Navigating DOS

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					Navigating DOS

For those who have never used a command line envornment, it can be a little confusing
and frustraiting. But don't worry. It's still confusing and frustraiting for people who have
been doing it for years. Start by using the DIR command.


At the C:\WINDOWS> prompt type DIR for "directory". A list of files should fly up the
screen faster than you can read. When the prompt comes up again type DIR/P. This will
allow the list to be read one page at a time. Hit enter a few times to get to the end of the
list and back to the prompt. DIR is a program that reads scans the current directory and
lists all the files. /P is called a switch. The P stands for "page" or "pause"(I can never find
out which). When you type DIR/P you are passing /P to the program DIR as a Parameter.
You can pass other parameters to DIR. Try typing DIR/W, this puts the file list in "wide"
format. Now try this, DIR R*.*. This will display all the files that begin with the letter R.
The "*.*" part of the parameter is called a wildcard. A wildcard tells the program that
anything after the letter R does not matter. Try this one, DIR *.*EXE. This will display all
the files with the .EXE extension.

DIR will display all the files, directories, file sizes, time and date or creation.
DIR|MORE will show you the list and prompt to continue. Similar to DIR/P.
DIR/B for bare or brief, shows only the filenames and their extensions.

8 Character Limits
In early systems there was an 8 character limit on file names and directory names.
Directory names and file names also could not contain spaces. This scheme still plays a
big role in navigating DOS. The standard Windows folder "Program Files" is called
"PROGRA~1." The general rule is to count 6 characters in: "PROGRA" then add the ~
and a number. Since we may have multiple files or directories with similar names, we
have numbers at the end of the 8 character name. The number is determined by which file
or directory was created first. Since Program Files is a built-in directory it gets a 1. If you
create a new directory called "Programs" the DOS name will be "PROGRA~2". To view
the DOS names, use this command: DIR/X

In some Windows versions you can open a DOS prompt in specific directory by first
navigating to it through Windows Explorer, then going to Start, Run, CMD or
COMMAND. In most cases it will open the default PATH directory.

For a full list of DIR possibilities enter DIR/? at the command prompt.

In DIR you placed various slashes and letters after the commands. These are "switches"
that modify the behavior of a command. Every command has a different set of switches.
A "/A" may mean something for a command and something totally different for another.
Sometimes a switch may be preceded by a - instead of a /, sometimes there is no special
character at all. For each command look at the help file to see the list of valid switches.
You may view the help file of any command by typing the command followed by /? or
/HELP in older versions.


Now for a different command. Type in CD.. this should set the prompt to "C:\", meaning
that you are now in the root directory C:, C:\WINDOWS is a sub-directory of C:. CD
stands for "Change Directory", a program that allows you to move around the directory
structure. The .. parameter you passed to program CD tells the program to move up one
directory level. Now pass a different parameter, type CD C:\WINDOWS\DESKTOP . This
will change your directory level to the Desktop folder. Type DIR/P and look at the file
listing briefly. Now minimize the DOS window and look at your Windows Desktop. You
should see all the same files. Most of the file extensions will be .LNK meaning that they
are shortcuts. CD will allow you navigate through the whole directory structure. You may
also look at floppy disks: CD A:(sometimes B: also), or CDROMs: CD D:(sometimes E:).

CD.. puts you in the parent directory(up one level)
CD. refers to the current directory

As stated in the DIR section there is an 8 character limit for directory names for many
DOS systems. When using CD to move to a directory with a long name be sure to know
the DOS name. Example:
CD progra~1 to go to "program files" if you are in the root of C:\, otherwise use CD
C:\progra~1 from any other directory.

Using drive letters as commands
To switch from one drive to another simply type the drive letter. Example: D: or A:. For
removable media(floppy, CDROM) you must have the media in the drive to move to it.


