Xplore FAQ

(Last updated 08-16-02.)


  1. General
    1. What is xplore?
    2. Why Motif?
    3. Why yet another file manager?
    4. Can I use xplore with GNOME or KDE?
    5. Why use xplore when there's Nautilus and Konqueror?
    6. Where are the desktop icons?
  2. Getting Started
    1. How do I start and exit xplore?
    2. What are all the different views for?
    3. How can I copy/move/delete files and directories?
    4. How can I open/view/edit a file?
    5. How do I display/change file permissions?
    6. How do I change the current directory?
    7. How do I update the directory view after changes?
    8. How do I display the hidden files in a directory?
    9. How do I find files?
    10. I don't like the default view style, how can I change it?
    11. How do I change the colors?
    12. How do I get xplore to remember my current setup (view settings, colors, etc.)?
  3. Advanced Topics
    1. How can I mount my floppy/cdrom drive?
    2. How do I run a program or shell command?
    3. How can I change the command menu and the shelf?
    4. How can I change the icons and actions associated with a file?
    5. How do I define new MIME types?
    6. Where can I get more help?

1 General

1.1 What is xplore?

Xplore is the world's most user-friendly, powerful and configurable file manager based on the Motif toolkit. But you already knew that anyway. ;-)

1.2 Why Motif?

Because it was (and, to a considerable extent, still is) the industry standard. At the time I started writing xplore, the established portable X11 toolkits were Athena, OpenLook and Motif. Both Gtk and Qt still were under heavy construction, so Motif was the only reasonable choice. Since Motif 1.x did not have the container widget, I decided to go with Motif 2.x. This decision probably hindered xplore's wide-spread use in the past, but fortunately you can now get Motif 2.x for free on open source operating systems, and it is also more widely available on commercial UNIXes. Moreover, LessTif is on the verge of reaching full Motif 2.1 compliance; when this happens, portability should not be a major issue anymore. After hundreds of hours of Motif coding (and bug-chasing ;-), I am the first one to admit that Motif is not perfect, but IMHO it's still a viable alternative. And there are still many CDE-based systems out there which do not have KDE or GNOME.

1.3 Why yet another file manager?

Well, actually I wrote it just for the fun of it. :) I wanted to have a file manager which has both a nice GUI and extensive configuration options for the poweruser. And I wanted it to handle most of the more advanced tasks you normally need the shell for. So xplore offers its own unique combination of features which distinguishes it from the plethora of other UNIX file managers out there. Some highlights: Xplore's file type configuration is definitely one of the outstanding features of the program. Xplore does not only interpret MIME types and filename extensions, but allows you to define a file type using a set of arbitrary MIME type and filename patterns. Actions can be arbitrary shell commands. Xplore also lets you invoke different actions on a file depending on whether the file was opened with a double-click or is the target of a drag-and-drop operation, and gives you full control about the directory in which the operation is to be executed. Type-specific popup menus are also supported. Last not least, xplore uses a real configuration language featuring C preprocessor commands, which allows you to set up rather complex configurations with moderate effort.

1.4 Can I use xplore with GNOME or KDE?

Sure. I regularly use both GNOME and KDE and xplore integrates nicely into these environments. GNOME and KDE session management works with xplore just fine, and you can also drag files from xplore to GNOME and KDE applications and desktop icons (but not vice versa). There even is a generic color scheme for KDE. If you copy the Xplore.ad file in the /usr/X11/lib/X11/xplore/schemes directory to share/apps/kdisplay/app-defaults in your KDE directory, then xplore will adapt to the color scheme selected within the KDE control center.

1.5 Why use xplore when there's Nautilus and Konqueror?

Nautilus and Konqueror are great as browser programs, but IMHO xplore is superior for plain file management and program launching, because of the shell integration and extensive configuration options it provides. With xplore you can perform many of the more advanced tasks which you would normally use the shell for. You can extract and create compressed files and archives, run Makefiles and shell scripts, apply patches, process TeX documents, print manpages, etc. etc., all with some simple mouse operations. If some operation is not provided in the standard setup, or does not perform the actions you would like, you can easily configure it yourself. And you don't have to program any "plugins" for this purpose; most things can be done with a single shell command or maybe a tiny shell script. So if you find that you frequently have to resort to the shell when performing everyday routine tasks which you would rather do from your file manager instead, then xplore is probably the right tool for you.

