Microsoft has slowly but surely pushed the command line aside in the Windows interface. This is not without reason; it is an ancient and largely unnecessary tool from the era of text based input. But many commands remain useful, and Windows 8 and 10 even add new features.
Here we present the essential commands that every Windows user should know.
If you’re not sure how to access the Windows command prompt, forgot basic Windows commands, or want to know how to view the list of switches for each command (aka prompt codes), you can refer to our beginner’s guide to Windows Command Line for instructions.
You can also extend the command to change file associations. For example, “assoc.txt=” will change the file association for a text file to whatever program you enter after the equal sign. The “Assoc” command itself will reveal the name of the extension and the name of the program, which will help you use this command properly. You might be able to do this more easily in the GUI, but the command line interface is the perfect functional alternative.
The command cipher, however, deletes a directory by writing random data to it. To wipe your C drive, for example, you would use the “cipher /w:c” command, which would wipe free space on the drive. The command does not overwrite data that is not deleted, so you will not delete the files you need by running this command.
You can use other command cipher hosts, however, they are generally redundant with BitLocker supported versions of Windows.
Drivers remain among the most important software installed on a PC. Unconfigured or missing driverqueries can cause a variety of problems, so it’s a good idea to have access to a list of what’s on your PC. That’s exactly what the “driverquery” command does. You can extend it to “driverquery -v” for more information, including the directory where the driver is installed.
You can use this command to identify text differences between two files. This is especially useful for writers and programmers trying to find minor changes between two versions of a file. Just type “fc” and then the directory paths and filenames of the two files you want to compare.
You can also extend the command in several ways. Typing “/b” only compares the binary output, “/c” ignores the case of text in the comparison, and “/l” only compares ASCII text.
However, ipconfig is useful because of its extensions. “ipconfig /release” followed by “ipconfig /renew” can force your Windows PC to request a new IP address, which is useful if your computer claims that one is not available. You can also use “ipconfig /flushdns” to refresh your DNS address. These commands are great if the Windows network troubleshooter is choking, which it does occasionally.
This is a good command for when you are trying to troubleshoot a device connected to your PC or when you are afraid of a Trojan infecting your system and you are trying to find a malicious connection.
Typing “ping” followed by the IP address or web domain will send a series of test packets to the specified address. If they arrive and return, you know the device is capable of communicating with your PC; if it fails, you know that something is blocking communication between your device and your computer. This can help you decide if the root of the problem is improper configuration or network hardware failure.
Powercfg is a very powerful command for managing and tracking how your computer uses energy. You can use the “powercfg hibernate on” and “powercfg hibernate off” commands to set hibernation, and you can also use the “powercfg /a” command to view the power-saving status 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 activated, you can use this device to bring your computer from 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 sleep state. You can use this command to troubleshoot your PC if it seems to wake up from sleep randomly.
You can use the “powercfg /energy” command to generate a detailed power consumption report for your PC. The report is saved to the indicated directory after the command is completed. This report will notify you of any system errors that could increase power consumption, such as devices blocking certain sleep modes, or not being properly configured to respond to your power management settings.
Windows 8 adds “powercfg /batteryreport”, which provides a detailed analysis of battery usage, if any. Usually output to your Windows user directory, this report provides details on charge and discharge cycle lengths and times, average battery life, and estimated battery capacity.
Windows 8 introduced the shutdown command which — you guessed it! —Stop your computer.
This is, of course, overkill with the already easily accessible shutdown button, but what isn’t superfluous is the “shutdown /r/o” command, which restarts your PC and launches the Advanced Start Options menu, from which you can access Safe Mode. and Windows recovery utility. This is useful if you want to restart your computer for troubleshooting purposes.
This command will give you a detailed configuration overview of your computer. This list includes your operating system and hardware. For example, you can search for genuine Windows installation date, last boot time, your BIOS version, total and available memory, installed hotfixes, network card configuration, and more.
Use “systeminfo /s” followed by the hostname of the computer on your local network, to remotely retrieve information for that system. This may require additional syntax elements for the domain, username, and password, such as this: “systeminfo /s [host_name] / u [domain] [user_name] / p [user_password]”
System File Checker
You need to run a command prompt with administrator rights and enter the command “sfc /scannow”. If SFC finds a corrupt or missing file, it will automatically replace it using a cached copy stored by Windows for this purpose only. Commands can take half an hour to run on older notebooks.
You can use the “tasklist” command to provide a list of all the tasks running on your PC currently. While it’s a bit redundant with Task Manager, the command can sometimes find hidden tasks from view in that utility.
There are also various modifiers. “Tasklist -svc” shows the service associated with each task, use “tasklist -v” to get more details on each task, and “tasklist -m” looks for the .dll files associated with the active task. These commands are useful for advanced troubleshooting.
Tasks that appear in the “tasklist” command will have a process and execution ID (four or five digit number) associated with them. You can force stop the program using “taskkill -im” followed by the name of the executable, or “taskkill -pid” followed by the process ID. Again, this is a little overkill with Task Manager, but you can use it to kill unresponsive or hidden programs.
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