When choosing a trading platform there are lots of options, each offering their own tools and features that will appeal to various types of traders. The following MetaTrader 4 (MT4) guide will help you decide if MetaTrader is the right trading platform for you. It may also provide you with additional information you may not have been aware of if you are already using MT.
MetaTrader 4 is one of the most popular forex trading platforms in the world, and is offered to clients for free by most retail forex brokers. MetaTrader 5 has been available since 2010 but hasn’t gained the traction that MetaTrader 4 has. Version 4 is for forex and CFD trading, while Version 5 allows for forex, equities, CFD, and futures trading. Since many of the features are the same, beyond which markets can be traded, this guide will focus on MT4, as much of the information is applicable to MT5 as well.
Be sure to read Forex Trading 101
MT4 isn’t a broker; it is a trader platform licensed to brokers for their clients to use. Therefore, your commission cost, or the spread mark-up on a forex pair, is determined by your broker and not MT4.
MT4 provides real-time forex streamed directly from your broker. The platform is free to download, although you will need to have a demo or live trading account set up with a broker that offers MetaTrader. Once this account is set up, and the broker has emailed you your account details, you can install MetaTrader and input your account details in the login box to access live quotes, set up chart configurations, and trade.
All images were captured on the MetaTrader4 platform.
Tools and Features
There are several key tools you’ll want to familiarize yourself with in MT4.
The Market Watch window contains all assets you are interested in monitoring.
You can close this window at any time by clicking the “x” in the upper right corner. Get it back by going to the View menu and selecting Market Watch (ctrl + m).
If you no longer want an asset listed in your Market Watch window, right-click on the asset and select “Hide.” To add other assets, right-click anywhere in the Market Watch window and select “Symbols”. This will open a new pop-up window. Click on an asset you want to see and click “Show.”
The Navigator window provides information about your account information as well as some shortcuts you can use on your charts (discussed later).
Drag an indicator, expert advisor or custom indicator from the Navigator window onto a chart to activate it. If you close the window, you can open it again via the View menu > Navigator (ctrl + n).
The Terminal is the hub for your trading activity. It will usually always stay open, but if you accidentally close it, get it back via the View menu > Terminal (ctrl + t).
The Terminal has several different tabs along the bottom of it:
- “Trade” shows your current balance and all outstanding trades and orders.
- “Account History” shows past trades and deposits/withdrawals for a time period of your choosing (right-click to alter the amount of history shown).
- “News” shows market news events.
- “Alerts” shows outstanding trade alerts. Right click to create an alert, for example if you want to be notified when a forex pair reaches a certain price.
- “Mailbox” shows emails from your broker directly to you.
- “Company” gives you information about your broker.
- “Market” shows indicators or trading programs that other people have created which can be used on MT. They may be free or cost money.
- “Signals” shows accounts which are currently offering a trade signal service, along with statistics related to that service. The signals may be free or cost money.
- “Code Base” is where you can discuss and share codes you are working on for building indicators and trading programs within MT (this will be discussed further in the Advanced Features section of the article).
- “Experts” shows the history for all custom indicator or trading programs (called “expert advisors”) you have utilized on the account.
- “Journal” shows all the tasks MT has run since you launched the platform.
Charts, Charts, Charts
Charting is straightforward and doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles. To open a chart right click on an asset in your Market Watch window and click “Chart Window.” This will produce a new chart.
Be sure to also check out How to Read Stock Charts: 10 Things Every Trader Should Know
Choose from bar, candlestick or line charts via the Charts menu. The Chart menu also allows you to change the time frame of the chart, from 1 minute to monthly charts.
Use the Insert menu for adding drawing tools or indicators to your chart.
Drawing tools include trendlines, channels, Fibonacci retracements and expansions, arrows and text notes. Most popular indicators such as RSI, MACD, Stochastic and Average True Range—as well as many others—are included.
There are short-cuts for many functions on the toolbars, including switching time frames, chart type and adding drawing tools.
Assets cannot be compared on a single chart using the basic platform, although there are free downloadable add-ons that allow for this type of functionality. Using the basic platform you can compare assets by adjusting the size of the chart window to compare various assets side by side.