1.6 Where are the desktop icons?

That's probably the most frequently asked question. I think it should be up to your desktop environment to provide those. My idea was to have everything in a single compact window, so xplore has its own integrated "desktop", the shelf, and does not mess around with your X root window. Some people might actually prefer that. :)

2 Getting Started

2.1 How do I start and exit xplore?

Just like any other X application. I.e., you can type the command xplore in an xterm, or invoke it from your desktop/window manager (provided that you have a corresponding desktop icon or menu option). To exit xplore, either close the xplore window, or select the Quit command from the File menu.

When you start xplore for the first time, it will prompt you to run the local setup script, which installs your personal "shelf" directory and some configuration files in your home directory. The configuration files can be found in your .xplore directory; of course, you can edit these to your heart's content.

2.2 What are all the different views for?

If you know other Explorer-like file managers then you're already familiar with most of the views. There is a directory tree view on the left, and the file view showing the current directory on the right. Below that is the status line, and a kind of "tray" showing which special devices are currently mounted. At the top of the window there is the usual menu bar. See the figure below:


Fig. 1 Xplore main window.

The tiny file view at the top of the window (below the strip of tabs) is the shelf view, which is associated with your personal shelf directory. The shelf is normally used as a repository for (symbolic links to) directories, documents and programs, to keep together the things you are frequently working with. You can also use it as a kind of clipboard for moving and copying files. The tab strip above the shelf lets you select different shelf subdirectories, used for different purposes (including a trashcan).

The scrolled text view at the bottom, right above the status line, is the log view. It is normally not visible at startup, but pops up when there is some output from programs started with xplore.

Note that xplore's main window is a "paned" window. Thus you can change the relative sizes of the views by grabbing one of the "sashes" and dragging it into the desired direction.

2.3 How can I copy/move/delete files and directories?

"Drag and drop" with the middle mouse button works as usual (see the OSF Motif User Guide ). Press the middle mouse button on the file you want to move, and drag it to the target directory (which can be in another xplore window). During the drag, the current target is shown in the status line, and you can abort the operation with the Esc key. (Xplore usually asks you for confirmation before it actually carries out the move; you can switch this off in the Options menu.) You can also move more than one file, if you first select the files you want to move. To copy files, or create symlinks, you do a drag with the Ctrl key (resp. Shift+Ctrl) depressed.

Selection is done using any of the usual techniques described in the OSF Motif User Guide. Once you selected a file or group of files, you can also operate on them with the operations in the File menu (or the Shelf menu, if you want to operate on the current selection in the shelf). This menu also has an option for deleting files (and directories). To create a new directory, use the corresponding operation in the Directory menu.

IMPORTANT: Xplore's builtin delete operations always deletes files permanently, i.e., there is no provision for recovering the deleted files later. As a safer alternative, you can drag files to the "Trash" icon in the Desk shelf, which causes the files to be moved to the Trash shelf from where you can still recover them. The context menu of the Trash icon offers an option to empty the trash when you really want to get rid of the files there.

2.4 How can I open/view/edit a file?

Simple: double click on the file (with the left mouse button), or use the Open command. Actually, this will carry out a (configurable) file type-specific action on the file. By default, text files will be opened in your favourite text editor. (You can usually set the editor you want to use with the XPLORE_EDITOR environment variable.) Furthermore, you can also pop up a context-sensitive menu on a file in the file or shelf view with the right mouse button. This menu gives you access to the common file operations (Copy, Move, Delete, ...) as well as type-specific operations for editing, viewing, etc.

2.5 How do I display/change file permissions?

With the Properties command. You can also invoke this command on a selected group of files. (But it will not recurse into subdirectories.)

2.6 How do I change the current directory?

As usual, with a single-click on a directory in the tree pane, or a double-click on a directory in the file or shelf pane. The Directory menu also has commands for changing to the parent or the home directory, and the Change directory command allows you to type in the directory pathname, or browse the filesystem to select the new directory with the standard file selection dialog.

