Exponential growth to file management productivity

Advanced file management

Now you have found and browsed the folder you want (or collected items from many folders in a scrap), focused your attention with filtering and selected the files you want to manipulate, it is time to unleash the arsenal of xplorer² robust file management tools that can deal with thousands of files in one go.
Full scale file management is available for regular filesystem folders stored on your hard disks and externally attached and network drives. Special folders like compressed ZIP archives and android devices can be browsed normally, but they are limited to a few simple file operations. Unavailable menu commands will be disabled.

Advanced copy/paste

xplorer² uses exactly the same clipboard formats as windows explorer so you can transfer files to and from the desktop, external explorer windows and any xplorer² windows seamlessly. You begin by copying (or cutting) the source files, browsing the destination folder — the dual pane feature comes handy — then pasting to copy (or move) the files to their new location. Paste operations use the same copy engine as windows explorer (and so does drag-drop), so you will see the familiar copy progress dialog:

explorer copy progress

A common operation is creating a duplicate of a file in the same folder. This can be done with two keystrokes, <CTRL+C> followed by <CTRL+V> will paste a "Copy of" item. xplorer² offers Edit > Duplicate menu command as an alternative.

When you copy/paste a folder, then it is copied in its entirety, including its files and all subfolders it may contain, recursively.
Edit > Paste menu works even when no files are copied in the clipboard. If you copy some text then paste it, a text file is created in the current folder called X2SCRAP.TXT containing the clipboard text. Likewise if you copy an image you can paste it as a file called X2SCRAP.PNG.

Instead of pasting the whole file, you can create a windows shortcut (LNK) file using Paste link menu (or while dropping). These are small files that point to the real file (think of all the shortcut program icons on your desktop). When you double click on a shortcut, the target file is opened.
Other special kinds of targets can be created using Edit > Paste special submenu as below:
  • If you copy a folder item, then Folder structure command enables you to paste only the local hierarchy of subfolders to a different location.
  • When you copy items from scrap containers and they happen to reside in different folders, the oddly named Structured scrap clips command will paste preserving the relative folder structure of the source items - creating subfolders as necessary. In contrast, a plain Paste would place all items in the same folder.
  • If you want to paste a copied selection on multiple folders use Multi paste command, after selecting the folders you want to "drop" into. Then each target folder will receive a separate copy of the source files. This feature is more effective in scrap containers where the target folders can be arbitrarily located.
  • The remaining 3 paste special menu commands create various advanced NTFS links, and are discussed below.
paste special

The older FAT file system can only do LNK shortcut files, but on NTFS you can create hard links and junction points that effectively impersonate their targets. For example if you open a hard linked file, most programs cannot tell the difference of the link and the "original". Hard links are meant for files, junction points for folders and symbolic links can do both. To create these advanced links, first copy the target item, then use the respective Paste special submenu (see above). You can identify junctions by the J file attribute and the little arrow icon overlay that all windows shortcuts show. Symbolic links show as having size of 0 bytes. If you select any type of link or shortcut, Go to > Find target menu command will jump to the real object pointed at by the link. To see where a link points to use the stock column link target; this information appears automatically in details pane when a shortcut item is focused.
When you place any kind of link or junction in a scrap window, <CTRL+L> will replace the link item with its actual target.
In case of hard links, it will also find all the remaining instances of the same content! (resolve hard links)

So which kind of link is best? There is no clear cut winner. See the table below for advantages and disadvantages of each type:

Table 2. Comparison of links and junction points
Hard link  Junction   Symbolic
File targets
Folder targets
Network targets
May jump partitions
Elevation required for creation
Robust against target move/rename  

As you can see for most uses a symbolic link is the best option (if you don't mind the elevation to create one), except for when you rename the linked file. The humble LNK shortcut can survive if you rename or move its target, because of the link tracking windows service!

You can check the formatting of disks from ThisPC folder, under File system column. Most internal and external hard disks are NTFS formatted and have all filesystem mod cons like junctions and alternate data streams. Only some USB sticks (flash drives) are FAT32 formatted.
Further reading
◪ Redirect MS Outlook PST store folder to a different partition using junctions

Robust file transfer copy options for file backup

When it comes to transferring large amount of files and folders, the windows copy dialog comes rather short. xplorer² in exchange for the fancy animations, offers a robust alternative when copying from and to regular filesystem folders. The main features are:

One big advantage of dual pane file management is that the inactive pane is a natural and convenient target for copy/move operations. Instead of copying then pasting, you select the files and use Edit > Copy to (or Move to) menu commands.

