What is a batch script?

This article is from our Febooti archive, it was relevant then, and I think that it is still relevant today (a few details changed).

Previous article: MS-DOS (cmd.exe) command prompt: CD, MD, copy.
Next article: First cmd / DOS batch script example.

Batch scripts is still relevant in 2014. Batch programming is repeatedly used in Windows server and workstation administration to make recurrent tasks easier and more efficient.

In the MS-DOS, Windows 95 and Windows 98, and nowadays in the DOSBox the most popular batch file is autoexec.bat. This file was appropriately named after AUTOmatic EXECution. Commands that are to be executed when DOS starts are placed in this special file particularly on systems that utilize the PROMPT and PATH commands. When pure DOS was the prevalent operating system this was important, however, on our newer Windows guided machines, this is really not of concern. The PATH environment variable can be modified from the System properties – Environment variables.

Environment variables - PATH - Windows 8.1
Environment variables – PATH – Windows 8.1

For creating and editing a batch file, I recommend to use Windows Notepad, or more advanced editor with syntax highlighting support, such as free and open source editor – Notepad++. You will save your batch files with a .bat or .cmd file extension. Some of the file naming conventions (requirements) for batch files include: not recommended to use any internal DOS commands for file names for example, ECHO.bat, ERASE.bat, PAUSE.bat, etc., and SPACES, and device names such as LPT, COM1, COM2, NUL, etc., and it is NOT OKAY to use the following special characters in a filename:

  1. \ – Backslash
  2. / – Slash
  3. : – Colon
  4. ? – Question mark
  5. * – Asterisk
  6. ” – Quotes
  7. < - Less than sign
  8. > – Greater than sign
  9. | – Pipe

The period must be used as the separator between the file name and the file extension. The colon is specifically used after a letter to identify a particular disk drive. The asterisk and question mark are special wild card characters. Be careful when using these two characters in your script as they can act on multiple files / folders, and with not planed carefully, do some very unpredictable things. The greater than sign, the less than sign and the pipe are special DOS commands to be discussed in the next articles. They are also illegal file names. When naming a DOS file you have even more restrictions.

It should also be noted that good recommended practice for batch file names is to not save them as the same name as another executable file with a different extension. If you already have a file named email.exe do not try to save the batch file as email.bat.

The format for batch files is a series of DOS commands on separate lines. Example:
First Command
Second Command
Third Command
Fourth Command
And so on...

Four types of commands are acceptable for a batch file. These are:

  1. internal commands
  2. .exe program names
  3. .com program names
  4. .bat / .cmd file names

As with any DOS procedure you can stop a batch program from executing by pressing CTRL+C or CTRL+Break key combination on the keyboard. DOS will ask if you wish to Terminate batch job (Y/N)?. Type N to skip the command you broke out of and proceed to the next command in the batch file. Press Y to abort execution of the batch file and return to the command prompt. Pressing ^Break will produce the same results as ^C (except some commands, like PING).

The last command that we will go over in this section is the VER command. VER stands for VERsion. Enter this into the command prompt and you will be presented with the current version of your DOS program / Operating System.

The VER command displays the operating system version number
The VER command displays the operating system version number

This article is from our Febooti archive, it was relevant then, and I think that it is still relevant today (a few details changed).

Update Oct 6, 2014: added link to the next article.

MS-DOS (cmd.exe) command prompt: CD, MD, copy

This article is from our Febooti archive, it was relevant then, and I think that it is still relevant today (a few details changed).

Another very common command is cd – Change Directory (also works in Linux). This changes the directory you are currently in.

C:\>cd \users\default

CD command in Windows 8.1
CD command in Windows 8.1

This example might not work for you if you do not have drive C, and in the drive C there are no users\default folder, however the scheme is still the same. You have to type CD followed by the root, the first \, followed by the first directory under the root, users, followed by the next directory, default. You would keep doing this until you got to your last directory.

Another useful command is being able to create directories. Directories are given names just like files are. They can contain numbers and letters but be careful of some of the special characters like * ? / ” ‘, etc. Avoid these. Also, when you make a directory try to avoid adding an extension. Directories with extension is a little bit confusing but fully valid. To make a directory, use the MD command (Make Directory). Use the following syntax:

C:\users\default>md MyDirectory

MD command in Windows 8.1
MD command in Windows 8.1

Have you ever copied and pasted a file from one folder to another? Maybe you just copied and pasted a snippet of text or a picture to another file. Suppose you wanted to copy a file and make a duplicate of that file with a different name. In the next example, we have 1 file called SourceDocument1.doc. The contents of 2nd file will be the same as we are creating a Document2.doc using our existing SourceDocument1.doc file.