2.7 How do I update the directory view after changes?

This will usually happen automatically in regular time intervals. You can also force an update immediately, with the Update command in the Options menu, and force all views to be refreshed with the Reread command.

2.8 How do I display the hidden files in a directory?

With the Show hidden files command (Options menu, View submenu). Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-H.

2.9 How do I find files?

Xplore does not have a specialized find dialog (yet), but the standard setup provides an interface to the UNIX find command. Run the Find command (Alt-F) from the Command menu and enter the filename pattern and, optionally, the regular expression to search for. The results will be listed in the log pane. To show any of the listed files in the file pane, press the right mouse button on the corresponding line in the log pane to bring up the log popup menu and select the Locate command.

2.10 I don't like the default view style, how can I change it?

You can customize most of the interface according to your taste; see the View submenu in the Options menu for the most frequently used options. More exotic settings can be changed by editing resource files.

2.11 How do I change the colors?

You can do this with the Color scheme command in the Options menu. This command allows you to pick a standard X11 resource file with color (and possibly other) resource settings, and updates the application accordingly. Some nice color schemes (*.scheme files) can be found in the xplore library directory (use the Browse button to select one of those). To revert to the default settings just push the Clear button in the Color scheme dialog.

2.12 How do I get xplore to remember my current setup (view settings, colors, etc.)?

The Save defaults command in the Option menu will save all "global" options (including the size of the main window, the current layout of the panes, and the current color scheme) to the defaults file in your ~/.xplore directory. Note that the saved defaults will be used by all new xplore instances you invoke.

Xplore can also save and restore settings of individual xplore instances on a per session basis. For this to work, your environment must support session management features. For instance, desktop environments like KDE or GNOME let you save your current session when logging out. The state of all running applications (including your xplore windows) is then recorded and the session is restored automatically next time you log in again.

3 Advanced Topics

(I'm sorry, but this section is currently rather sketchy. See the xplore manual for more information.)

3.1 How can I mount my floppy/cdrom drive?

Xplore has a builtin automounter, which will automagically mount special devices if the corresponding mount point is accessed within xplore. For this to work, you must correctly configure these devices. Look at the beginning of the xplorerc file in your ~/.xplore directory and edit the device configuration section to reflect your local configuration. For convenience, you can then create some links to your devices' mount points in the Desktop shelf. To add custom icons to these links, see question 3.4 below.

IMPORTANT: Xplore keeps automounted file systems open as long as they are in use. Before you change removable media like floppies or cdroms, you must unmount the devices using the corresponding commands in the Option menu, otherwise the file system on writeable media might become corrupted. A quick way to do this is to unmount all automounted devices with the Unmount all command (Shift-Ctrl-G), change media, then remount devices and reread the contents of all views with the Reread (Ctrl-R) command.

3.2 How do I run a program or shell command?

You can run an executable program or shell script by simply double-clicking it, and carry out various type-specific commands on a file with the context (right mouse button) menu, or when a collection of files is dropped on another file. You can also invoke some preconfigured shell commands with the Command submenu in the File menu; in particular, this menu also includes an option to execute an arbitrary shell command, with the positional parameters set to the currently selected files. If you have to type a whole sequence of commands, you can invoke an xterm in the current directory with the Terminal command (you can set an alternate terminal program to use with the XPLORE_TERM environment variable).

All these types of actions are executed by invoking the shell, with standard output and error redirected so that you can read the output produced by child processes in the log view. You can learn about the commands executed for each action if you enable the Echo commands option in the Preferences menu, which causes the executed commands to be printed in the log pane.

3.3 How can I change the command menu and the shelf?

By editing the corresponding entries at the beginning of your ~/.xplore/xplorerc file.

3.4 How can I change the icons and actions associated with a file?

Either by editing the ~/.xplore/xplorerc file, or with the File type dialog in the File, Shelf and context menus. The configuration options are described in detail in the xplore manual page .

3.5 How do I define new MIME types?

By editing the ~/.xplore/magic file. Again, see the xplore manual page for details.

3.6 Where can I get more help?

Read the manual page ! :)

Suggestions, critizism, humour, any question which should be covered here, something missing in the manual? Please email me at ag@muwiinfa.geschichte.uni-mainz.de !