Copyright 1996-2017,2022 by Thomas E. Dickey


Flist (file-list) provides the user with a powerful and versatile interface to VAX/VMS. Flist is a full-screen editor which shows the effects of commands rapidly and naturally. It provides both interfaces to VAX/VMS file management commands (EDIT, COPY, RENAME) as well as extensions to the command interface to better integrate VMS commands, and to augment them


I wrote flist in 1984-1985 while at the ITT Advanced Technology Center. Seeing the original flist program on VM/SP CMS, then dired on BSD 4.1 gave me the inspiration to go and do likewise on VAX/VMS (which really does need a good user interface). At the same time, I wrote a browse program, having used that in conjunction with flist on the VM/SP CMS (aka "VM/CMS") system.


Originally, I was ambivalent about what to call the program, referring to it as dired or flist (since it was inspired by both, but a reimplementation on a different operating system). However, there was a technical reason for deciding on “flist” only: because I use the VMS foreign command feature, it was not integrated with the system's dictionary of commands (and their abbreviations). VMS only cared about the first four characters of a command name, so that it could handle abbreviations. Thus, “dired” did not work well because VMS had a command named "directory".

When I left ITT in 1985, I took it with me (as it was done on my own time, and I was not paid for it, the program fell outside my employee agreement). Starting with a VMS backup file which I transferred to cartridge tape using my Apollo DN300, I made a 9-track tape at DEC's customer support facility in Hamden. The tape was unused for about two years, before I revisited it at the Software Productivity Consortium (SPC) in 1988.

At the SPC, we had a VAX/VMS system named bebop which I used for porting some of the prototypes which I developed. Some of flist's source was useful for this activity, as well as for other programs such as cproto. For the latter (programs outside the scope of my work), I started developing a library named portunix in 1988 (later absorbed into the library which I use for ded and its related utilities). As flist's changelog shows, I made only minor changes to it in this period, aside from putting all of the files (including the generated documentation) into RCS (the conversion retained the original file timestamps).

When I left the SPC in 1994, again there was no issue with taking flist with me, but I had no VMS system.
There were other ways to develop and test with VMS:

Flist is getting a little old, but still quite usable.

See the changelog for details:

Comparing with IBM Flist

In adapting the concept to VMS, I made several tradeoffs which make the program different from the IBM program. For example:

Later, I developed ded, which is nicer in many ways for UNIX.

There is another flist written by Hunter Goatley with TPU a few years later. The two programs are unrelated (and Hunter Goatley stated that he was unaware of the other programs using the same name).