Having personally used MetaTrader platforms from several dozen brokers for more than a decade, in this guide I will outline some of the reasons why new and existing traders continue to use this online trading software. This guide starts with basics that will help beginners and then progresses to more advanced topics, such as social copy-trading and using automated trading systems.
Founded in 2000, MetaQuotes Software Corporation – the developer of MetaTrader4 (MT4) and MetaTrader5 (MT5) software – was an early pioneer in developing forex trading and charting platforms. The Metatrader suite – which is licensed by brokers and offered to traders – continues to be one of the most widely used trading platforms in the retail foreign exchange (Forex) and CFD markets globally.
Today, MT4 and MT5 have extensive documentation, codebase, and articles supported by the developer and its global community of users, making it an ideal solution for retail and professional traders to find the resources they need to create algorithmic trading systems or carry out manual trading and even social copy-trading.
A key catalyst was the developer created the MetaQuotes Language (MQL) syntax to allow programmers to create automated scripts and trading systems.
The proprietary MQL language – both MQL4 and MQL5 – enabled the growth of a secondary marketplace supported by programmers who created custom scripts, including utilities, libraries, indicators, and automated trading strategies known as Expert Advisors (EAs). This ecosystem continues to evolve.
After launching its MetaTrader brand in 2002 as its third-generation software, MT4 was subsequently launched in 2005, and by 2010 the company followed with the launch of MT5 to expand into additional asset classes, including securities and futures markets.
By this time, the marketplace for EAs and custom indicators was becoming saturated, and traders could buy or obtain plugins for free, or even hire developers to code their Experts on the freelance section of the MQL5 Community marketplace or outside of it.
This led to the rise of more MetaTrader brokers, as companies competed for existing market share and new market entrants.
Today the MT4 and MT5 platforms are available across hundreds of online forex brokers, with the native version of the desktop platforms available for Windows operating system (OS) and a Mobile app for Android and Apple iOS devices available by default.
Here is a list of the forex brokers we have reviewed so far that offer one or more MetaTrader platforms:
- Admiral Markets – 3.5 Stars Overall
- ADS Securities – 4 Stars Overall
- Alpari – 4 Stars Overall
- AvaTrade – 3.5 Stars Overall
- AxiTrader – 3.5 Stars Overall
- City Index – 4 Stars Overall
- Darwinex – 3.5 Stars Overall
- Dukascopy – 4 Stars Overall
- easyMarkets – 4.0 Stars Overall
- ETX Capital – 3.5 Stars Overall
- Forex Club – 3.5 Stars Overall
- ForexTime – 3.5 Stars Overall
- Forex.com – 4 Stars Overall
- FXCM – 4 Stars Overall
- FXDD – 3.5 Stars Overall
- FXOpen – 3 Stars Overall
- FxPro – 4 Stars Overall
- IC Markets – 4.0 Stars Overall
- IG – 4.5 Stars Overall
- KVB Kunlun – 3.0 Stars Overall
- LCG – 4.0 Stars Overall
- Markets.com – 3.5 Stars Overall
- OANDA.com – 3.5 Stars Overall
- Pepperstone – 3.5 Stars Overall
- Swissquote – 4 Stars Overall
- TickMill – 3.5 Stars Overall
- ThinkMarkets – 3.5 Stars Overall
- VantageFX – 3.0 Stars Overall
- XTB – 4 Stars Overall
- XM – 3.5 Stars Overall
A web-based version of both platforms with MT5 Webtrader was launched recently, although the web-based versions are not offered by all brokers and do not support automated trading as the desktop versions do.
MT4 / MT5 – Charting and Tools
Starting with the desktop version of MetaTrader (MT4 or MT5), beyond an easy-to-navigate layout (with everything housed under seven categories from the upper toolbar), the scope of charting tools and number of available indicators by default give traders a good starting point for performing basic technical analysis.
In terms of the layout and charting, customizable chart templates can control how default charts appear; meanwhile traders can save all their charts into a profile so the entire workspace is backed up, including all trend lines and chart configurations. All such custom and default settings, including scripts, experts, and indicators, are stored in designated folders within the main data folder under “File>Open Data Folder.”
This structure of storing settings within specific files makes it easy for users to back up or transfer their settings to other devices or users, and it is what helps make the platform so versatile, as these settings are exportable.
Those seeking more advanced indicators and analysis tools (and even automated trading strategies) can buy or rent them directly from the MQL5 marketplace from within the platform under the options menu under “Tools>Options” or CTRL+S. In terms of fundamental news, the available news streams vary, depending on the broker and any related news providers the broker uses to deliver headlines within the platform.
Signals Market and Social Copy Trading on MT4
The signals market available on the MQL5 Community lets users copy the live trades of approved signal providers in what can be described as social copy trading, which is available for a subscription fee charged by each signal provider.
