Command Prompt basics: Working with files and folders

Tired of using File Explorer to navigate your files? Alright, that may not be you, unless you’re a developer or an IT professional. Developer or not, basic command line knowledge is always good-to-have though. In this guide, we’ll present some common file manipulation commands, which you can use when working in the terminal.

Traversing your file system from Command Prompt (or from PowerShell or from Windows Terminal) requires two basic commands: cd and dir. The first (change directory) enables you to move through folders within your command prompt window.

Screenshot of file management using Command Prompt

For example, if you’re in a folder with sub-directories of “Folder 1” and “Folder 2”, type cd "Folder 2" to move into the Folder 2 sub-directory. Use cd .. to move up a level. The path at the start of the Command Prompt input line always indicates your current directory.

Once you’re in a directory, use the dir command to view the files and folders within. Type dir to get a list of everything in your current directory (displayed at the start of the command prompt). Alternatively, use dir "Folder Name" to list the contents of a named sub-directory.

Screenshot of file management using Command Prompt

We’ve found the right folder and seen the files within. Now we want to view the contents of a file. Use the type command to inspect what’s inside text-like files. For example, type my-article.txt will display the contents of the file right within the command prompt window.

To update the contents of a file, use the echo command to replace its contents. Running echo "my new text" > my-article.txt will result in the my-article.txt file having “my new text” as its content. You can verify this with the type command!

Screenshot of file management using Command Prompt

If you’d rather add content to the end of the file, instead of overwriting it, use >> instead of > in the command above. This operator appends content to the end of the file, preserving what’s already there.

These commands are simple but powerful when combined together. We’ve only covered the absolute basics here, which enable you to view files and folders on your PC. A few other helpful commands include mkdir <DIRECTORY> (create a new directory), copy <SOURCE> <DESTINATION> (copy files) and move <SOURCE> <DESTINATION> (move files).

Screenshot of file management using Command Prompt

To get more information on these commands, we encourage you to refer to another command: help. Type help, followed by the name of a command (e.g. help mkdir) to get detailed help information within your command prompt window. You should now be equipped to explore your PC with Command Prompt and keep learning as you do so! Try running help on the commands discussed in this article to discover further features which they support.

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