PATH  sets a directory search order. This is useful in many respects. For example, if you
are using a boot disk you are running the DOS operating system from that disk and the
more complex commands will only run if you specify the location. If you are at the A:
prompt and want to run a command on C: you must type FIND C:\myfile to use the
FIND command, or if you are in C: you would need to type A:\FIND C:\myfile. To
make things easier, type PATH A:\ at the C:\ prompt. This way the operating system will
know to access A: for all the commands.
Some installation programs(especially development environments) will add a line to the
programming bins to be accessed from anywhere on the drive.

Type in DOSKEY at the prompt, the DOSKEY program is now loaded. DOSKEY keeps a
history of all the commands you type in each session so you can reuse them without
typing them in over and over again. You may view your history by hitting the Up-arrow
on your keypad. DOSKEY is active in NT by default, but not in Win2K. Consitency is not
one of Microsoft's strong points.


DEL is the Delete program in DOS. DEL allows you to delete files. For example, typing
DEL TEMP.TMP will delete the file temp.tmp. Warning! Using the DEL command in DOS
is not like deleting in Windows, there is no Recycle Bin, the files are gone. If you
accidentally delete systems files, you are going to have some problems. Only delete files
that you are sure about.


At the command prompt type EDIT. The screen should turn blue with a menu bar at the
top. This is the DOS EDIT program and it can come in handy. Click on the "File" menu
then click "Exit". You should be back at the prompt. With EDIT you can view and alter
just about any file on your system, even ones Windows will not allow you to. Warning!
Altering system or program files in EDIT can have serious consequences. Make copies of
any file you edit and work on the copy so the original remains intact incase you screw up.
Believe me, making copies is much easier that reloading your operating system. This
time EDIT TEST.TXT this will open the editor and create a text file called "test.txt". Type
in some random text. For a moment stop using your mouse. Press <-Alt-> and then the
Down-arrow on your key pad. This will dropdown the "File" menu. This is how
navigation was done before the mouse. Learning how to use the keyboard for navigation
can be useful something goes wrong with your computer or your mouse wont work. Save
your work and exit the editor. In some early versions of DOS it was called "EDLIN." If
EDIT doesn't work try EDLIN instead.


REN  is short for "rename" and is used to rename files. Warning! Renaming files is as bad
as deleting or altering them. Renaming system files can cause errors since the files point
to each other. Type in REN TEST.TXT TEST.DOC. This will rename the text file you just
created as an MSWord Document. You may now open Word and edit the TEST file like
any other Word file. Type REN TEST.DOC MYFILE.DOC. This renames the file as "myfile"
but it is still an MSWord document.


TYPE  is a program that will show the contents of a file without opening it for editing. Try
entering TYPE MYFILE.DOC and you should see the contents of the file you created

Earlier you learned how to use the /p switch with the DIR command. There is another
device which allows you to view directories and file contents a page at a time: MORE. Use
the previous command to demonstrate. at the prompt enter TYPE MYFILE.DOC |MORE
and hit < enter >. If the file you selected it several pages long, DOS will display the first
page and then at the bottom of the screen you will see --more--. DOS is waiting for you
to continue. Hit < enter > and it will scroll through the next page.


Type this at the prompt to close the current DOS session.


This is a very usefull tool for searching files for strings(text). If you have lost a file or
renamed a file and cannot remember what the name was, you can use FIND to locate it.
For example if your name is Joe and the missing file has your name in it, enter FIND
"Joe" at the prompt. DOS will search the current directory for any file containing the
string "Joe."


Use this to create and name your own DOS/Windows directory.
MD test, creates a directory named "test"


Use this to remove directories.
RD test


Moves files from one location to another, as opposed to copying.
MOVE test.txt A:\, moves the file "test.txt" from the current directory to the A: drive.


