PREAMBLE and a suggestion for researchers
One of the most common platforms that forex traders use is MetaTrader. There are others, but MetaTrader has known how to impose in the FX retail arena, thanks mainly to it being the software solution many brokers offer, but also because of its ease of use, beautiful interface and very potent programming language.
In this tutorial I would like to cover all the information you need to understand to start using MetaTrader, so I'll try to be as concise as possible, trying to show you all the key features to have a complete overview of the software. I will not stop on easy fill-space specifics that you'll get just looking at the interface, like how to draw a line or change a timeframe, but on the essential elements that will teach you how to use MetaTrader with confidence.
It's advisable to have at least a basic knowledge of this software because most of the forex trading community use it. But also have in mind that there are other software with interesting features, that could help on the learning or analytic process; although the most important part of the long trading path will not be the software, but the trader's knowledge of market behaviour. So if you want to invest time, give preference to the knowledge, and, perfectionist friend, take care not to get bogged down searching for the perfect platform. What you will need essentially will be just a representation of price on a chart, the ability to see different timeframes, do some basic drawings, like trendlines or rectangles; features so basic that almost every trading software have them. You first need an understanding of the market and a method of trading, then, knowing what you're looking for in the chart, you could test different software for one that best fits your trading methodology. Even just for study, you'll need to know what you'll be analysing, and for that also you need to have an idea about how you will be approximating the market.
MetaTrader is a trading platform developed by MetaQuotes Software and widely used by retail forex traders. The development of the software started in 2002, and in 2005 was released an enhanced version, MetaTrader 4 (or just MT4), that became, between the years 2007 and 2010, the most used retail forex platform when its popularity increased and was adopted by a big number of brokers as their main or alternative trading platform.
In 2010 a new version was released, MetaTrader 5, with the possibility of being used on the stock or the option markets and theoretically of being faster in programming features, but MT4 is yet the most widely used, and the software version offered by most of the brokers, mainly due to the MT4 huge user base, the incompatibility between MQL4 and MQL5 (the MetaTrader programming languages) and the work already done by these brokers to adapt MetaTrader 4 to their systems.
The software consists of two components, the client one that is run by the trader, where he or she can analyze charts and place orders in the market, and the server one, run by the broker, that provides the charts data and manages the execution of the orders. The MetaTrader client is the one we're going to download and install on our computer.
There is also a mobile MetaTrader client that works for Android, iOS and Windows Mobile.
INSTALLATION & LOGIN for Windows, Linux and Mac users
The first thing we need to do is to download and install the MetaTrader software, following the instructions and downloading the package from your broker site. If you haven't a broker yet, you could download MetaTrader from the MetaTrader 4 webpage. Once downloaded, on a Windows operating system, just execute the .exe file and it will be installed and running in a minute.
The installation of MetaTrader4 is really simple. Usually the default options would be good, so it would be a next-next-next installation. Probably MT4 will be installed on C:\Program Files\MetaTrader 4, but take a look at the folder you'll be installing in, because we would want in the future to copy indicators or layouts to this place.
If you're a Linux or BSD user, you could use Wine to run MetaTrader on your system, having some necessary dependencies installed first in an easy way with winetricks:
$winetricks corefonts vcrun6
Refer to your distro Wine documentation page for help on installing and configuring Wine, and the Wine and specially winetricks documentation for expand on this, if you needed. There is an article on the MetaTrader site explaining how to install MT4 on Linux. I think it is too much verbose and overcomplicated, but if someone has problems installing it as I explained, could take a look on this more detailed installation.
Mac users, also could use Wine, or use a non-free software called CrossOver. This is their own article on the MetaTrader site, much more concise than the linux one.
There is also the possibility to run MetaTrader inside a Windows virtual machine machine using software like KVM, VirtualBox, VMWare, Xen (or Parallels only on Mac machines), but with Wine MetaTrader just works great, and the performance could be as well, or even better, than on a virtual machine, without the costs on time, comfort and resources of a complete virtual Windows system. But if you want to assure that everything works exactly the same way as on Windows, then a virtual machine would be your preferred choice.
Once we have MetaTrader installed, the first thing it will ask for is to open a MetaTrader demo account. We could create one to better play with the platform, especially if we haven't a broker account, or we could close this window and then it will ask us to fill our broker MT4 username and password that has been provided us by this broker before. We could always open again these two windows in any time by just clicking on File (first option on the upper left side of the MT4 window), and selecting Open an Account or Login.