Figure 22. Copy to destination dialog

The dialog has 3 main areas: where you want the files copied, whether to apply a filter and various options.

Once you have all your copy parameters set, click Copy button to start the work — or cancel to abort. If you used Move to command, the action button will read Move.
When you are moving items to a folder in the same partition (e.g. from C:\TEMP to C:\NEW) the command is served by windows explorer, since moving within partitions it very fast (if there is time to show a progress window, you will recognize it as that in drag-drop operations). If you use a move filter though, then xplorer² will handle it.

Most of the time you don't need to tweak any copy options. You just press <F5> key to show the dialog and immediately press <ENTER> to start the robust copy using whatever options you used last time. In fact to copy to the inactive pane with the last used options press <CTRL+F5> key combination, and it will be done without showing the dialog!

Further reading
◪ Copy specific files with filters demo video copy filter

Copy progress

File transfers usually take some time to complete. A progress window is shown, but you don't really have to sit and look at it. Your attention is only required in case of errors and confirmations, which will interrupt the task and show a message box.

Figure 23. Copy progress dialog

The progress dialog is horizontally-resizable. You can see information about the file being copied (From and To fields), a progressbar indicating how much work is done, a rough Estimated time left, and some statistics associated with the transfer; there's even a graph of the transfer speed over time, to keep you mildly amused :) — you don't really need any of this information. You can casually inspect the progress also on the (windows) taskbar icon:

The percent progress and estimated time left are not very accurate, especially when copying subfolders or skipping lots of files in backup mode. Knowing how long a task is going to take won't make it complete any faster! If you want accurate estimates, tick the option "Precalculate size" — but this may delay the start of the transfer if there are many files/folders selected.

A pause button exists to temporarily halt the file copy (for whatever reason); then click on resume button to continue, or cancel to abort the copy altogether. If you abort, the files transferred up to that point are not deleted. Whatever's done, is done. If you want to restart a failed or abandoned copy, use "Overwrite if newer else skip" option (see below) so that you don't waste time with files that were successfully copied in the first attempt.

If the source and destination folders contain items with same names, they will be overwritten. The old version will be replaced with the new file being copied. As this is a radical and irreversible step, by default xplorer² requests your approval with this messagebox:

Figure 24. Confirm item replace dialog

To help you decide which file to keep, xplorer² shows brief information (size and date attributes [1]) about the existing item in the destination folder, and the new one that is about to overwrite the old version. You should focus on the last line that highlights the differences of the new item  older,smaller  and then decide: to overwrite the old file click Yes button, or No to keep the old (existing) file. The action buttons [2] include yes/no to all buttons, that reply yes or no to any subsequent overwrite confirmation automatically. You see the pattern in the first few confirmations and you decide whether the remaining can be dismissed in the same fashion. If you click cancel at this point you abort the entire file copy.

Another option is to keep both files, saving the new one with a different name you specify in input box [3]. Doing this file by file manually can get tiresome, but you can select the Overwrite method option "Rename target" which will create such unique name copies automatically (it adds _1 to the base name). However keeping all these extra files isn't sustainable in the long term, sooner or later you must decide if they are all worth keeping or are just duplicates.

When it comes to replacing folders, i.e. when the destination contains a folder with the same name as the source, by default the target isn't overwritten — just extra files are added in it. If you want to use the same overwrite semantics for both files and folders, enable "Overwrite folders" option; then if a folder collision is detected, the entire old folder (cum subfolders) is first deleted, then replaced with the new contents. This is liable to destroy a lot of old content, so please be careful.

For most people, the smarter overwrite option is "Overwrite if newer else skip" (available as backup from the drop-down list, see figure 22). It is an automatic way to resolve conflicts; it compares file modification dates and keeps the most recent file (assuming it contains later changes you made). If the source file is older or identical (in terms of date modified) to the existing, it is skipped. This mode is perfect for backups, where you keep an up-to-date copy of your working documents in a safe external location (e.g. USB disk). If you do this daily, you don't need to copy your entire documents folder, only new and changed items. Thus you save time and effort — no time wasted confirming file replace operations.

