Command Prompt Overview

8 minute read


The Windows Command Prompt is started by clicking on Start (bottom left button on the screen) – Search “cmd” or Run – cmd (much faster but may not give you admin privileges). For many commands, you have to “Run As” Administrator even if you are logged in as an administrator, just Search – type: cmd – once it comes up – right click and “Run As Administrator”. In general, the command prompt is used to run “behind the scenes” administrative tasks much faster and more efficiently than clicking on a series of windows. If IT is the career for you, you will quickly learn the basics or more advanced areas of the Windows Command Prompt.

  1. Use Ctrl-C to Abort a Command

  2. View a Command’s Results One Page (or Line) at a Time- Just press the space bar to advance by page or press the Enter key to advance one line at a time.

  3. Run Command Prompt as an Administrator Automatically- To complete this Command Prompt trick, just create a Command Prompt shortcut on the desktop, enter the shortcut’s properties and then select the Run as administrator box located in the Advanced button on the Shortcut tab.

  4. Become a Command Prompt Power User with Function Keys
    • F1: Pastes the last executed command (character by character)
    • F2: Pastes the last executed command (up to the entered character)
    • F3: Pastes the last executed command
    • F4: Deletes current prompt text up to the entered character
    • F5: Pastes recently executed commands (does not cycle)
    • F6: Pastes ^Z to the prompt
    • F7: Displays a selectable list of previously executed commands
    • F8: Pastes recently executed commands (cycles)
    • F9: Asks for the number of the command from the F7 list to paste
  5. Hack the Prompt Text- Instead of C:>, you can set the prompt to any text you want, have it include the time, the current drive, the Windows version number, you name it. One useful example is prompt $m$p$g which will show the full path of a mapped drive in the prompt, alongside the drive letter. You can always execute prompt alone, without options, to return it to its sometimes boring default.

  6. Get Help for Any Command- Believe it or not, the help command does not provide help for every Command Prompt command. However, any command can be suffixed with the /? option, usually called the help switch, to display detailed information about the command’s syntax and often times even some examples.

  7. Save a Command’s Output to a File- An incredibly useful Command Prompt trick is the use of redirection operators, specifically the > and » operators. For example, let’s say you’re about to post a computer problem to an online forum and you want to provide really accurate information about your computer. An easy way to do that would be to use the systeminfo command with a redirection operator. You might execute systeminfo > c:\mycomputerinfo.txt to save the information provided by the systeminfo command to a file. You could then attach the file to your forum post.

  8. View Your Hard Drive’s Entire Directory Structure- Execute tree from any directory to see the folder structure under that directory. Tip: With so much information, it’s probably a good idea to export the results of the tree command to a file. For example, tree /a > c:\treeresults.txt.

  9. Customize the Command Prompt Title Bar Text- Execute “title WhateverText” and the Command Prompt’s title bar will change immediately. The change won’t stick, so the next time you open Command Prompt the title bar will be back to normal. The title command is usually used to help give a custom appearance in script files and batch files.

  10. Copy From the Command Prompt- Right-click anywhere in the Command Prompt window and choose Mark. Now, highlight with your left mouse button whatever you’d like to copy. Once your selection is made, press Enter. Now you can paste that information into whatever program you’d like.

  11. Open the Command Prompt From Any Location- If you’ve ever worked in the Command Prompt for very long, you know that it can be really frustrating executing the cd/chdir command over and over again to get to the right directory you want to work from. Luckily, there’s a super easy Command Prompt trick that will let you open a Command Prompt window from whatever folder you’re viewing in Windows. All you have to do is navigate, in Windows, to the folder you want to start working from in the Command Prompt. Once there, hold down your Shift key while you right-click anywhere in the folder. Once the menu pops up, you’ll notice an entry that’s not usually there: Open command window here.

  12. Drag and Drop For Easy Path Name Entry- Just navigate to the folder you want the path for in Windows Explorer. Once there, drag the folder or file to the Command Prompt window and let go. Like magic, the full path is inserted, saving you a considerable amount of typing depending on the length and complexity of the path name. Note: Unfortunately, the drag and drop feature does not work in an elevated Command Prompt.

