The 8 Useful DOS Commands That You Should Memorize

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dosprompt   The 8 Useful DOS Commands That You Should MemorizeI realize that providing a lesson on DOS commands to MUO readers is sort of like offering to teach a group of martial arts experts how to throw a punch. The thing is, there are quite a few people out there that don’t realize how easy it is to troubleshoot and fix certain computer issues using a few simple key entries. I’m not about to argue that DOS isn’t outdated. However, Windows 7 still features a command prompt window.

We’ve covered a number of current uses for DOS, such as  playing DOS games. I also provided some Windows Scripting tips, which is the next generation replacing DOS commands. With that said, there’s still a place for DOS commands. So, for those of you that like the idea of typing in a few commands to avoid the hassle of several mouse clicks, I’m going to review eight of what I consider to be the most essential and helpful DOS commands that are still available in Windows 7.

The DOS Prompt Window Is Not Missing!

If you are one of those folks that became convinced the DOS prompt was officially wiped out with Windows 7, all you have to do is click on the Start menu, and in the “Search programs and files” field, just type “cmd” and press enter. Voila – there’s your DOS window.

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Assoc: Associated Extension

Not sure what default program you have set up to handle ZIP, MP3 or HTML files? A quick and easy way to check for your default file associations is the “assoc” command. Just open a command prompt and type “assoc” followed by the file extension.

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The response is the installed application that is currently configured to handle that file type. As you can see above, WinRAR is my ZIP file handler, MS Word handles doc files, and Chrome is set up as the default for HTML files.

Tree: View Directory Structure

If you’ve created a virtual spiderweb of files and directories on your computer, it can get pretty confusing to remember where everything is. Sometimes it would be nice to have a diagram showing directories and sub-directories. Using the Tree command, you can do just that.

First, navigate to the directory you want to get the file structure of, and then type “tree > myfile.txt“. The text file can be called anything you like.

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The command writes the entire directory structure, completed with all folders, into the text file, which you can print out for easy viewing.

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The formatting may look a little bit funky, but if you look closely you’ll see that the directories are all there, they just might be prefaced with some weird symbols.

File Search & Comparison

If you ever have two text files – particularly two very large text files – the file compare (fc) command is all you need to identify and synchronize file differences.

The usage is about as easy as it can get. Just type “fc” followed by the names of the two files.

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The system will respond by showing the lines from both files where there are differences.  This command can become pretty handy when you’re collaborating with people and trying to sync up differences between files that several people are working on.

If you only need to find a file on your system, and you know the name of the file, the “find” command is far faster than any point and click operation you can do. Just do a “dir” command to the directory you want to search, and then “|” followed by the name of the file.

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The system will respond with the directory where the file is stored.

Network Commands

I really don’t think there are easier ways available to do network troubleshooting than the sort of tools you get in DOS commands. For example, if you want to know your basic network setup, just do a quick “ipconfig” and you will get details like your computer IP and the default gateway (which is typically your home router IP address).

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If you’re not sure you have a good network connection, try doing a “ping” to a known IP address or a website. You’ll see it echo back with an IP address if the link is good. If you want to see all network connections currently active from your PC, type “netstat“.

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This shows you all network connections from your PC. It may be a good idea to search through these carefully to make sure that there’s no surprises in the form of malware or a virus hijacking your bandwidth.

Windows Utilities

Finally, there are a multitude of DOS commands that are invaluable as system troubleshooting tools. For example, to view a list of active processes, just open up a command prompt and type “tasklist“.

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If you see any process you want to kill, just type “taskkill” follwoed by the image name.

Nervous about whether a particular system file became corrupted after a recent virus infection? Just type “sfc /VERIFYFILE=” followed by the full path of the file.

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Windows will check to be sure it is the original. You can also scan all system files like this at once by typing “sfc /scannow

Finally, probably one of the most useful DOS commands available – the AT command. With “AT”, you have the ability to schedule tasks to run on a regular routine, all from a simple command prompt.

at command   The 8 Useful DOS Commands That You Should Memorize

Setting up the AT commands can be a little tricky, so type “at help” if you need parameter help. In the command above I set up the computer to automatically archive all files in the temp directory to the archive folder. You could do similar jobs to routinely back up important files on your computer to a mapped external drive.

As you can see, there’s still plenty that you can do with the command prompt. Having these resources at your fingertips can really make it a lot easier to troubleshoot, maintain and repair computer systems.

Were any of these commands new to you? Do you know of any other useful DOS tips? Share your insights in the comments section below.

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26 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Dana Fellows

Dos is dead. The Command Line Interface is not the exact same as DOS. You don’t bring up a DOS window but rather a Command Line Interface.

Agreton

Considering that some people in the world are not technologically savvy, as well as the fact that this site “MakeUseOf” is here to help people, arguing semantics is pointless. Especially if you consider that an older generation than yours might have only knowledge of Dos, and after version x upgrade never bothered to use a command prompt after say windows 95, or windows xp.

Aside from that, to many commands are similar in the command line interface to old dos commands for it not to be known as dos. It is what it is, but it’s called both. Compare it to old Mac computers where you had to type “cat” in the command line to bring up a directory listing. the ‘dir’ command uses almost exactly all of the same functionality as the old dos command had.