A convenient shortcut for backup operations is Tools > Backup copy menu command. You browse your working folder in the active pane and the backup location in the inactive. The command will select all files and folders in the active pane and copy them to the inactive pane (e.g. an external drive), using "Overwrite if newer else skip" copy method — and in the end it leaves your default copy options unchanged

Error handling

There are a number of situations where a file copy fails, as for example if the target file is open in an application. xplorer² will pop a message describing the issue, and depending on the situation will offer alternative courses of action, e.g. Abort-Retry-Ignore questions, where you click the button with your choice action. Usually the only feasible options you have are to ignore the problem if it looks like a 1-off, or abort the copy operation if more files are expected to fail in the same manner — say if you ran out of space in the destination drive.

A soft error you may encounter copying to FAT32 devices is about "Secondary streams" that couldn't be copied. ADS are used for storing comments or to mark downloaded files as risque. If you are certain you don't need this warning message (if you are not using file comments) tick the advanced option "Disable stream loss warning..." — one less thing to worry about.
copy error

The progress dialog has a log that records each file operation individually. You can browse this using error log button (see figure 23) — a misnomer really because it shows more than errors. You can search the log pressing <CTRL+F> keys, or if you just need the error lines, right click in the log window and pick Show errors menu command. For subtle problems search for the special @@@ marker.

When you copy in backup mode, only files that were copied are logged (newer and modified) — there are usually fewer of them in large backups.

To make sure you get a chance to see the log after the end of the transfers, tick the option "Retain window" so that the progress window won't close automatically.
error log

Under normal circumstances, robust copy does not work into protected operating system folders like Program Files. Either you need to start xplorer² elevated (Window > Administrator menu), or even simpler, use drag-drop to copy the files — this is automatically elevated after a UAC prompt authorization.
Further reading
◪ Bypass UAC restrictions to copy into system folders UAC copy

Unattended file transfers

When you need to copy terabytes of data you may leave xplorer² running overnight to finish the job. Imagine waking up in the morning to find xplorer² stuck half-way into the unfinished job, showing you an error message!? To keep your blood pressure down use "Silent operation" option for this scenario. xplorer² will work showing just the progress bar, and won't bother telling you about errors or asking you for overwrite confirmations. When is all said and done, if any problems were encountered, you get a chance to see the error log — but after the copy is finished one way or another.

During silent operation, any events encountered that would normally require user intervention are dismissed automatically. More specifically:

If you are doing unattended backups, then tick "Overwrite if newer else skip" before you tick the silent option. Then you get the benefit of skipping files that are not newer, copying only the files necessary for the backup.

Transfer options

The robust transfer configuration dialog has a button for Options. Many important options have been discussed already; here's a brief explanation of all copy options:
  • Silent operation. Prevents any messages or interaction until the copy is finished, then shows any errors in the end. If ticked, the following 2 checkbox groups are disabled.
  • Overwrite method. Pick one of the 3 available alternatives: ask for confirmations for each file, automatically overwrite new and modified files (backup mode), or keep both files (the new one is renamed)
  • Confirm special. Special attribute (readonly & system) files are always confirmed even in backup mode
  • Overwrite folders. Folders behave like files on collision; the old contents are erased completely before overwriting
  • Log errors. Either you see errors immediately as they occur and decide how to proceed, or they are ignored silently skipping any problematic files
  • Precalculate size. If you want accurate remaining time estimates tick this option — it may delay the start of the operation
  • Retain window. Leaves progress window open, giving you a chance to examine the error log at the end of the transfer
  • Preserve dates. By default, when a file is copied, its modification date remains the same but the creation date may be newer (!) Tick this option to ensure that the copied files have the same modified and created timestamps, even when new files are created at destination
  • Ignore DST. Daylight time changes sometimes introduce phantom 1-hour differences in files stored on USB sticks. Tick this option to consider such files identical (skip them)
  • Clear Readonly, Archive. Some legacy attribute manipulation (for copy, not move operations) that are probably irrelevant nowadays, like clearing the read-only attribute (if copying from CDROM) and clearing archive status (backups no longer rely on A attribute)
  • Copy existing only. With this option files that exist in the source folder but not in the destination folder, are skipped.
  • Background priority. Consumes fewer resources so you can use your computer during the file transfer. If you turn it off you get maximum speed, but your PC may become sluggish.
copy options

This dialog uses the property control also used by program options. It shows all options in a list, which you can scroll up and down. The left column shows the property name, and the right its value. You can flip the "checkboxes" on/off (Yes/No) using the mouse or <SPACE> key. The   selected   option shows a brief explanation about what it is for in the text box below the options.

