xplorer² Quick Start Guide
File exploring reinvented: Feel like home miles away from home

Managing files and folders

Sooner or later your files and folders accumulate so you end up with hundreds of files within a folder or even worse. xplorer² helps you move around efficiently within large folders and select (mark) items for further processing. You can roam a pane revealing items in a variety of methods using the keyboard or mouse:

As you move around, the focused item is changed and usually cancels all previous selections too. To move the focus without affecting the existing selection hold down <Ctrl> or turn Mark | Sticky selection on. This will help you to hand-pick items scattered in the folder listing (similar to explorer's checkbox selection mode).

Selection engine build up large selections safely

Most file management commands act on the selected files and folders en masse. xplorer² has a wealth of alternative mechanisms to aid the very important task of marking items for further processing (Mark menu):

Using these elementary marking and unmarking mechanisms, you can build collections of items whose complexity is only limited by the user's ingenuity!

NOTE: The elementary selection mechanisms are additive; whatever you select is added on top of any existing selection. To start a fresh selection just hit <Alt+A> to unselect everything beforehand.

Mark menu also contains a number of commands that affect the selection which are explained in other parts of this guide. Broadly speaking they consider all the files with a variety of criteria, and select files that match them. You can mark items that contain some text, or that need to be copied to synchronize two folders, or that are duplicates and must be deleted, or even source files that must be built to make a compiled language project. The quick search command is convenient for searching generic text.

Finally xplorer² can automatically select items (and subfolders) that tally approximately to a Total size, so that you can optimize transfers to media with limited capacity, e.g. USB sticks.

All these criteria-based selection commands affect all files and will reset any previous selection leaving only items that unambiguously pass the criterion in question. Typically such commands are performed first, possibly followed by elementary (un)marking commands to refine the selection. However when such criteria are used to unselect files (see Unselect button in figure 4) they only affect matching items.

Basic file management

Once your selection is finalized you can manipulate your items in various familiar ways, e.g. copying, deleting, drag-dropping, etc. 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. When it comes to pasting you have a number of advanced options (Edit menu):

TIP: You can check whether a drive is NTFS-formatted using its property sheet. From "My Computer" right-click on the drive in question and read the Type field from Properties | General. Generally speaking only drives on NT-based PCs have any chance of being NTFS; windows 9x only support FAT32.

One big advantage of dual pane file management is that the inactive pane is a natural and convenient target for copy/move operations. Edit | Copy to and Move to commands are ideal for such transfers from the active to the inactive pane. You may see from figure 5 below that you can also opt to send the selected items to an alternative target folder (Here field). This combo box remembers all the folders you typed in it, so it acts as a list of your favorite copy destinations.

If you have folder tabs, these are also listed in the dialog as possible targets of the file transfer operation. Just make sure you check the Tab radio button and select the appropriate folder from the drop-down list box.

Figure 5. Copy To dialog (Move To is nearly identical)

TIP: The Here input field in figure 5 - and all other fields in xplorer² dialogs meant for paths - support path autocompletion. Type part of a path that exists and hit <F1> key for the first possible completion; another <F1> will fetch the next completion etc. After you find your path segment, type a backslash and a few characters to autocomplete the next segment, and so on. Also you can click on the "..." button and select a folder. If you prefer explorer-style path autocompletion there's a relevant checkbox in Tools | Options | Advanced

[PRO] Normally all selected files and folders (including subfolders) will be transferred to the destination. If you want to exclude certain files use the Filter field; a standard hyper-filter can be either Defined or selected from those saved earlier from the drop-down list. If a simpler wildcard filter (e.g. *.cpp) would suffice you can just type it instead of defining a complex hyperfilter. When a copy filter is active, each file is examined and is only transferred if it matches the filter.

xplorer² can copy to and from all three major folder categories, including zipfolders, FTP etc (if supported by the OS). During a lengthy file operation you can still use the program - although the reaction speed will suffer.