Now that we are installed and logged in, the party starts!
The first thing we need to do is familiarise ourselves with the MetaTrader interface. I would suggest to test every option you find and see what happens. This way you will learn by discovering how the software options work and are organized, a much better way of learning than by just reading. But if you read a manual, or a tutorial like this one, test everything it talks about.
Take a look at this image:
It is the MT4 interface. We could divide this interface in 6 parts, that I numbered from 1 to 6 to better explain. Have in mind that usually there are different ways of doing the same thing, so you could choose which is most comfortable with you.
- MT4 menu options. From File to Help here you'll have access to all the software options.
- For ease of access we have some toolbars. With a click we could change the chart timeframe, create a new order, change between bar, candle or line chart, or add some drawings. These options are accessible from the options part of the interface, but are set again on this toolbar for comfort and speed of use. On the option View>Toolbars we could hide or show them, or customize them with our preferred and most used options instead of the default ones. Also it's possible to move these toolbars by clicking on the leftmost part of each one (the part with the tiny horizontal lines).
- The Market Watch window, where we could follow the prices and interact with a list of currencies, open a chart, sending an order, choosing what symbols show or which hide, or creating different lists of currencies.
- From the Navigator window we could change between our MetaTrader accounts, choose indicators or EAs, or run scripts.
- The fifth part is the Terminal, where we could have information about our trades, account history, and other things.
- And last but not least, the sixth part, our charts. This is the central point around which all other elements exist and get sense.
Now that you have a general view of the interface, have in mind that you could customise it, hiding or showing parts, or even going to full window with just the charts (pressing F11). Take some time to test the different options of the View and the Window menus. The View menu is where almost all the general interface customization options are, while the Window menu is more chart focused.
The Insert, Charts and Window options are mainly charting options.
From the Insert options we could add an indicator, or choose a type of drawing. Indicators could also being selected from the Navigator windows, while we have many drawing icons in the toolbars.
From the Charts options we could choose the timeframe, the charting style (bar, candle or line), hide/show the grid or the volume, etc. The last Charts option is the properties menu of the chart (F8), where we could change the colors, among other things.
Test every option to see how they work and what we obtained on the chart.
Through Charts>Templates we could load or save different configurations of a chart, like the use of some indicators or colour schemes, so it could be easily reusable on new charts.
In the Window options you could arrange the different charts for your taste.
For opening a New Chart, File>New Chart, or right click on the desired symbol on the Market Watch window, and select Chart Window, as shown on the next image:
If you want to see more symbols on the MarketWatch than the default ones, having also the ability to open the chart for these other symbols, you have to right click on any currency on the Market Watch, and select the symbol option. There you could choose the symbols you want to follow between all those offered by your broker.
With MetaTrader we have the ability, not just to analyse charts, but also to send orders to our broker using the platform. To create a new order we could just click F9, or go to Tools>New Order, or press the New Order icon on the toolbars, or right click on the symbol in the Market Watch window, press the first option, New Order, or right click on the chart and select trading>New Order. So, five different ways to open the New Order dialogue window:
And the Order window opens:
On this order window we could choose the currency to trade, the size of our trade (volume), and to send a market or a limit order. Once the position has been opened, you can follow the trade on the trade tab inside the terminal window. The best you could do is to practice the different orders and options on a demo account before going live.
Although it goes beyond the scope of this article, as a MetaTrader user you should know that one of the software's greatest strengths is its programming language, MQL4. MQL5, a new version of the language that comes with the new MetaTrader 5, although very similar, has some differences that make incompatibilities and the need to translate many lines of code to bridge these incompatibilities. This is one of the reasons that MT5 is not as widespread as its old version. Both languages are based on C++.
If we click on the option Tools>MetaQuotes Language Editor, or just press F4, the MetaEditor appears. This editor is specialised for the creation, editing and compilation of programs written in MQL4. Its interface is similar to the one of the main MetaTrader window, having at the right a navigator with the MQL4 programs and their code. For example, we could open from there the moving average indicator code, and hack it for our taste and needs. We could also create a new program from scratch through File>New (Ctrl+n).
There are 3 types of programs:
- Expert Advisors (EA): Also known as automatic systems, are programs that execute on every tick to see whether a set of rules have been fulfilled. It could be tested, or used on the live market to send the orders directly by MetaTrader, if our broker allows this.
- Scripts: a set of automated steps which execute just once. We could, for example, use a script to adjust our stop loss and target, or to close our positions, just double clicking or dropping the script on the chart.