Set of options can be saved and reused. First tick all the options you need, then give them a descriptive name in Predefined box, and click Save button. Then you can quickly select saved option sets straight from the main transfer dialog (from the options drop-down list). To modify a previously saved option set, change the tickboxes and click Save again (using the same descriptive name) to overwrite the old definition.

To queue or not to queue?

xplorer² can happily furnish multiple copy operations in parallel, each in its own thread, however this may slow things down, especially if you are copying from or to the same hard disk units. Instead of thrashing your hard disk with parallel operations you can have them queued so that they are completed one after the other. Tick Use queue option in copy to dialog and leave it ticked for all future copies.

If xplorer² is in in the middle of a large copy, any extra jobs will be added to the queue. You don't have to wait, just use Edit > Copy to command normally, and once one job is finished the next one will begin, until the queue is empty.

Figure 25. Copy queue management

You don't normally worry about queued copies, but if you want to see what is waiting use Edit > Queue status menu command, which will show you queued jobs in a dialog similar to bookmark organization. You cannot change properties of any waiting jobs, but you can delete or move them up/down the order using the dialog toolbar buttons. Double click to see details on the source/target folders and any special options used.

Another recommended option is to set the task priority to background, which won't overwhelm your PC resources, thus you can continue working during big copy tasks.

If you opt for silent operation, then no errors will be shown till all queued jobs are finished. In the very end, and only if there were any problems, you will be notified about it.

Partial support for special folders

The full power of robust copy commands is available for all filesystem folders (both local and remote), where you work more often. In other special folders that hold "files" of sorts, as compressed zipfolders or mobile phones, there is partial support for some copy options including "Overwrite if newer else skip" that can be used to backup your phone, but only in one direction (from your phone to your PC but not vice versa). Filtering isn't supported either, all files are copied.

When xplorer² is copying from or to special folders you will see the regular windows explorer progress and overwrite confirmations windows, that look different — compare with the snapshots in this section.

Advanced copy tweaks

Using the external advanced options tool, you can tweak the following important copy options:

Robust deletion delete through filter

Similar to robust copy, xplorer² can do robust file and folder deletion. When you delete a lot of files with windows explorer and one happens to be locked or any kind of error is encountered, the operation is aborted mid-way. The robust deletion engine in xplorer² is designed to keep on going where windows explorer falters.

Whenever you start a delete operation that cannot go in the recycle bin (e.g. you press <Shift+Del> or delete in an external flash drive) the robust delete dialog kicks in:

Figure 26. Robust delete options

The first row of the dialog shows how many items are going to be deleted (beware of selected items hidden out of view you didn't mean to delete), and the full paths of the first few of them.

Deleting is much simpler than copying, but the robust delete dialog offers some similar options, as confirmation controls (checkboxes) that are self-explanatory. There is also a "Silent operation" option when you do unattended deletions and don't want to be delayed with confirmations or error reports. Errors are ignored but then probably the deletion will be partial.

When deleting folders, all their contents are removed recursively down to the deepest subfolder. This includes any hidden or system files that may reside within. If you don't have permission to delete them, an error will result.

"Confirm folder junctions" is a legacy option for older windows. Once upon a time deleting junction objects could end up deleting contents of the target folder — but the problem was fixed in later windows. To be 100% safe, when you want to remove the junction object use Edit > Paste special > Folder junction > Delete menu command.

You can even specify a filter (either a simple wildcard or a complex hyperfilter) so that only files that match it will be deleted. This makes sense when you are deleting into subfolders and you only want to remove a certain kind of file.

Click on Delete button to start the deletion. You get to see a progress report dialog like the one to the right. It is possible to pause and resume deletions, but they are usually too quick and you won't have time to do it! The dialog has a tab control you can switch among displaying progress or the Log. The latter text information is searchable, right click to see the search menu (like the one in robust copy log)

The little Actions menu has commands to change the log's font and clear it. There's also a delete queue but usually it is empty unless you do a lot of successive deletions.

