The Windows Command Prompt tool, and many of its commands, might seem boring or even relatively useless at first glance, but as anyone who has ever used the Command Prompt very often can tell you, there's much to love!
Below are several Command Prompt tricks and other Command Prompt hacks that I guarantee will get you excited about many of the mundane sounding Command Prompt commands like telnet, tree, or robocopy... okay, robocopy sounds pretty cool.
Some of these Command Prompt tricks and hacks are special features or uses of the Command Prompt itself, while others are just neat or relatively unknown things you can do with certain commands. Enjoy!
1. Use Ctrl-C to Abort a Command
Just about any command can be stopped in its tracks with the abort command: Ctrl-C.
If you haven't actually executed a command, you can just backspace and erase what you've typed, but if you've already executed it then you can do a Ctrl-C to stop it.
Warning: Ctrl-C isn't a magic wand and it can't undo things that aren't undoable, like a partially complete format command. However, for things like the dir command that seem to go on forever or questions you're asked at the prompt that you don't know the answer to, the abort command is an excellent Command Prompt trick to know.
2. View a Command's Results One Page (or Line) at a Time
Ever run a command, like the dir command, that produces so much information on the screen that it's almost useless? You're not alone.
One way around this is to execute the command in a special way so whatever information is generated is shown to you one page, or one line, at a time.
To do this, just type the command, the dir command for example, and then follow it with the pipe redirection operator and then the more command.
For example, executing dir /s | more will generate the thousands of lines of results that you expect from the dir command, but the more command will pause each page of results with -- More -- at the bottom of the page, indicating that the command is not done running.
Just press the space bar to advance by page or press the Enter key to advance one line at a time.
See Command Prompt Trick #7 below for a different solution to this problem.
3. Run Command Prompt as an Administrator Automatically
Many commands require that you execute them from an elevated Command Prompt in Windows - in other words, execute them from a Command Prompt that's run as an administrator.
You can always right-click on any Command Prompt shortcut and choose Run as administrator but creating a shortcut to do the same thing can be a huge time saver if you're a frequent Command Prompt power user.
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
The fact that the function keys actually do something in the Command Prompt is maybe one of the best kept secrets about the tool:
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
Command Prompt Trick #17 is full of arrow key shortcuts, a few of which are similar to these function key tricks.
5. Hack the Prompt Text
Did you know that the prompt itself in the Command Prompt is completely customizable thanks to the prompt command? It is, and when I say customizable, I mean really customizable.
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.
I doubt that the help switch is the coolest Command Prompt trick you've ever heard of, but it's hard to disagree that it's one of the more useful.
Unfortunately, neither the help command nor the help switch offer much in the way of explaining how to interpret the syntax. See How To Read Command Syntax if you need help with that.
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.
These little characters let you redirect the output of a command to a file, giving you a saved version of whatever data the command produced in the Command Prompt window.
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.
For example, 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.
See How To Redirect Command Output to a File for more examples and a better explanation of how to use redirection operators.
8. View Your Hard Drive's Entire Directory Structure
I think one of the neatest little commands is the tree command. With tree, you can create a kind of map of your computer's directories.
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, just as explained in Command Prompt Trick #7.
9. Customize the Command Prompt Title Bar Text
Tired of that Command Prompt title bar text? No problem, just use the title command to change it to whatever you like.
For example, let's say your name is Maria Smith, and you want to express your ownership of the Command Prompt: execute title Property of Maria Smith 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... not that I'm saying titling it with your name isn't a good idea!
10. Copy From the Command Prompt
As you may or may not know, copying from the Command Prompt is not as easy as copying from other programs, which is part of the reason why saving a command's output to a file, Command Prompt Trick #7, is so handy.
But what if you do just want to copy a short section of text to the clipboard? It's not too hard but it's not very intuitive either.
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.