From within the platform, users can also sync their account with their MQL5 Community user ID to enable the signals market for social trading and in the mobile app to receive push notifications of their trading activity.
Automated Trading via Experts (EAs)
Expert Advisors (EAs) are used in the MT4 (and MT5) platform to run automated trading systems. An EA will either be a copy or the original .MQ4 file that contains the source code, which can be modified, or it will be an .EX4 (executable) file of the same code, which cannot be tampered with and is often chosen by those who want to distribute their strategies without revealing their source code.
Most EAs have a range of customizable parameters that let users specify the position size and risk/reward-related attributes, among other elements, that may be configured before automated trading is enabled.
Back-testing and optimizing EAs
The MetaTrader platforms also let users test how an EA would have performed over historical data, using a process known as back testing in the Strategy Tester section. This is useful when users want to check out how an EA would have performed over a given period and for a given instrument.
When an EA is built and then tested on historical data for the first time, this is known as testing on out-of-sample data, which means the EA has never used these historical prices (in which case the result will not have the benefit of hindsight).
On the other hand, some developers may optimize their strategies over a historical data set (i.e., run it multiple times over the past three months of EUR/USD tick data) on purpose – which can lead to curve-fitted results. While there can be some benefits to optimizing a strategy over historical data, results of a curve-fitted strategy can be misleading as only the best trades are cherry-picked, and the results of forward-testing the same strategy can be significantly different. Therefore, forward testing a strategy can be even more important than back testing it, before the value of results can be assessed.
Using VPNs and the cloud for automated trading
Another important distinction is that back-testing occurs locally on MT4 and requires users to have the platform running either on their local machines or using a dedicated Virtual Private Network (VPN).
The same applies to trading with EAs; the platform must be open and running as the EA runs locally, which is why many traders use VPNs to host their EAs so the strategies can run continually without interruption on remote servers.
Pros and Cons of using Expert Advisors
Just like manual trading, any automated strategy is only as good as the results it can achieve on a risk-adjusted basis over time, and just as there are some good EAs available, there are also some bad ones circulating on the internet. Therefore, while there can be pros to using EAs to automate trading, traders must be aware of the pitfalls and know how to vet an EA before using one to manage their investment capital.
Here are five tips to select a good expert advisor:
- Understand the trading methodology (strategy) the expert advisor follows.
- Consider its availability, cost, and historical performance for other traders (if any).
- Back-test it across multiple instruments/timeframes, if possible, or examine its historical performance (if available).
- Analyze the results of multiple back tests to see if they meet your expectations.
- Forward-test the strategy with a small test amount before getting serious.
MT5 – MetaQuotes’ latest generation platform
While MetaQuotes continues to update the MT4 platform to cater to the significant user base that still runs its prior generation platform for Forex and CFD trading, the developer has pushed many of its most innovative features into its latest generation MT5 platform. In addition to CFDs and Forex trading, MT5 can support Stocks and Futures, making it more of a multi-asset platform than its predecessor MT4, in addition to supporting more complex trading strategies.
A significant difference between MT4 and MT5 is in the syntax of how EAs are coded, where the MT4 EAs (based on MQL4) are not cross compatible with MT5 (based on MQL5). Even though many third-party programs offer to convert MT4 EAs to run on MT5, this difference in coding keeps both platforms isolated from each other on purpose.
However, from build 600 onwards, MetaQuotes created a unified MetaEditor development environment and revised the MQL4 programming language to more closely match features available within MQL5 syntax. This unified compiler supports both languages, helping to aid the transition of many old trading robots to be compatible with the latest build or for use on MT5.
Overall, MT5 has a more modern look and feel in terms of visual layout and navigation, while much of the platform design still looks like MT4 in terms of the layout. Another key difference is the use of the MT5 cloud network, where users carry out back testing through the developers’ own VPN available within the platform as virtual hosting. Otherwise, with the signals markets available for social copy trading, both platforms provide traders with plenty of options, yet MT4 is more widely available than MT5 at online forex brokers.
While determining whether to use MT4 and/or MT5, traders should consider the range of markets available from their broker on each platform as this may vary. Other points to consider are any related tools that may be used, including custom indicators, scripts, libraries, or EAs, as these may not be cross-compatible, although an increasing number of developers are able to create dedicated versions for each platform.
All in all, after 17 years of development, MetaQuotes has proved to be a leader in developing forex and multi-asset trading platforms for online forex brokers and retail traders globally, with MT4 and MT5 providing nearly all user types with the necessary tools to trade and backed by its user-supported community and market place.
To sign up for a live forex account or demo trading account with a MetaTrader broker that offers MT4 or MT5, see our list of reviewed brokers for further guides and resources to choose a broker that best suits your overall trading needs.