Robust deletion is permanent, deleted files won't go in the recycle bin hence you cannot undelete them easily. Use this command with care — that's why there's no option to skip the robust delete confirmation, it's your safety blanket.
delete progress

Mass renaming advanced renaming explained

Renaming filenames one by one can only work for casual name changes. File > Mass rename menu command lets you apply various transformation rules to all selected filenames. Here are some examples of what can be done: All this and more can be achieved through this very compact mass rename user interface:

Figure 27. Mass rename dialog

The most important setting is the Mode. Using this drop-down list [1] you set various modes that determine what kind of renaming is performed:
  • Replace whole name. You compose a new file name using Target name template box [2]. You add variability to the name template using various special tokens from [3]
  • Match and replace part. This is a simple search and replace operation in filenames, use What to match to set the string to be searched for, and what to replace it with in [2]. Usually you search for something fixed but the replacement template may have variability with $-tokens if necessary.
  • Search and multi-replace. Simple match and replace will only do the first match of the string you search for (if any exists). In multi-replace mode all occurrences are replaced. For example if you search and replace OLD with NEW, the filename oldAndold.txt will end up newAndold.txt in single match mode and newAndnew.txt in multi-replace mode.
    Note that search is not case sensitive, OLD will also match "old"
  • Change case. There are various methods to choose. Here you don't supply any template (both search and replace fields [2] are disabled). Each existing filename is CAPITALISED or turned to lowercase; camel case is a curiosity that turns spaces and word breaks into capitals (e.g. "hello world-son.txt" becomes helloWorldSon.txt). Finally remove accents leaves only plain letters in filenames so the German über.jpg will become uber.jpg, slovak žena.png will turn to simply zena.png and the like for all diacritics.
mode drop-down

As discussed already, changing the filename means changing the title (aka base name) only, not touching the 3-letter extension that determines the type (eg. .TXT). Ticking Preserve extension box ensures that any modifications will not touch the all-important extension part — only the base name. In the rare occasions you need to change extensions, untick this box, and beware the usual gotchas.

The list [4] shows you a preview of the transformation that is going to happen if you go ahead with the rename. The column old name lists a sample of the currently selected filenames in the active pane, and new name shows how each name is going to change. xplorer² automatically generates a preview from time to time, or you can click on Preview button to see the pending name changes. If your names are long you can resize the dialog window horizontally or/and vertically.

Mass renaming allows lots of flexibility with its templates, but this increases the risk of mistakes. Always preview the name changes before you commit the rename, because you may foul the names of many files — without automatic undo capability. Preview will catch some common issues as 2 filenames ending up with the same name, and will highlight the problems for you. Any illegal characters are automatically replaced with underscores.

Variable rename templates

Mass renaming is helped by the use of special tokens that represent part of the filename and other useful constructs. They all start with a dollar $ sign followed usually by a single letter (e.g. $B stands for Base filename). These $-tokens get replaced with what they represent for each filename processed — see for example how the counter token $01 in figure 27 generated a different number for each filename. Thus you can create compact reusable templates and use them for many different rename jobs.

If you remember the name of the variable token, you can type it straight in Target name box [2] or use Special tokens [3] list to help you find the token you are after. You can use multiple $-tokens in a template. The tokens useful for renaming are a subset of the available $-tokens used for command scripts. Here are some examples:

Rename with regular expressions

Tick the RE box (to the left of What to match field) to enable changing filenames with complex regular expressions. This is an advanced renaming mode that can help with certain kinds of rearranging parts of the filename using backreferences. This box is only available when Mode [1] is set to search and replace, and disabled in all other modes.

Here is an example. Let's say we have a filename LOG.17112006.TXT that contains a date in DD-MM-YYYY format, and we want to convert it into a more standard YMD (year first) format. We use a regular expression to match the 8 digits separated in 3 groups (day, month and year), then use backreferences to rearrange the 3 groups.

To match the original date format, we use (\d\d)(\d\d)(\d\d\d\d) in the What to match dialog box. There are 3 groups defined in brackets that match the date in the filename:

To invert the location of the 3 groups and add separating dashes between the year, month and day, we use $3-$2-$1 in the Target name template (replace) box. $3 is a special backreference that stands for the 3rd group (year), so the resulting filename will be

Note that parts of the original filename that were not matched by the regular expression remain unchanged. You can use any kind of search and replace trickery for other tasks too, e.g. to eliminate parts of the filename (leave the replace string empty). Sadly you cannot combine $-tokens within regular expressions.

Bulk rename workflow

To rename lots of files in one go, browse the folder they reside and select them (or create a list of items to be renamed in a multi-folder collection). If you plan to use automatic counter tokens ($1) make sure you arrange the selected items in order beforehand.