You can open multiple charts at one time, and tabs will be created for each along the bottom of your chart screen. Click on the tab to see the chart of that pair.
Set up these charts how you like them by right-clicking and selecting Properties. From there you can change the look and feel of the charts.
If you like how a chart is set up, you can save it by right-clicking on the chart, selecting Template and then Save Template. Then when you create a new chart you can simply load that template to save some time and recreate the look you like.
If you have multiple charts open and have arranged the whole platform in a way you like, save the whole layout by going to File, then Profiles and selecting Save As… Doing so will allow you to save multiple looks and load them instantly; for example, you may have a day trading layout and a swing trading layout that have different pairs and time frames saved.
Buying and Selling
There are a number of different ways to make trades. One of the easiest is to click the “New Order” button on the top tool bar. This will open a pop-up window where you can input your trade details.
Input the pair you want to trade, the quantity and whether the order is a market or limit order. If you are putting out a limit order (entry is different than current price) you can also apply a stop loss and profit target for the position, as well as an expiry time for the order.
You can also right click on a chart and select Buy Limit or Sell Limit. The same window pops up but some information will already be filled in. Input the exact criteria you and want, or double-check the information and click Place to make the order live. The order or trade will show up in your Trade (terminal) window.
If short-term trading appeals to you, with zero frills, right click on a chart and select “One Click Trading.” A small program will pop up in the upper left of the chart that shows the current bid and offer. Hitting Buy will put out an immediate market order at the current offer price. Hitting sell will put out an immediate market order at the current bid price. Be sure to set the quantity you want before making the trade.
With market orders there is no option for adding a stop or target before you place the trade. To put a stop or target on a position that you attained via market order, right click on the trade in your Trade window. Select Modify or Delete Order. This will open the same trade pop-up window shown prior, and you can input a stop and target.
Of the most advanced features of the program is that indicators and trading programs can be written for the program using MQL4. This is a MT-specific programming language that allows you to build and override all sorts of features on the basic platform.
In the Terminal window click on Code Base or Market to be redirected the MQL5 site where you can download other traders’ programs and indicators.
One example of an add-on available through a free download is a Level II screen. The Level II allows you place stops, targets and set order type quickly – whether it’s a market or limit order.
This functionality means you can change almost anything in the platform, or create a better way of doing things. If you create an indicator or trading program, you can also back test it from within MetaTrader. Go to View > Strategy Test (ctrl + r) to open up the strategy tester window. Pick the indicator or program you want to test, the asset you want to test it on and the time frame.
Very short-term day traders and scalpers may find the trading functionality a bit slow or cumbersome on the basic program. There are multiple steps that need to occur for a scalper to put out an order as well as place a stop and target. This problem has been fixed by add-ons, though. Through the market and code base, traders can download a Level II screen that allows for better trading functionality, such as being able to put a buy/sell order with a stop and target already attached to it, all with one click.
The indicators provided with MT are pretty generic and not extensive. Once again, however, this is addressed by add-ons. You can easily download almost any indicator you want, for free, from the MT marketplace.
This all comes with a learning curve. Basically everything on the platform can be customized or a tool can be produced that makes the platform behave in a certain way. This is a great advantage, but you’ll need to rely on the expertise of others to build these indicators and tools for you so you can download them. Learning the MT language takes time and practice.
Be sure to check out our Backtesting Tools and Tips
The Bottom Line
MetaTrader is a trading platform that will suit novice and experienced traders alike. The base model may need to be “souped up” with some add-ons from the market, but most of these can downloaded free of charge, making it a professional level platform. Almost everything on the platform can be altered or bypassed in some way, which means once you are used to the program you can customize it exactly how you want, or create tools that will make it behave how you want.
The charting and trading functionality is adequate in the base model and will provide most traders with what they need. Downloading additional indicators or trading tools from the Market Place can enrich the experience and make trading simpler. All of these customizations require a learning curve, which can potentially be frustrating. Overall, the platform remains popular because you don’t need to soup it up; most traders will find it serves their trading purposes just fine as is.
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