Copies files.
COPY C:\myfile.txt A:\myfile.txt


"Extended" COPY. Copies files from one or more subdirectories. Slightly more powerful
than COPY. XCOPY has all the same functions as COPY but these switches also

/D:m-d-y Copies files changed on or after the specified date. If no date is given, copies
only those files whose source time is newer than the destination time.
/EXCLUDE:file1[+file2][+file3]... Specifies a list of files containing strings. When any
of the strings match any part of the absolute path of the file to be copied, that file will be
excluded from being copied. For example, specifying a string like \obj\ or .obj will
exclude all files underneath the directory obj or all files with the .obj extension
/P Prompts you before creating each destination file.
/S     Copies directories and subdirectories except empty ones.
/E     Copies directories and subdirectories, including empty ones. Same as /S /E. May be
used to modify /T.
/W Prompts you to press a key before copying.
/C Continues copying even if errors occur.
/I    If destination does not exist and copying more than one file, assumes that
destination must be a directory.
/Q     Does not display file names while copying.
/F Displays full source and destination file names while copying.
/L     Displays files that would be copied.
/H     Copies hidden and system files also.
/R Overwrites read-only files.
/T     Creates directory structure, but does not copy files. Does not include empty
directories or subdirectories. /T /E includes empty directories and subdirectories.
/U Copies only files that already exist in destination.
/K Copies attributes. Normal Xcopy will reset read-only attributes.
/O     Copies file ownership and ACL information.
/X Copies file audit settings (implies /O).


Clears the screen. Clears previous output in the DOS window. Helps close out batch


Shows the environment values and allows them to be changed. See more in Parameters


Formats a disk for use

Genericaly formats a disk for storage use. Most disks are sold pre-formated, nowadays,
but the version may not always be compatable with your operating system.
Formats a disk in the B drive.

Places a copy of the operating system on the disk so it is "bootable".

Totally erases disk, regardless of what was on it before.


Recovers a formatted disk.


Use for labeling a disk or changing the present label of a disk. To see what the current
label is use VOL



There are many "hidden" files on your system. Some are hidden for a good reason, they
are system files that programmers did not want users to delete accidentally. Deleting
these files my make your computer inoperable. HOWEVER! Hidden files may also be
nasty virii or a corrupted file that is causing problems in your computer. Maybe
something you downloaded from the Internet is popping-up all the time and causing your
browser or system to crash. You look for the file but it's not there, or it is there but you
can't delete it: "Access Denied." Access deined! It's my F!ng computer! Fear not my
friend! ATTRIB stands for file attributes. Files my be designated as hidden, archive,
system or read-only. There are only four and it's easy ro remember because it might give
you RASH. Open a DOS prompt and navigate to the C:\> root directory. Type "DIR" and
you will get a list of files and directories. Type "ATTRIB" and you will get a similar list,
but it is much longer. Type "DIR IO.SYS" or "DIR MSDOS.SYS" and it will probably
result in this:
File not found

Type in "ATTRIB MSDOS.SYS" and you'll see this:

Gee, all of the sudden it's there?
This is interesting. Go to the C:\WINDOWS\ directory and do an ATTRIB on a file
called "user.da0". This is hidden file that you should be aware of. Why? Because inside is
a tiny databse of everything you do. Every file you open, every application you use, every
website you visit. You cannot delete or rename a hidden file. To change the attributes,
use the following syntax:
Now you may delete or rename to your heart's content.

To turn attributes on, let us say that you want to conceal files on your PC from the casual
snooper, or from the Boss. Use this syntax:
ATTRIB +R +A +S +H filename
- will turn the attributes off, + will turn them on.


A shell interface that makes DOS easier to use. This is not part of most current versions
of DOS and would have to be loaded seperately.


These are DOS programs for international language support, they are not available on
most PCs sold in the U.S. and must be loaded specially. They are present in version sold
in other countries.

KEYB changes the keyboard layout to match foreign keyboard designs. Last time I
checked it supported 18 languages. Paramaters of this command alter the configuration of

NLSFUNC is used to load a specific language file, usually COUNTRY.SYS.

Both of these commands have been replaced by GUI programs.

More information


Sets the the NUM LOCK on or off. Cannot be run from the command line, must be in a
boot batch file like CONFIG.SYS


Changing the DOS prompt. The default DOS prompt is: diskletter:\directoryname>,
example: C:\WINDOWS>. But there are many other options available.
Enter PROMPT $p$g at the command-line for the standard prompt.