Once you setup the rename parameters and previewed the results, click rename button to start renaming. Selected files are renamed in the order they are listed in the active pane. A progress bar on the statusbar shows you how much work is left to be done. If everything goes according to plan, you will see the new names at the end of the operation. If there are any problems, you will be informed and asked what to do; if the error is important just abort the rest of the files.

The mass rename dialog has many options. You can save your favorite rename operations, including all options, search and replace strings and so on with a name, and repeat them again later. Use the Predefined drop-down box (item [5] in figure 27) to supply a name for the current options, then click Save button to store them. In subsequent runs, use the drop-down portion to access your predefined settings and repeat rename operations easily. To remove a previously saved set of rename options, hold down <CTRL> key as you click on Save button.

Note the File attribute drop-down box is permanently disabled in mass rename mode. This field is used for changing other text attributes (comments etc) in bulk

Rename in stages

Sometimes you may need to apply various rename operations to get the filenames in the shape you want, and you cannot do it all in one search and replace step. In this case you must run the mass rename command 2-3 times in succession, e.g. first replace spaces with underscores, then capitalize the names. Mass rename command makes such operations possible by keeping the originally selected files selected, despite the name changes. Then each subsequent <F2> command will work on the same set of files!

Depending on your sort order, the selected files may be rearranged after each rename step, e.g. if you sort by name. If you want to preserve the original order as well (e.g. if you plan to add numbers to them), tick off "automatically re-sort" option.

This procedure could be automated using macros, especially if each rename step is saved and available from Predefined drop-down list

xplorer² makes extra effort to keep the original set of files selected and in order, which unfortunately leads to slower renames. If you are not using multiple rename steps you can set a small number to "Stepwise rename limit" advanced tweak

Further reading
◪ How to remove fixed or variable parts of filenames
◪ Add author and title information in ebook filenames
◪ Remove funny symbols from filenames

Changing timestamps and attributes

Each file and folder has some basic filesystem properties, its name, its byte size, various dates and attribute flags like Archive and Hidden. These properties change naturally as you use, modify and move files around your hard disk structure, but with xplorer² you can change them to taste as well.

For files, date modified tells the last time you edited the file, made some changes in its content; whereas creation date is record of when the file was originally created. File dates and times are accurate to the millisecond although you can choose to see less detail.

It is possible to have the date created later than the date modified (!) if you create a copy of the file after you edit it. For folder items, date modified reflects the moment you last added or deleted files in the folder — but only immediately contained in said folder, changes in subfolders aren't tracked at the parent folder level.

File attributes are status flags and are mostly interesting for anorak types :) — see the expert section below. The shell property sheet allows changing some filesystem attributes like Archive or Read-only, but not all of them. xplorer² offers access to all attributes as well as to timestamps of files. Using Actions > Change attributes menu command on a selection of items you get this dialog which allows you to change 4 basic attributes and touch dates/times.

Figure 28. Changing file dates and attributes

When the dialog first appears, it shows the current dates and attribute flags of the selected item. If more than one items are selected, then it shows dates of the first one and common attributes are ticked. If only some files have an attribute (and some don't) then the relevant box shows in indetermined indetermined state instead of ticked. Only things that you actually change are affected; so if you don't check any date boxes, these won't be updated. In this way you can change only attributes or just dates, or both at the same time.

To change a date, first tick its checkbox to enable the date and time change controls (observe how the modified row is enabled but date created is disabled in the above dialog snapshot). You can then set a specific date and time, or click on Now button to reset the date to current time (this is called touching a date).

If you want to bypass file security and grant full access to everybody tick the relevant box. Note that this will erase all prior security information for the selected files and folders so please use it cautiously. If you need to preserve group access permissions then use the windows file property page instead (click on security tab and add the Everyone group and assign full access permissions).

When you are all set click ok button to go ahead with the changes, or cancel to abort the operation. If multiple items are selected, they will all be changed in the same fashion — they will be identical in terms of whatever changes you made. Otherwise each item keeps its original dates or/and attributes. The active folder pane will autorefresh to show you the new attributes you just set for the selection.

File attribute flags

You may have heard of file attributes like hidden and read-only, but do you know what the offline attribute stands for? All will be explained in this section. xplorer² attribute column shows up to 12 file attributes; if an attribute is present, it's initial letter is printed, otherwise a dash, e.g:
means that the file has the hidden, system and archive attributes set, and all others are off. Here's a list of all supported file attributes: Most of these attributes shouldn't be changed directly, or are ineffective (legacy) even if you do change them, so the general principle is not to bother with them. Some special attributes supported for files on NTFS partitions like Compressed or Encrypted are modifiable through the shell property sheet (Advanced button in General page). A few attributes are inherent to the nature of the object and cannot be changed at all, like the Offline file and folder Junction attributes.

