[xplorer˛] — All your tools are belong to us
home » blog » 18 July 2010
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If you work a lot on other people's computers, you will appreciate xplorer˛ portable version. You can put it in a USB stick and carry it with you wherever you go. The advantages are:

  • No installation required. Even if you don't have administrative privileges to install programs you can use xplorer˛ professional off the USB stick on any computer.
  • No impact on the foreign PC. The portable version doesn't leave any traces behind, either in the registry or in the filesystem. When you quit xplorer˛ the computer will be as you first found it.
  • Portable settings. You carry all your favorite xplorer˛ settings in a REG (registry) file, including layouts, coloring rules, search criteria etc.

Chances are that you will make use of other programs on the go, like a text editor. So you place many portable programs in your USB stick, but how do you manage them from xplorer˛ portable? Windows decides which program to launch when you click on a file (e.g. a word document) using file type associations. Somewhere in the registry a key associates .DOC files so that they open with C:\Program Files\MSOffice\Office12\WINWORD.EXE. But this information is not convenient for portable use. You don't know which programs are installed on the foreign PC and you don't want to permanently change the registry anyway.

A workaround used by some players in the file management market is portable associations. They use the same idea and associate some file extension with a particular portable program on the USB stick. You can do something equivalent in xplorer˛ through User commands (Customize menu). Instead of managing each file extension, you can create portable links to programs on your USB stick and use them to start files you select in xplorer˛. The procedure is:

  1. copy the portable tool(s) on the USB stick, either next to or in a subfolder of xplorer˛ portable
  2. add a user command for each tool
  3. instead of a fixed path like H:\portable\tools\notepad.exe use the X2DIR environmental variable in the user command definition (e.g. %X2DIR%tools\notepad.exe)
  4. use $N or any of the other $-tokens to pass files selected in xplorer˛ to the external tool

The trick is step #3. Normally xplorer˛ user commands use a fixed path including a drive letter like H:\. But in portable mode, you cannot guarantee that when you plug in your USB stick it will always be drive H:\. The special X2DIR variable is always equal to the folder where xplorer˛ is located, so if you use %X2DIR% you don't care which drive letter will be assigned, you just need the relative location of the tool with respect to xplorer˛ portable.

This portable "associations" setup sounds complicated but it isn't and you only have to do it once. Then you include these portable commands in your portable settings file (usually X2SETTINGS.REG) and you are ready to go! For more explanations see today's demo video

ps. Beware of the same fixed drive letter gotcha whenever you setup your portable xplorer˛ settings. For example bookmarks should be defined with environmental variables as far as possible, e.g. instead of C:\Windows use %WINDIR%.

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