  13. Shut Down or Restart Another Computer- The easiest way to shut down a computer remotely is to execute shutdown /i from the Command Prompt. Just enter the name of the remote computer (which you can get by running the hostname command on the other PC), choose what you want to do (restart or shutdown), select some other options and then click OK. You can also shut down or restart another computer strictly from the Command Prompt with the shutdown command, without using the Remote Shutdown Dialog.

  14. Use Robocopy as a Backup Solution- Just execute robocopy c:\users\tim\documents f:\backup\documents /copyall /e /r:0 /dcopy:t /mir, obviously replacing the source and destination folders with whatever you’d like to backup and where. The robocopy command with these options functions identically to an incremental backup software tool, keeping both locations in sync. You don’t have the robocopy command if you’re using Windows XP or earlier. However, you do have the xcopy command, which can be used to do something very similar: xcopy c:\users\tim\documents f:\backup\documents /c /d /e /h /i /k /q /r /s /x /y. No matter which command you choose to use, just create a script file containing the command and schedule it to run in Task Scheduler and you’ll have your own custom made backup solution.

  15. View Your Computer’s Important Network Information- ipconfig /all

  16. Map a Local Folder Just Like a Network Drive- The net use command is used to assign shared drives on a network to your own computer as a drive letter, but did you know there’s another command that can be used to do the same thing to any folder on any of your local hard drives? There is and it’s called the subst command. Just execute the subst command, followed by the path of the folder you wish to appear as a drive. For example, let’s say you want your C:\Windows\Fonts folder to appear as the Q: drive. Just execute subst q: c:\windows\fonts and you’re set!

  17. Access Previously Used Command with the Arrow Keys- Another great Command Prompt trick has to be the use of the keyboard arrow keys to cycle through previously executed commands. The up and down arrow keys cycle through the commands you’ve entered and the right arrow automatically enters, character by character, the last command you executed.

  18. Automatically Complete Commands with Tab Completion- To use tab completion in the Command Prompt, just enter the command and then the portion of the path that you do know, if at all. Then press the tab key over and over to cycle through all of the available possibilities. For example, let’s say you want to change directories to some folder in the Windows directory but you’re not sure what it’s named. Type cd c:\windows\ and then press tab until you see the folder you’re looking for. The results cycle or you can use Shift+Tab to step through the results in reverse.

  19. Find a Website’s IP Address- Let’s use the nslookup command to find the IP address of Just execute nslookup and view the result. Make sure you don’t confuse any private IP addresses that also show up in the nslookup results alongside’s public IP address. Another way to find a site’s IP address is to use the ping command. Execute ping and then look at the IP address between the brackets in the results shown.

  20. Copy & Paste Easier with QuickEdit Mode- Just right-click on the Command Prompt title bar and select Properties. On the Options tab, in the Edit Options section, check the QuickEdit Mode box and then click OK. Enabling QuickEdit Mode is like having Mark enabled all the time so selecting text to copy is really easy. But it also enables an easy way to paste into the Command Prompt: just right click once and whatever is in the clipboard is pasted in the Command Prompt window. Normally, pasting involves right-clicking and selecting Paste.

  21. Watch Star Wars Episode IV- Yes, you read that correctly, you can watch an ASCII version of the full Star Wars Episode IV movie right in the Command Prompt window! Just open Command Prompt and execute telnet The movie will start immediately. This isn’t a terribly productive use of the Command Prompt, nor is it really a trick of the Command Prompt or any command, but it sure is fun! Note: The telnet command is not enabled by default in Windows 7 or Windows Vista but can be turned on by enabling Telnet Client from Windows Features in the Programs and Features applet in Control Panel. If you’d rather not enable Telnet but would like to see the movie, you can also watch it in your browser here.

Commonly Used CMD Commands:

Description command
Checks A File System and fixes errors chkdsk /x
Defrags the system C Drive defrag.exe c:
Configure IP ipconfig
Displays domain/ username whoami
Name Of Computer hostname
Ping with TraceRoute pathping
System File Checker sfc /scannow
Test A Network Connection ping
Test A Network Connection ping
Traces A Route tracert
Find out the last time the server was rebooted systeminfo| Find "Time"
Constant ping to an address ping -t
Use to get serial number to Dell WMIC BIOS GET SERIALNUMBER
IP Configuration – Show more info ipconfig /all
Releases a current IP ipconfig /release
Renews an IP address if on DHCP ipconfig /renew

For more info on these commands and what they do, go here.