NOTE: Windows in general get bogged down whenever the OS accesses disks for I/O. The whole system comes to a near stand-still. Launching a second file operation in parallel will make things worse, in fact much worse if both operations access the same physical drive. The read/write head keeps jumping back and forth to accommodate both tasks and you end up waiting far longer than the combined time of the 2 individual operations. Therefore it is advisable to avoid parallel operations whenever possible, e.g. by queuing jobs.

Folder tabs can also help moving files around. Just drag a selection and drop it on the tab of the target folder. If you hover the mouse pointer over an inactive tab during drag-drop it will be automatically activated for you, too.

To create new files or folders, use the respective commands from Actions menu. You can also create all the standard new shell file types via the Shell new submenu, located in the context menu of each folder pane - please make sure you don't right-click on any item; place the mouse pointer on some empty space instead.

When it comes to renaming files and folders, you get a few more options than the standard inplace name editing: (File menu)

Finally when it comes to deleting you can either send items to the recycle bin, or delete directly bypassing the bin when you hold down <Shift>. A third option is shredding (from Actions menu), which completely eradicates the files/folders overwriting their contents with zeros before eventually deleting them.

WARNING: It is very hard to undelete files when you use the direct method (with <Shift>). It is impossible to retrieve files that have been shredded. Please use these commands with caution!

WARNING: When you delete a folder junction you risk deleting all the target folder contents without warning. To avoid such a mishap it is advised to name junctions clearly (e.g. using "junction" as part of the filename), pay attention to the "J" file attribute, or even better create a coloring rule to make such objects stand out. If you want to remove the junction without affecting the real folder contents use Edit | Paste special | Folder junction | Delete.

UAC and access permissions

Windows Vista has introduced the concept of User Account Control (UAC) which simply put means that even if you have an administrator account you do not have full control of some special files and folders, and as a result you cannot copy into or delete from some folders like Program Files. To bypass such controls use Window | Administrator menu command to launch xplorer² in full power administrator mode. For more information see this blog article.

[PRO] 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:

These advanced options are available from the dialog of Edit | Copy to command, as seen below. You can save option sets you use frequently with a descriptive name so that you can easily switch from your normal to e.g. unattended copy mode (silent operation) and back to normal with minimum clicking of checkboxes, radio buttons etc. Saved option sets are also available from the main dialog within a drop-down list box.

Figure 5a. Robust copy options

TIP: If you want to copy only newer and changed files, and leave out those that didn't change, use Tools | Backup copy menu command. This will select all files and folders in the active pane and copy them to the inactive pane folder (the backup location, e.g. an external drive), using Overwrite if newer else skip copy method — and in the end it leaves your default copy options unchanged. Very useful shortcut!

NOTE: The robust copier is only available when you copy to or paste from Edit menu (if GIOPT_ROBUSTPASTE registry tweak is enabled). If you transfer files with drag-drop, or the source or target is on a non-filesystem folder (e.g. FTP), you get the normal windows copy operation.

Robust copy usually requires both source and target folders to be regular filesystem items (e.g. in your C:\ drive or network). However for windows Vista and later, you can have one side of the equation in a "virtual" folder, e.g. copy files from your mobile phone or a zipfolder into a regular folder or vice-versa. Then you can use advanced copy options like "overwrite if newer else skip", and do an intelligent backup only of new and changed files. At present you cannot use file filters in this mixed folder mode, only (most) of the options in figure 5a.

[PRO] Robust deletion

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>) the robust delete dialog kicks in (see figure 5b). Whenever some error occurs, you can choose how to deal with it, either stop and report it, or log the error and continue with the remaining files. xplorer² also will warn you if you try to delete through a folder junction that could cause havoc to your filesystem. You can even specify a filter (either a simple wildcard or a complex hyperfilter) so that only files that match it will be deleted.

Figure 5b. Robust delete options
[PRO] Mass renaming advanced renaming explained

You can rename large collections of pictures, songs and other files using File | Mass rename menu command. The dialog works in three modes; "Replace whole name" sets the new name using a template that may include file attributes and other reusable $-tokens. The rest are search and replace modes that replace parts of the existing filenames, for example replace occurrences of NEW with OLD or delete a range of characters. The difference between "Match and replace part" and "Search and multi-replace" is that the first will replace (at most) once, and the second will replace all occurrences of the matched string in each filename.

