Basic MS-DOS For Your Windows

First version: 2001 | This revision: 2001 (GMT+8)


First if you never used DOS before, it is more daunting to use than Windows. This antiquated operating system generally lacks the following features that new Windows users often take for granted:

but it is the "foundation" on which the first Windows operating system was based, which provided a GUI on top of a DOS background.  Windows 95 and 98 still provide backward compatibility, and it still plays a vital part in certain maintenance of your Windows system, e.g., startup failure diagnostic, and registry restore, so getting to know about MS-DOS may save your bacon one day.

Are you ready to continue?

Back to Top



There are 2 types of DOS mode available if you are running Windows 95/98/98SE (generally known as Windows 9x):

It doesn't mean there are two DOS operating system, they are one and the same but with slightly different characteristics. Some DOS programs will run from a DOS prompt but not all can, and there is no way of telling until you try. Some programs simply won't run in Full DOS nor DOS prompt mode - I have a couple of games like this. Note: I don't use the latest Windows ME, but from what I read there is no full DOS mode: Microsoft removed the option. It can be bypassed, but let's not get into that unless we have to.

Full DOS mode in Windows 9x

There are 2 ways to boot to full DOS mode. One is tell the computer to boot to DOS and no Windows. The other is to boot to DOS and unload Windows.

I'll deal with the latter first since it is the easiest: Start>Shut Down. Choose the option Restart in MS-DOS mode, press ENTER to execute. To start Windows again, type either EXIT (or WIN) then press ENTER to execute.

To boot to DOS without loading Windows, after your computer's system bootup diagnostic (known as POST), you will hear a beep before Windows splash screen appears and Windows start to load.  By default, you have only 2 seconds to press F8 key on your keyboard to prevent Windows from loading and bring up its Startup Menu.  If you are successful, you will see a text only screen with a choice of Windows bootup options, select Command Prompt Only and press ENTER to continue.

The operating system will now boot to C:\>.

MS-DOS Prompt

Click Start button then Programs. You should see a shortcut listed called MS-DOS Prompt. If not then do this: Start then Run. Type the word COMMAND or COMMAND.COM (sounds like a website doesn't it?) then press ENTER. DOS prompt will start either in a windows or full screen. To switch between window and full screen, press and hold ALT key and then press ENTER key - commonly people use the notation ALT+ENTER to represent the action. To return to Windows, type EXIT and press ENTER.

A DOS window will appear with a black background and grey text, with a blinking cursor after the words like C:\Windows>.

Back to Top



The > and the blinking cursor is known as Command Prompt. and it is from here all your actions are executed. The name to the left of the > tells you which folder you are in. Let's begin with a basic lesson in how to navigate in DOS.

First a lesson in DOS name format. DOS supports the format commonly known as 8.3 - 8 being the maximum number of characters in the filename (including folders), 3 being the number of characters in the extension, e.g., COMMAND.COM (which is 7.3). It behaves like this:

- folders in Windows are referred to as Directories in DOS;

- no spaces allowed between characters in names;

- no file or folder names with longer than 8 characters and 3 characters for the extension.

How does MS-DOS deal with long file names that you have in Windows then?  It doesn't!  Take the Windows folder C:\My Documents, DOS sees it as C:\MYDOCU~1: the first 6 characters plus a numeric tail. If there are more than one file whose name first 6 characters are the same, e.g., C:\My Documents and a folder (say) called C:\My Document Cabinet, the DOS will display them as C:\MYDOCU~1 and C:\MYDOCU~2 and not necessary in that order. The numeric tail order is based on which folder was created first, so MYDOCU~1 can actually be My Document Cabinet. How can you tell which is which? By looking into the folder (more of that later) and by knowing what's inside the folder ahead of time.

Back to Top



Confused? If not, let's begin to move around in DOS.

Let's start with C:\>. This is known as your ROOT DIRECTORY. Say for example you need to go to the WINDOWS directory, so you type the words CD WINDOWS at the command prompt like this:

C:\>cd windows

You press ENTER to execute and the DOS prompt becomes:


You are now inside the Windows folder. You probably can guess the command CD means Change Directory. Notice in my example I use small letters for Windows - that was deliberate - the folders are not case sensitive. If you want to go to a subdirectory, say, the System folder in Windows, then you type the words CD SYSTEM after the C:\WINDOWS> and press ENTER to execute.

You can go straight to a subdirectory with the CD command. In our example, you can type CD WINDOWS\SYSTEM at the command prompt like this:

C:\>cd windows\system

That's just moving lower in the folder hierarchy. Now to get up the ladder. We still rely on the command CD, but with different command options:

CD.. will move you up one level in the hierarchy, e.g., from C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM> will move to C:\WINDOWS>

CD\ will take you back to ROOT C:\>

Lastly, let's say you want to move from one directory tree to another directory tree, you can avoid going back up and down along the next tree again. In our example, we are at:


Let's say we want to go to the Windows folder C:\Program Files\Yahoo!\:


(remember DOS doesn't see file names longer than 8 characters and spaces in names, so Program Files = PROGRA~1)

but when you press ENTER, the DOS prompt will become the following depending on which DOS mode you are in:

Full DOS mode = C:\PROGRA~1>


Confused? Just remember they are the same folder.

Back to Top



Earlier on we mentioned something about looking at the contents of a folder. To view the contents of the directory you are in, we use the command DIR.


You'll notice the contents scream pass your screen all the way to the end, so we use a command option to stop it page by page:

C:\WINDOWS>dir /p

Note: because of the limitation in DOS, not all files (typically hidden or system files) are displayed or shown.

With the option /s, DIR can also be used to search for a file in the directory and sub-driectory.  Let's say you want to search for COMMAND.COM

C:\WINDOWS>dir /s

For a full list of DIR options, type dir /? for more information.

Back to Top



Now that you can move around in DOS, next let's try creating a directory.  To do that, we use the command MD or MKDIR.

C:\>md myfolder

Remember 8 characters is the limit and no spaces!

Back to Top


REN or RENAME will rename a file or a directory.

Back to Top


DELTREE will delete a directory, all subdirectories, and all files within them.

Back to Top


DEL will delete a file.

Back to Top



Concierge Windows computing Internet tips Latest virus alerts MS Knowledge Base Links Friends


All rights reserved.  No Reproduction Without Expressed Or Written Permission.
Registered Trademarks and Trademarks remain with their respective owners.

Disclaimer :
This is an online self help guide created for my family and friends.  It remains under construction and will be modified, refined, and updated continually (when time permits).  While tweaks and applications have been tried and tested extensively on different systems to ensure compatibility and stability, Spymac Network, Inc. and I accept no responsibility for any loss of data as a result of computer failure, so
use at your own risk please.
Remember: Always backup your important data before any modification!