he command prompt is slowly disappearing from the Windows interface and for good reasons: CMD commands are an antiquated and mostly unnecessary tool from an era of text-based input. But many commands remain useful, and Windows 8 and 10 even added new features.
Here we present the essential commands every Windows user must know.
Not sure how to access the Windows command prompt, forgot basic Windows Run commands, or would like to know how to see a list of switches for each command (aka prompt codes)? Refer to our beginners guide to the Windows command line for instructions.
Windows Command Prompt Commands
If you haven't poked around inside Windows' command line, you're missing out. There are lots of handy tools you can use if you know the correct things to type.
Most files in Windows are associated with a specific program that is assigned to open the file by default. At times, remembering these associations can become confusing. You can remind yourself by entering the command assoc to display a full list of filename extensions and program associations.
You can also extend the command to change file associations. For example, assoc .txt= will change the file association for text files to whatever program you enter after the equal sign. The assoc command itself will reveal both the extension names and program names, which will help you properly use this command.
In Windows 10, you can view a more user-friendly interface that also lets you change file type associations on the spot. Head to Settings (Windows + I) > Apps > Default apps > Choose default app by file type.
Deleting files on a mechanical hard drive doesn't really delete them at all. Instead, it marks the files as no longer accessible and the space they took up as free. The files remain recoverable until the system overwrites them with new data, which can take some time.
The cipher command, however, lets you wipe a directory on an NTFS-formatted volume by writing random data to it. To wipe your C drive, for example, you'd use the cipher /w:d command, which will wipe free space on the drive. The command does not overwrite undeleted data, so you will not wipe out the files you need by running this command.
When you run the cipher command by itself, it returns the encryption state of the current directory and the files it contains. Use cipher /e:<filename> to encrypt a file, cipher /c:<filename> to retrieve information about encrypted files, and cipher /d:<filename> to decrypt the selected file. Most of these commands are redundant with the Windows encryption tool BitLocker.
3. File Compare
You can use this command to identify differences in text between two files. It's particularly useful for writers and programmers trying to find small changes between two versions of a file. Simply type fc and then the directory path and file name of the two files you want to compare.
You can also extend the command in several ways. Typing /b compares only binary output, /c disregards the case of text in the comparison, and /l only compares ASCII text.
So, for example, you could use the following:
fc /l "C:\Program Files (x86)\example1.doc" "C:\Program Files (x86)\example2.doc"
The above command compares ASCII text in two Word documents.
This command relays the IP address that your computer is currently using. However, if you're behind a router (like most computers today), you'll instead receive the local network address of the router.
Still, ipconfig is useful because of its extensions. ipconfig /release followed by ipconfig /renew can force your Windows PC into asking for a new IP address, which is useful if your computer claims one isn't available. You can also use ipconfig /flushdns to refresh your DNS address. These commands are great if the Windows network troubleshooter chokes, which does happen on occasion.
Entering the command netstat -an will provide you with a list of currently open ports and related IP addresses. This command will also tell you what state the port is in; listening, established, or closed.
This is a great command for when you're trying to troubleshoot devices connected to your PC or when you fear a Trojan infected your system and you're trying to locate a malicious connection.
Sometimes, you need to know whether or not packets are making it to a specific networked device. That's where ping comes in handy.
Typing ping followed by an IP address or web domain will send a series of test packets to the specified address. If they arrive and are returned, you know the device is capable of communicating with your PC; if it fails, you know that there's something blocking communication between the device and your computer. This can help you decide if the root of the issue is an improper configuration or a failure of network hardware.
This is a more advanced version of ping that's useful if there are multiple routers between your PC and the device you're testing. Like ping, you use this command by typing pathping followed by the IP address, but unlike ping, pathping also relays some information about the route the test packets take.
The tracert command is similar to pathping. Once again, type tracert followed by the IP address or domain you'd like to trace. You'll receive information about each step in the route between your PC and the target. Unlike pathping, however, tracert also tracks how much time (in milliseconds) each hop between servers or devices takes.
Powercfg is a very powerful command for managing and tracking how your computer uses energy. You can use the command powercfg hibernate on and powercfg hibernate off to manage hibernation, and you can also use the command powercfg /a to view the power-saving states currently available on your PC.
Another useful command is powercfg /devicequery s1_supported, which displays a list of devices on your computer that support connected standby. When enabled, you can use these devices to bring your computer out of standby, even remotely.
You can enable this by selecting the device in Device Manager, opening its properties, going to the Power Management tab, and then checking the Allow this device to wake the computer box.
Powercfg /lastwake will show you what device last woke your PC from a sleep state. You can use this command to troubleshoot your PC if it seems to wake from sleep at random.
You can use the powercfg /energy command to build a detailed power consumption report for your PC. The report saves to the directory indicated after the command finishes.
This report will let you know of any system faults that might increase power consumption, like devices blocking certain sleep modes, or poorly configured to respond to your power management settings.
Windows 8 added powercfg /batteryreport, which provides a detailed analysis of battery use, if applicable. Normally output to your Windows user directory, the report provides details about the time and length of charge and discharge cycles, lifetime average battery life, and estimated battery capacity.
Windows 8 introduced the shutdown command that, you guessed it, shuts down your computer.
This is, of course, redundant with the already easily accessed shutdown button, but what's not redundant is the shutdown /r /o command, which restarts your PC and launches the Advanced Start Options menu, which is where you can access Safe Mode and Windows recovery utilities. This is useful if you want to restart your computer for troubleshooting purposes.