- Indicators: Are calculations that execute tick by tick, derive from the price, and are usually represented graphically, like moving averages, RSI, etc.
If you want to expand on this, you could take a look on some tutorials like the series of articles starting with http://articles.mql4.com/404, the CodersGuru tutorial that could be easily download from http://www.forexfactory.com/showthread.php?t=6011 , and the official MQL4 book on http://book.mql4.com/intro . As I said before about the research of the best software, just be sure you don't get lost learning to program when you should be understanding how the price moves.
HOW TO ADD A NEW INDICATOR
Soon you'll find some thread where a poster shares an indicator for MetaTrader. What are the steps to add it? It's very easy. Simply you have to copy the indicator into the experts>indicators folder inside your MT4 program's file folder, and then restart MetaTrader.
Then, for adding this indicator to the chart we double click the desired custom indicator in the Navigator window, or through the menu option Insert>Indicators>Custom.
I want to show it on a more detailed way through an example. Imagine that you are reading the Support and resistance zigzag setups with Emene, and you want to install the zigzag indicator that Emene shares on the first post.
Once downloaded and unzipped, you'll have the ZigZagTF.mq4 file.
Now you have to copy this indicator to the metatrader experts/indicators folder. Do you remember I told you to keep in mind where your metatrader installation folder was. This is the reason. If you downloaded MT directly from the MetaQuotes page, then most probably the route is this one on windows: C:\Program Files\MetaTrader 4\experts/indicators, but if you download it from your broker, it should be something like C:\Program Files\name of your broker - MetaTrader\experts\indicators. In the next screenshot you could see that on the C:\Program Files folder, highlighted on blue, we have two different installations of MetaTrader, the MetaQuotes one called just MetaTrader 4 (on pink), and the Oanda one, called OANDA - MetaTrader (on green). Inside the MetaTrader 4 folder we could see on the tree view of the left the experts>indicators folder, highlighted also on pink. There is where we have to copy the ZigZagTF.mq4 indicator.
If you take a look in the indicators folder you'll see there are .mq4 and .ex4 files. The .mq4 files are the source code of the indicators or Expert Advisors, while the .ex4 are the compiled .mq4 files. This means that the .mq4 files are readable and can be modified by humans, but need to be translated into the software language to be readeable by MetaTrader, and this translation is what means "to be compiled".
Now that we have the .mq4 file in its indicator folder, we restart MetaTrader, and it will compile automatically our .mq4 file creating the .ex4 on the same folder, so MT can use it.
Already done. Now we just have to add it to our chart through one of the two ways of doing this, Insert>indicators>Custom>ZigZagTF or through the Navigator Window selecting Custom indicators>ZigZagTF.
And here we have the results:
I'm a big fan of shortcuts. Shortcuts could speed and sensibly facilitate the work, so when I learn a program, I try to give preference the shortcuts over the mouse functions.
Usually a good way to learn the shortcuts is to check what they are when we call some function on the options menu. For example, as we could see on the next chart, if we want to change between candlesticks and line chart, we see next to their option that its shortcuts are Alt+2 and Alt+3, so instead of losing time having to go everytime to options or to the icon in the toolbar, simply pressing Alt+2 and Alt+3 we alternate at the speed of light between candle and line charts.
The next is a list of some of the shortcuts I think could be most useful:
F1 = User Guide
Shift+F12/F12 = Move the chart one bar back/forward
Up or left arrow / Down or right arrow = Move the chart four bars back/forward
PageUp/PageDown = Move the chart one screen back/forward
Home/End = move to the start/end of the chart history
+/- = chart zoom in/out
Ctrl+F6 = Focus on the next window
F11 = Charts full screen mode
Alt + 1/2/3 = Change between bar, candle or line chart.
Ctrl+y = show/hide period separators
Backspace = Delete the latest draw
Ctrl+z = undo last object deletion
Ctrl/Shift+F5 = Change to the next/previous profile
Enter + instrument = opens on the current chart that instrument. This is a fancy feature. For example, you're on EURUSD, then press enter, then write USDCAD, and it changes to USDCAD. It's possible to change also the timeframe or the time or date.
Ctrl+n = Show/hide the navigator window
Ctrl+t = Show/hide the "Terminal" window
F8 = Properties window
F9 = New order window
Inside the User Guide (F1), on the User Interface>Fast Navigation section, you could find the complete shortcuts list.
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