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Yes, Windows is Dumb: DOS help is right at your fingertips

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Excerpted from
Yes, Windows Is Dumb
Easy Ways to Master Your PC
Copyright © 1997-1998, Al Fasoldt


DOS help is right at your fingertips

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, Al Fasoldt

Need help with a DOS command? Just type the command, a space, a slash and a question mark. You'll get a brief explanation of how the command works.

Here's how you'd get a help screen for the DIR command:

dir /?

And here's what DOS shows you when you do that:

[/O[[:]sortorder]] [/S] [/B] [/L] [/V]


Specifies drive, directory, and/or files to list.

(Could be enhanced file specification or multiple filespecs.)

/P Pauses after each screenful of information.

/W Uses wide list format.

/A Displays files with specified attributes.

attributes D Directories R Read-only files

H Hidden files A Files ready for archiving

S System files - Prefix meaning not

/O List by files in sorted order.

sortorder N By name (alphabetic) S By size (smallest first)

E By extension (alphabetic) D By date & time (earliest first)

G Group directories first - Prefix to reverse order

A By Last Access Date (earliest first)

/S Displays files in specified directory and all subdirectories.

/B Uses bare format (no heading information or summary).

/L Uses lowercase.

/V Verbose mode.

Switches may be preset in the DIRCMD environment variable. Override

preset switches by prefixing any switch with - (hyphen)--for example, /-W.

That's quite a lot of help for what used to be a simple command. Some commands provide only a few sentences. Here's what you get when you type SET /?:

Displays, sets, or removes Windows environment variables.

SET [variable=[string]]

variable Specifies the environment-variable name.

string Specifies a series of characters to assign to the variable.

Type SET without parameters to display the current environment variables.

Nearly all commands in DOS have built-in help. The only problem you might face would be caused by commands that show you too much for one screen. XCOPY does this, for example. To capture all the help text, you can either change your DOS screen depth to 43 lines (Properties, Screen, then Initial size:) or send the screen display to a file so you can read it in a test editor. The second method is easy. Here's how you'd do it for XCOPY:

xcopy /? >xcopy.txt

The added command tells DOS to make a text file containing all the information that was shown on the screen. You can read the file in Notepad (or a Notepad substitute) by calling it from the DOS command line this way:

notepad xcopy.txt

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