Windows 10 command prompt: What is it and how does it work?

We take a look at one of the most basic - and most powerful - features in Windows 10

Windows 10

The command prompt function is loved by IT professionals and computer geeks alike. For the uninitiated, it's a powerful tool that lets users undertake many administrative tasks with ease, although it does require technical-knowhow to operate.

Often referred to as simply 'CMD', it is one of the most basic features you'll find in Windows 10. It can be used to create new shortcuts that you can pin to the taskbar, or used to pull up all kinds of information about your device. The command prompt can be thought of as a more powerful alternative to the graphical user interface (GUI) in a Windows 10 machine, with the latter normally hiding many of the functions or burying them under layers of menus.

Such is the love for command prompt, recent overhauls of Windows, which have had visual makeovers and new features like natural language processing (NLP), have left the CMD untouched in its original rough and ready guise. 

If you want to call yourself a professional or tell people you work in 'IT', then it is high time you master the Command prompt.

What is the command prompt?

As mentioned above, the command prompt isn't exactly aesthetically pleasing, but that is partly why it is so recognisable. It looks and works like an advance navigation tool, which is why people new to it may be a little fearful of using it. However, a little training and trial and error can convert you. The prompt is useful for executing a variety of commands, such as automating tasks via scripts or finding batch files. It also comes in handy when fixing problems you may incur with your Windows 10 device.

How do I open the command prompt?

There are many different ways to open the program, the simplest of which involves simply typing 'command prompt' or 'cmd' into the Windows 10 search bar and it will be the top result. If you like your keyboard shortcuts, Windows+X will open the Power Users menu from which command prompt can be launched with one click.

If you want to make serious changes to your system using command prompt, you'll most likely have to run as administrator. This can be done in either of the previous two methods by either right-clicking the icon in search or by selecting the admin option from the Power Users menu.

It can also be done through Task Manager: simply open it up, open the 'File' menu and CTRL+click 'Run New Task' to immediately launch command prompt as administrator.

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How does the command prompt work and why would you use it?

The command prompt works at a more basic level than Windows, but that's is not to say it isn't powerful. It means you gain more control over the PC and communicate with it in a more direct way. Aside from common commands (dir, cd, copy, del), it can be used to access parts of the operating system that are not available through the graphical user interface.

It can also be used to perform a variety of functions, sometimes using it is quicker or even the only way to access certain information or functions.

In addition to the commands mentioned above (which show file directory listings, changes file directories, copies files, and delete them.) There are a number of other useful commands such as ipconfig (which shows what IP address a computer has), Tracert (which shows information on each step between the computer and a target host elsewhere on the internet such as a website), and the system file checker (sfc), which finds any corrupt or missing files, and automatically replaces them using cached copies kept by Windows.

What about Windows Powershell?

The Command Prompt has been around forever, but with Windows 10, Microsoft is trying to make PowerShell the main command shell in the operating system. This offers a very rich set of commands (called cmdlets) that are more integrated with Windows and most Microsoft products. These cmdlets are functions that exist inside compiled DLLs on a system. Its primary purpose is to not only replace the Command Prompt but also batch files and VB scripts.

Head here for a breakdown of the differences between CMD and and PowerShell

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