File date manipulation

Except for fixing dates (set the same date for all selected items), you can swap various date properties, and shift a file modification date forward or backward. Use Actions > Change dates menu command (or the equivalent ribbon UI command found on Workbench tab, under Attributes button) to modify the selected items' dates.

Figure 29. Change file dates dialog

First choose which date to change (Modified or Created) using the leftmost dialog drop-down box, then choose the operation to apply. You either set the date equal to some other date property of the same file (e.g. set the modification date to the date a picture was taken or the video media creation date), or you can shift the existing date relatively by some amount forward or backward. Use negative numbers in Shift by box to set the date in the past.

It is also possible to set a date from the filename too, if the name contains the standard date format YYYYMMDD HHMMSS (e.g. some cameras set names like PIC_20181026_192237.JPG). For this operation select Name [S] from the property drop-down box. Naturally trying to set non-existent or invalid dates will generate an error message (e.g. text files don't have a Picture date property).

At present you can only change the modified and creation dates. So you can set the modification date equal to picture date (in case the former got corrupted) but not vice versa. Each selected file ends up with a different date, relative to its existing date properties.

A possible application of Shift by operation is to adjust modification dates that were adversely affected by summer/winter time changes (DST) that may seem like fake file modifications to backup and comparison programs. Sliding dates up or down by one hour exactly will cancel the problem (prevalent mostly on FAT32 filesystems). You can shift dates by seconds or years, depending on the unit you select from the drop-down box.

Another way to remedy such phantom DST "modifications" is Actions > Sync-touch menu command, that will match filenames in the active folder pane with namesakes in the inactive pane, and will transfer date modified information from active to inactive panes. For this to work you should have the "original" and "backup" folders in the active and inactive pane respectively, and make sure that all differences are down to DST — or you may forgo real modifications in content! Here is a sync-touch demo video touch dst

Click on Touch dates button if you want to set all selected file dates to the same date and time — this actually uses the previous dialog for changing attributes.

Splitting and merging split and join a large file

This command isn't as necessary as it was 20 years ago when xplorer² first introduced it. Nowadays we don't use space restricted devices like DVDs — or floppy disks! Perhaps it might be useful for sending large email attachments in segments.

Sometimes you may want to transfer large files between two PCs and find that a single file is way too big to fit on e.g. a floppy disk or even CD. The Split and Merge commands from Actions menu will come handy in such a situation.

Actions > Split menu expects a single big file selected (the command is disabled when you select more than one file). First you break down the large file in as many portions as necessary, declaring your preferred split size (in kB) in the dialog, The standards drop-down lists a few typical media you may choose to provide an automatic split size — e.g. portions that will fit in a single CDROM. Split pieces will give you an idea how many chunks you will get for the selected file, for each selected split size.

Then you choose the target folder that will receive the fragments and click ok button to start splitting. For example if you have a file called bigone.dat that is 10MB and you break it down in chunks of 1MB, you will end up with 10 files named bigone.dat.01, bigone.dat.02, ... bigone.dat.10.

Figure 30. The file split dialog

This will allow you to place the file segments on floppy disks and do the transfer to another computer. There you just need to make sure to place all fragments in a single folder, select them all after sorting by name (so that they'll be in order), and use Actions > Merge menu to put them back together; the file will be restored keeping its original modification date. You can now delete the split fragments!

Merge command will let you join any 2+ files without checking whether they were created by a former split command, if they are consecutive, if all the split pieces are joined (anything forgotten?), or any other reasonable check. You do get warned if you try to merge out of sequence pieces, but it is assumed you know what you're doing!
You can also merge file segments using the DOS copy command. For example copy part1+part2 whole will merge file parts 1 & 2 to create a file called whole. This is not as convenient as the built-in Merge command; it merely demonstrates that you don't need xplorer² to put files back together!

