placed will now show the selected directory.

The file C:\TREEINFO.NCD contains this tree and if it is deleted, NC will re-create the tree structure, and rewrite the file C:\TREEINFO.NCD next time you press Alt+F10.

If you are deep into the tree structure and want to get to the root quickly, use Alt+F10 and press the left arrow key until you reach the root. Ctrl+< or Ctrl+> does the same.

Leafing through directories

F9, left or right window, Enter, Tree. Move up and down and the other window automatically shows the files in the chosen directory. Good for fast browsing, to see the number of files in the different directories, etc. And if you don't know the name of the file you are looking for, you might be lucky enough to remember it when you see the name.

Comparing two directories

F9, commands, compare is very practical if you are making a backup copy of a directory on the hard disk to a corresponding directory on a floppy disk. You will be told immediately if there is a difference between the two directories. Files that differ between the two locations are marked and you can go through them to see if you can delete some or if you ought to make a backup copy of them from the hard disk to the floppy.

Practice makes perfect

Having (hopefully) read all this and practiced for a while, you should be a champion at managing files, both on floppy disks and on the hard disk. So here is my advice for arranging your hard disk into directories:

When you install programs, follow their advice. When you make your own directories, make as few SUB-directories as possible. It is better to have more directories in the root.

As time goes by, you will work more and more with NC. You will have more files to manage. Place all your data files in a separate directory, i.e. C:\DATA, with sub-directories for every program you use. You are sure to be using a word processor (put your data files in C:\DATA\DOC), a database (data files in C:\DATA\DB) and a spreadsheet (data files in C:\DATA\SPREAD) and so on.

Using NC lets you quickly check out your documents so it is easy to copy them, individually or together, to diskette.


The file C:\NC\NC.MNU contains a menu that comes up when you press F2. This text file has some handy uses. Let's take a look at some of the things that might be in NC.MNU. Use the Space bar and Tab for indenting.

D: Change to DOC

cd c:\mw\doc

Edit Config.Sys


The first line in each group, which must be placed on the extreme left, appears in the menu on screen. D: at the beginning means that by simply pressing D you activate the command, which is time-saving if you have a lot of commands.

The next line consists of one or more DOS commands. You can make several NC.MNU in different directories, which become the active menus if you move to these directories. This way you can quickly change between many different directories each with its own menu containing different options.

Version 4.0

This version is an outstanding improvement. Some of the news: Just like with File Manager, you can now do things to a directory together with its sub-directories. In configuration, you can mark Select Directories, which means that the grey plus key also marks directories. You can also copy directories together with their sub-directories, which helps when making backups.

The editor (F4) can do a lot of different things, search/replace, block functions (F3 starts block, F3 ends and Shift+F3 cancels the block), etc.

Quick View gives information about the selected directory: number of sub-directories and number and size of all files.

There is a built in manager for ZIP and other compressed files (requires that the compression programs are on your path). NC has its own packing program that produces ZIP-format files. Press enter on a ZIP file and it reveals the names of all the files it contains. They can be treated in all the normal ways (copy, delete, etc.); everything except view! It has its own compression program. Select a number of files and compress to ZIP format by using Alt+F5. If you have LHA and other packing programs on your path, then Alt+F6 will unpack (decompress) files in these programs' formats.

Ctrl+F9 prints a file. Ctrl+F3, F4, F5 and F6 sorts by name, extension, time and size.

Another new feature is a built-in communication program, which is excellent. I use it to send and receive files to and from friends and BBSs.

Something I missed in version 3: After a directory comparison, certain files are marked in a directory. Now you can invert the marking with the grey * key and mark the unmarked files ' perfect, in other words, for when you want to do something with the files that aren't marked.

Version 5.0

The new version does not include anything special, in fact certain things are worse than they were. Version 4.0 is the best.

nov. 2008

I wrote about Norton Commander many years ago. The development of NC stopped, and another much better programme Total Commander has been available for many years.

I use it also as FTP program. I am a keyboard freak/user and Total Commander is the best file manager I know. It is excellent.

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