Again, why argue semantics? This article servers a purpose.

Marcleon

We, the basic windows users call it the Dos prompt because some time, somebody ( (Microsoft) called it that way. It’s a command console but you shouldn’t use those words because otherwise people will know you have a unix like system alongside your windows.

Reply

Jim

Thanks. If you don’t learn something new everyday…You’re going backwards. As a System Admin, I still use the “DOS commands/CLI”. Sometimes nothing else works without a hassle.

Reply

Marty Monster

I find myself always using the file redirect ‘>’.

And still use the FOR IN DO command about once per month.

Many things DOS can do Windows still cant do……

Reply

Paul G

I miss deltree since installing Win 7 64 :-(

Reply

Nickinzim

One of the one’s surprisingly not in the list (even though you mention it) is the humble and ever useful “Ping” command, which I use this on a regular basis, and sometimes to go with it “arp -a” to find MAC addresses easily if I need to add to a MAC filter.

Guest

they mentioned ping… “f you’re not sure you have a good network connection, try doing a “ping” to a known IP address or a website.”

Reply

Erik Eckhardt

You can even do things like compare lists of files to find which ones match with interesting things like this:

for %e in (filespec.*) do if exist otherdirectory%e move %e match

A very similar technique can copy all missing windows fonts to your own computer from another computer. Doing this through the GUI would be a nasty, laborious, painful process.

c:
cd windowsfonts
for %E in (\othercomputerc$windowsfonts*.*) do if not exist “%~nxE” copy “%E” .

Reply

vjmaliyil

Not always will you come across an article which you can actually use. This is one such article which you can use in your daily life. Awesome commands. And I thought I knew DOS :). I have a few Ideas where I can use the AT command. I can use FC for my daily work. Great share. I have been following makeuseof.com for an year now. And I wanted to leave a comment for the awesome info.

Reply

vjmaliyil

Not always will you come across an article which you can actually use. This is one such article which you can use in your daily life. Awesome commands. And I thought I knew DOS :). I have a few Ideas where I can use the AT command. I can use FC for my daily work. Great share. I have been following makeuseof.com for an year now. And I wanted to leave a comment for the awesome info.

Reply

Lee

Wouldn’t “dir c: /s/b screenkill.wsf” will give you the same results without using the |FIND command?

Reply

Mukul Gupta

attrib as well ;)

syntax attrib [+R | -R] [+A | -A] [+S | -S] [+H | -H] path/filename.extension [/S]

well everything can be done using GUI now a days … but still a useful trick if ur GUI gets infected by some trojan or something and u cant see hidden files .. etc

Reply

Happyday628

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Reply

Mike Edgerton

I don’t have a W7 machine in front of me right now to test but I’m willing to bet that a DIR /S >myfile.txt will give you a real picture of the directory structure as opposed to the convoluted results of that Tree command. Another thing to remember is that batch files are your friends.

Reply

Matijag

If you use tree /a > tree.txt, you won’t get “funky formatting” necause you’ll use ASCII. Check tree /? for more help.

Reply

Scutterman

I used to use the AT command to run Solitaire when logged in without permission to run it (AT would run the process as system rather than user).

I use tracert whenever ping succeeds but internet is not working, to narrow down the problem, and I also use commands like “sc stop wuauserv” to prevent windows update asking me to restart every fifteen minutes (or 4 hours with W7) (source http://uk.lifehacker.com/289998/disable-windows-update-restart-nag)

Reply

Scutterman

I used to use the AT command to run Solitaire when logged in without permission to run it (AT would run the process as system rather than user).

I use tracert whenever ping succeeds but internet is not working, to narrow down the problem, and I also use commands like “sc stop wuauserv” to prevent windows update asking me to restart every fifteen minutes (or 4 hours with W7) (source http://uk.lifehacker.com/28999

Reply

Andrei

I use xcopy for large batches of files that do not have any continuity. Saves lots of work

Reply

Jone

Very interesting, here is a software
that Send email from a DOS batch script.http://www.soft85.com/get/Prog

Reply

Dhawal D

wow, Amazing~ i didn’t know some of them, probably ‘copy con’ command can be added to the list, some useful batch operations can be carried out.

Reply

Daniel Strom

IIRC, you don’t need to pipe dir output through find to find a file. You can just ‘dir /s /b filename.ext’. Unless I’m mistaken, this worked in DOS, and I don’t know why they would have changed it (I now use a tool called everything from voidtools.com, so I haven’t needed to search from cli in a while).

Reply

Daniel Strom

IIRC, you don’t need to pipe dir output through find to find a file. You can just ‘dir /s /b filename.ext’. Unless I’m mistaken, this worked in DOS, and I don’t know why they would have changed it (I now use a tool called everything from voidtools.com, so I haven’t needed to search from cli in a while).

Reply

Farrukh

With Tree command, you can use /A to get some better format to save in .txt files.

To get a list of available DOS commands, type

“Help | More

and press enter

To get a quick help for any command, type:

command /?

and press enter.

e.g. to get help about If command, type “if /?” and press enter

Anonymous

Thanks Furrukh – yes, Tree is a great command to get a graphical display of the directory structure, great one!

Reply

Michael Leger

net statistics server

shows you when the system came online last, great for those mystery problems “did the server restart last night”

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