File and folder comments (tags)

Comments are small pieces of text associated with files and folders, 100% controlled by the user and ignored by the filesystem. There are many possible uses for comments:

You can examine file comments adding the stock Comment [S] column in detailed view mode. Comments also appear in details pane for the focused item in the active pane. They even show in Details property page (File > Properties menu) along with other properties — but they aren't easy to browse there. Most important of all, xplorer² allows you to use comments as search rules, so you can easily check and retrieve files that have one or more keywords. inline comments
Windows property system supports a comment property for files, which over the years changed implementation many times, and still cannot be applied to all file types (e.g. PNG files). xplorer² uses the standard comment storing methods if possible, but complements with its own custom comment formats when necessary to ensure that comments can be set for all files and folders. The situation is even worse with Keywords/Tags property, therefore you are advised not to use keywords column but store your keywords as comments instead.

You set and modify comments for one or more selected files using Actions > Set comment menu command, which displays this dialog:

Figure 31. The comments management dialog

Comments can be as long as you like (up to 4096 characters to be exact), that's why you get a big box to type your comments. The dialog shows any prior comments if any exist; if multiple files with comments are selected, you see the comment of the first one selected.

When changing the comment of a single file Multi-file operation group is disabled because its modes aren't needed: you just see the entire comment and you get to change or delete it as necessary. When many files are involved you have 3 options:

Simulating tags (keywords) via comments is entirely up to you. You can add single keywords to describe the content. You can use spaces as "separators" or split keywords using ; symbols or whatever. As far as xplorer² is concerned, it all is a big pile of letters (it won't mind if you tack on the same keyword twice in a file comment) — and you get to make sense of the information.

When you are happy with the comments and the operation, click ok button to set, modify or clear the comments of the selected files. When the operation is over you will see a message on the statusbar "Operated successfully on xxx items", which should be equal to the number of selected files — unless there was some problem.

For most kind of files comments are stored in alternate data streams (ADS, see below). As such there are some limitations to keep in mind:
xplorer² has limited support for DESCRIPT.ION comments but it is a half measure at best. It can read such comments but will not write back into this special file.

Alternate data streams

File comments must be stored in the file somewhere, and be part of it, but without affecting the "real" content (e.g. the text document). Some file formats like JPG have provisions to save extra information in the main body (EXIF information), but for most plain file types like TXT we must store comments in a way that they won't interfere with the content.

File comments rely on an advanced NTFS feature called alternate data streams (ADS). One way to view ADS is like separate chapters within a file. What you usually regard as file is the main stream where your data is held, e.g. your text. With NTFS you can associate other streams with a file or folder. So FILE.TXT can carry a stream called OTHER and it will be addressed as FILE.TXT:OTHER using a ":" to separate the stream name. When you move the file around, all these alternate streams are silently carried along.

The standard stream for comments is called SummaryInformation, but unfortunately the property system makes a mess of it for most file types, so xplorer² uses its own stream called x2_AFSComment. This makes things consistent within xplorer² but obviously other programs like windows explorer will not be able to read such special comments.

xplorer² has a couple of commands that deal with ADS, in Actions > ADS submenu. View streams command shows a summary of file streams as the pic to the right, including the first few bytes of each stream (including byte size information). Split streams command extracts any named streams from a file and saves them in separate file(s), for your perusal.

To clear any ADS and leave only the main file content stream, you can copy a file to a flash drive and back, or compress it in a simple ZIP archive then extract it — all extra streams will be washed out!

comment stream

Another use of ADS is the Zone.Identifier information your browser attaches to files you download from internet, which cause various "unsafe" warnings. If you trust the downloaded file, press <ALT+ENTER> to see its properties and tick Unblock box in general property page.

There are a couple of stock columns that show ADS information:

Bulk change of file properties

There's another way to change comments or any other text (or numeric) file property, in bulk for all selected files.

Actions > File properties menu lets you change editable text file properties like Author, Title, even tags (keywords) and comments. The dialog is identical to that used for mass renaming, only you select the file property to change using the File attribute selector box near the top of the dialog. Using a GUI similar to mass renaming you can either set, clear or modify through search and replace the existing file properties. This command is mainly for text properties, but it can also be applied to numeric ones, like track number # — just make sure your templates translate to numbers, e.g. using automatic counters $01.

The procedure was explained in detail so it won't be repeated here. Just select the property you want to change using the drop-down list, and choose the mode, set your property manipulation template, preview the changes, and off you go! Some dialog controls that are only valid for renaming like Preserve extensions will be disabled in this function.

change attributes mass
If you want to change properties of many files simultaneously, take care to select only one file type (e.g. music files), and ensure that it supports the property you want to change. Attempting to set e.g. Author information to TXT files will just result in error messages.

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