Windows and most other modern operating systems have a point and click interface. They are primarily used with a pointer that you can move around and select items or start tasks. Decades ago, many operating systems were text based and you had to type commands into a console window to get anything done.

Even today, some form of console window still exists in the latest operating systems, like Windows 10/11 or Linux. For Windows, there are two; Command Prompt and PowerShell. While PowerShell is mainly used for more advanced system control and administration, Command Prompt is more common and easier to use for novice and advanced users alike.

Uses for Command Prompt

Command Prompt is a shell interface for changing several system settings or running commands by typing them in, rather than by point and click. This makes the commands ideal for use in automation scripts and system administration.

It’s also important to know that many commands you can enter don’t have a point and click equivalent from the desktop. Therefore, entering one of those commands will only work from a Command Prompt window. This is why it’s still valuable to have some idea of how it works.

How to Launch Command Prompt

While there is no dedicated icon on the desktop, there is one in the Windows Start Menu. In fact, it appears in a couple of locations on the Start Menu.

The first place is in the Windows System sub-menu in Windows 10’s Start Menu. In Windows 11, the shortcut is in Windows Tools, which opens a separate window with numerous shortcuts.

Launch Command Prompt from the Start Menu

The second option is using Start search. Simply press Start and type “cmd”, this will bring up the Command Prompt entry.

Use Start Search to launch Command Prompt

Press Enter or click on the shortcut on either the left or right of the search window.

How to use Command Prompt

Usage is actually pretty easy. Just type in a command and press Enter, one command per line (more advanced usage can chain multiple commands together). In addition to the built in and included Windows commands, you can download a wide range of third-party tools online.

The result of the command will be shown as text in the same window. All input and output is text based so there will be no images, icons, or any other visuals. A list of commands that you can use are available on the Microsoft website. Some basic examples are below:

  • Dir %homepath%\documents – Lists the contents of a directory (in this case, your Documents folder)
  • Echo Hello World – Display the message “Hello world”
  • Ping – Test your network by connecting to Google (any other website works as well)
  • Shutdown /r | Shutdown /s – Reboot or shutdown the computer
  • Ver – Display Windows version
  • Tasklist – Display running tasks and Services
  • Date /t | Time /t – Show the current date or time
  • Systeminfo – Shows various information about the system hardware and operating system

Commands example

All Windows commands and most third-party command line tools have a built-in help text. Usually entering the command and appending “/?” will bring up any help.

The Administrator Command Prompt

There are two types of Command Prompt window you can invoke; standard and administrator. They are essentially the same with the only difference being the administrator version has higher access privileges.

The administrator Command Prompt allows you to change more system settings and use more advanced tools. Many commands including System File Checker (SFC) or adding/editing user accounts are only available in the administrator version.

admin command prompt difference

You will get an “Access Denied” error or a related error message if you try to run a command that needs an admin Command Prompt but you are not using one.

How to Tell if you are using an Administrator Command Prompt

You can tell which type of Command Prompt you are currently using in a couple of easy ways. The standard window will show “Command Prompt” as the window title and the default path of “C:\Users\username”.

admin vs standard command prompt

In contrast, the administrator window will have “Administrator: Command Prompt” as the title for the window. The path inside the window defaults to “C:\Windows\system32”.

How to Launch an Administrator Command Prompt

If you are running a command that doesn’t require administrator privileges, there is no need to use the administrator prompt. When you do need one, the easiest way is to type “cmd” into Windows Start. From there, you have two options; click the “Run as administrator” option to the right in the menu or hold Ctrl+Shift and press Enter.

run cmd as admin

If you have User Account Control enabled, you will be prompted with a UAC dialog popup. Otherwise, the administrator Command Prompt will open straight away. You could also go to the Start Menu entry and right click on the shortcut, then choose “Run as administrator”.

Windows Terminal and PowerShell

Windows PowerShell is actually a different type of shell console with different commands and is more focused on system administration. A useful thing about PowerShell for home users is it accepts many of the same commands that are available in Command Prompt.

However, it will not always work seamlessly. A workaround is to type the “cmd” command before running other commands. If you find your commands are not working correctly in PowerShell, open a dedicated Command Prompt.

powershell cmd workaround

Windows Terminal is a modern update for the built-in shells in Windows. It’s basically a separate program that allows you to run multiple instances of Command Prompt, PowerShell, Bash, and other command line shells in tabs, just like a web browser.

In addition, there is support for themes, color schemes, hardware text rendering, background images, multiple keyboard shortcuts, and much more. Terminal also has far more customization to layout, text, and colors than you would get in the normal console window.

Windows Terminal

Terminal works the same as if you had a dedicated Command Prompt open. As mentioned earlier, Terminal replaces PowerShell in Windows 11 when you right-click on the Start button for the power user menu. You can download Terminal for Windows 10 from the Microsoft Store.

What is a Windows 101 Article?

Windows 101 is a series of small articles on CyorTech. They cover simple explanations and basic usage of various functions and features found in Windows. The goal is for the articles to be helpful and informative to average and less tech-savvy computer users. Advanced and experienced users will likely know all about the subject of Windows 101 articles anyway.

If you have a suggestion for a Windows 101 article, please let me know.