Two extra special modes cater for changing the case of filenames, either to UPPER or lowercase. When changing case, you are not allowed any other changes to the filename — it will remain the same except for the change of letters. Camel case mode changes spaces and word breaks into capitals (e.g. "hello world-son.txt" becomes helloWorldSon.txt). Finally remove accents leaves only plain vowels in filenames so the German über.jpg will become uber.jpg.

Figure 5c. Mass rename dialog

Here are examples of composing the entire name (mode 1):

For the search and replace modes you specify two strings, what to match (search for) and what to replace it with. For example you can search for NEW and replace it with OLD so that a file named newFile.txt will end up as oldFile.txt (the search isn't case sensitive). Using "Match and replace part" mode, only one (the first) occurrence of the matched substring is replaced, so a file called newAndNew.txt would end up as oldAndNew.txt. To replace all occurrences switch to "Search and multi-replace" mode and you would end up with a file called oldAndold.txt. Tick Preserve extensions box to avoid damaging the file extension in these replace operations.

You can use $-tokens here too if you want to add extra variability to your search-and-replace renames. The character range token is especially useful to extract substrings of the original filename. The format is $[first:length], so $[3:2] acting on the name trial.txt will extract 2 characters starting from position 3 (that is "ia"). You can use this in a variety of ways, e.g. leave the replace (target name) field empty to remove that part of the name. Passing 0 for length is equivalent to an insertion operator, e.g. searching for $[3:0] and replacing with "add" will insert the string "add" before position 3.

The mass renaming dialog is very powerful but all these tokens can be confusing. It is recommended you use the Preview button to check the rename will do what it is meant to be doing. It is very hard to undo and repair a mass rename gone bad!

TIP: 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 to supply a name for the current options, then click Save button to store them.

Rename with regular expressions

Tick the RE box 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.

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.

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 resort contents..." option (Tools | Options menu, Window property page).

This procedure could be automated using macros, especially if each rename step is saved and available from Predefined drop-down list (see figure 5c)

Changing timestamps and attributes change file properties

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 on a selection of items you get the dialog in figure 6 which allows you to change attributes and touch dates/times.

Figure 6. Changing file dates and attributes

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.

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 file property page instead (click on security tab and add the Everyone group and assign full access permissions).

NOTE: Some special attributes supported for files on NTFS partitions like Compressed or Encrypted are still modifiable through the shell property sheet <F12> (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.

If you are in detailed view mode, you can change many file properties, including dates and attributes, using the mouse. You just click on a property you want to change and if it is editable you get a chance to edit it. This is similar to in-place renaming of filenames. Using the keyboard, press <F2> key (or use File | Rename menu command), then press <TAB> until you reach the column you are after. To cancel any changes press <ESC> key while editing. Note that not all properties are editable and some apply only to a particular file type (you can edit the Artist information for a music but not a text file).

File date manipulation

Except for fixing dates, you can interchange various date attributes 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.

touch dates
Figure 6a. 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 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. pic_20181026_192237.jpg). Naturally trying to set non-existent or invalid dates will generate an error message.

Splitting and merging split and join a large file

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.

First you break down the large file in as many portions as necessary, declaring your preferred size in kB in the split dialog (figure 7) as well as the target folder. 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 7. 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 to put them back together; the file will be restored keeping its original modification date.

NOTE: 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:

NOTE: File comments rely on an advanced NTFS feature called alternate data streams (ADS). Imagine a file as a kind of "folder" that has a stream for the regular contents and secondary streams for other information, including comments. When you move the file around, all these alternate streams are silently carried along. Checkout the Stream explorer program for more information on ADS.

Figure 7a. The comments management dialog

File comments are supported from windows 2000 onwards, and there always existed a way to manipulate them through shell properties dialog (Summary tab). xplorer² makes comment handling much more easier:

[PRO] Most important of all, xplorer² allows you to use comments as search rules, so you can easily check and retrieve files that have a set of keywords.

WARNING: When using comments you should be aware of some limitations arising from the mechanism that underwrites the functionality for windows filesystems:

Other text properties
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.

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