C:\>copy SourceDocument1.doc Document2.doc

All that you have to do for the copy command to work is place the original file’s name first. Press the space bar. Then put what you wish to name the new, copied, document. This is a good simple way to make a backup file. There are typically two messages that will come back – ‘1 file(s) copied’ or ‘File not found’. You can always use the DIR command to make sure you have the correct filename (see previous article with DIR command examples). You can experiment with using different drive letters and directories using the same principles we used to create and change directories. To copy a group of files you can use what is called the wildcard. Here is an example:

C:\>copy *.doc D:\

In this example the *.doc matches all the files ending in .doc in current directory, and files are copied to the drive D (flash drive in my case). Be careful with the wildcard when deleting files as it is very easy to delete more than what you want to delete.

You can press the CTRL+C (Control key and the C key), looks like ^C on most documentation, to stop the copy progress or batch file from executing. In case of batch files, you will then be asked if you wish to terminate the batch file. Press a Y for yes or a N (stands for no) to continue on processing the batch script or let the current process to finish. You can also use the CTRL+Break key combination. This combination produces the same output as the CTRL+C combination (except for the Ping command). Exceptions to rules are common, but you will learn then as we go with more details.

Something that you might find interesting later on when you learn about the ECHO command is that when you enter ECHO OFF at the command prompt you will in essence “lose” your prompt. You need to type ECHO ON in order to get back to where you were. Not very useful in command prompt, but very useful when you are writing a batch file (.bat).

Next article tomorrow: What is a batch script?
Previous article: MS-DOS (cmd.exe) prompt basic commands

This article is from our Febooti archive, it was relevant then, and I think that it is still relevant today (a few details changed).

Edit Sep 26, 2014: added link to the next article.

MS-DOS (cmd.exe) prompt basic commands

This article is from our Febooti archive, it was relevant then, and I think that it is still relevant today (a few details changed).

Since most of users do not use command prompt as their primary interaction with the operating system then we will go over the pure basics. These commands can also be used in a batch files. Because a batch file is a way of executing frequently entered DOS commands quicker, it would be a good idea to go over some command line basics.

In the previous article there is instruction how to access the command prompt – simply click the Start button (or Windows key on the keyboard) in the lower left hand corner of the screen followed by clicking on the Run… option (or simply typing cmd.exe on newer Windows). When you do this, a small box will appear in the lower left hand corner of the screen. To access the command prompt simply type cmd or command.


Now that we have a command prompt up, we will open a program. Let’s start with the Windows calculator. In the black screen you should see something to the extent of C:\>. You might have more to it or you might simply have C:\>. Either way to access the Windows Calculator you simply type calc at this screen. Then hit the enter key on your keyboard. The Windows calculator will pop-up immediately. This is how you are able to open any program from the DOS prompt (technically any program, program’s working folder must be in the path environment variable).


Windows Calculator
Windows Calculator

One of the most commonly used DOS commands is DIR. The DIR command allows you to view a list of files that are on the disk, and also, to view which files and folders are on what disk. You are also able to view total file count, count of the directories, and all the sizes. You will also find the date and time column useful.


dir command
dir command

At this point you probably have a bunch of text on your screen right now. What to do? Thankfully, DOS has a very handy command called CLS. Type CLS into your command prompt and hit enter right now. It clears up the screen. You will find this command very useful when playing with your command prompt.


Back to the DIR command. If that list is too long for you, the DOS allows you to type DIR /p. Yes, just add a /p to the end of that. At this point remember that some of the DOS commands, batch specific commands, and filenames are in capital letters. DOS commands and / or parameters may or may not be case-sensitive.

C:\>dir /p

Performing the command above will display the directory listing but will pause after each screen of information. You will then be told to Press any key to continue… and when you press any key, the next group of information, if any, will be shown.

To see a list of filenames only put a /w as an alternative to the /p. The w stands for Wide and gives you a column name-only list display.

C:\>dir /w

dir /w
dir /w

You are able to view any drive on your computer. To view the listing for a floppy drive enter:
C:\>dir a:

To see the contents of your CD / DVD / Memory Card:
C:\>dir d:

The letter A was the most commonly used drive letter for the floppy drive. This works for other forms of removable storage as well such as flash drives and usually starts with letter D.

Note about dir /p. More universal way of ‘pausing’ long lists, is to use DOS command more. Try to enter the following and see whats happen.

c:\>dir | more

And to see more parameters (or also known as arguments or switches) use the question mark:

c:\dir /?

Next article tomorrow. Click here for the previous article – MS-DOS (cmd.exe) prompt introduction.

This article is from our Febooti archive, it was relevant then, and I think that it is still relevant today (a few details changed).

Edit Sep 19, 2014: added link to the Next article.