Try these others:

PROMPT Sets it to "C>"(which is the old pre-windows prompt)
PROMPT $t Makes the current time(military) your prompt
PROMPT $d Makes the current date your prompt
PROMPT $v Makes the Windows Version your prompt
PROMPT $q Prompt is "="
PROMPT $b Prompt is "|"
PROMPT $e Prompt is "<-"
PROMPT $l Prompt is "<"
PROMPT $_ Prompt is nothing(can be scary)
PROMPT $n Makes the current drive letter your prompt

PROMPT $a Opens up a whole host of options. For example, PROMPT $aHello Jerk
makes the prompt: Hello Jerk. You could have a user's name as the prompt: PROMPT
$aTeddy Roosevelt. Combinations are also possible: PROMPT $aGeorge $t makes the
prompt a user's name an the current time.

If you want a particular prompt to be permanent, insert one of these lines into you

Make your DOS prompt look like the Lost hatch terminal:
> : 4 8 15 16 23 42

More recent DOS/Windows versions
$A = &
$B = |
$C = (
$D = Current date
$E = Left arrow
$F = )
$G = >
$H = Backspace
$L = <
$N = Current drive
$P = Current drive and path
$Q = =
$S = space $T = Current time
$V = Windows 2000 version number
$_ = Carriage return and linefeed
$$ = $

More: 1, 2


Creates a graphic map of directories and sub directories. For example, use a folder like
C:\WINDOWS\TEMP or C:\WINNT\TEMP so you wont be overwhelmed while testing
it. Typing TREE in this directory might produce:
MS is a subdirectory of TEMP, SMS is a subdirectory of MS, LOGS is a subdirectory or

TREE/F will show file names in addition to directories.

To send the output to text file: TREE/A>mymap.txt. The /A will use simple formatting
that will read better in the output file.


Tips, Tricks and Other DOS topics

< Ctrl > C

To end a process that is running in DOS, hit the control key, "< Ctrl >", and the "C" key
at the same time. This will end the process without closing the session.

The DOS window has taken over my screen!

If you are using any version of Windows, type < Alt > and < Tab > at the same time. This
will toggle the DOS window into the Windows task bar. From there, right-click on the
DOS box in the taskbar and click on "Properties" then the "Screen" tab. You should
change the screen selection from "Full-screen" to "Window."

DOS Devices and I/O Redirection
What is redirection? Typically output from DOS commands is displayed to the screen
unless otherwise specified. It is possible to send output to a file, a printer and other
devices. Devices are the ports on your PC where data move in and out of memory. Your
monitor port is a device, the keyboard and mouse are devices. Serial and parallel ports
where printers and other external components plug in are devices. Forcing files to the

TYPE filename>LPT1
LPT1 is the device name   for the printer port. It also may be PRN, LPT2, or LPT3
(This may only work if your printer is directly attatched to you LPT port, it may not work
on a network)
The ">" refers to the direction of the standard output.
TYPE mydoc.txt>LPT1 will send the document right to the printer.

The above is generally for local printers(meaning connected to the ports on the back of
your machine). If you are printing on a network, try using the location of the printer with
these commands. Example:

TYPE filename>\\severname\printername
So if my printer server was called "NETPRINT" and the printer was called
"HPLASER1", the line would be:

Forcing files to a file:

TYPE filename1>filename2
This will dynamicaly move the contents of one file new file, creating and naming the new
file at the same time.
TYPE mydoc.txt>mydoc.doc will create a new document called "mydoc.doc" with the
contents of "mydoc.txt"

You may also use >> . The difference is that > will overwrite >> will append.

< Redirect input, used with SORT.

More on SORT.


CRTL+P Copies all subsequent input chars to printer
CRTL+S Suspend further output to a device
CRTL+Z Marks end of a file or stream
DOS Devices
AUX - Auxiliary device, usually first serial port
CLOCK$ - Real-time system clock
COM1 - COM4 - Serial ports(asynchronous)
CON - Keyboard and monitor
NUL - The "bit-bucket", discards output and provides no input.
PRN - First parallel port, often a printer

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