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I love scripting, but sometimes you need to test just commands on the command line. Quite often, the syntax is either too cryptic or too long to remember correctly. One solution is to use aliases—short words or even acronyms that perform the complex command.
UNIX has had aliases from the start, whether using the Bourne, Korn, or Bash shell, but what about Windows? Windows has not had the richest of command line tools until PowerShell was released; however, ever since 1995, the shell has included a little-used command that supports aliasing. Its name is DOSKey. If you use help, it describes itself as “edits command lines, recalls Windows commands, and creates macros.” While true, macros are out of scope here. I want to talk about simpler commands.
For this article, I will use the word “shell” to refer to the Windows command prompt (or DOS box/DOS prompt) that runs when you type “cmd” into the Start menu’s search field.
How to use DOSKey ^
The DOSKey syntax is very simple. You simply enter a word, which is the alias, followed by the equal symbol and the command or action you want to perform. For example:
Microsoft uses the word “macro” instead of “alias,” especially in the help. The list below is a slight rewrite of the command help:
/MACROS Shows all the aliases
/HISTORY Shows the commands you’ve typed in the current session (or use F7)
/MACROFILE=filename Lets you specify a text file to load with aliases
You can use a few codes to extend the power:
$T Allows you to use multiple commands
$1-$9 Is the equivalent to %1-%9 in batch programs
$* Replaces the symbol with everything following the macro name on the command line (that is, it’s the argument)
The important thing to realize about DOSKey is that it only applies to the current command prompt. This is both a blessing and a curse. You could, for example, have four shells open, each with their own aliases loaded. The curse is that any new shell you open will forget any aliases you had, unless you type or load them into that instance.
DOSKey examples ^
Some common examples to help you be slightly more productive are as follows:
|Alias||What It Does|
|doskey d=dir $*||Lists a directory|
|doskey n=notepad $*||Opens a file with Notepad (for example, n text.txt)|
|doskey ..=cd ..\..||Changes to the parent directory|
These are very basic examples, but they get the point across. You can make things as simple as you like, but tailor them to your own vocabulary. I like to use aliases to turn the arcane into plain English. Some more deployment-related examples are as follows:
|Alias||What It Does|
|Doskey maker=wmic csproduct get vendor||Gets a machine’s verndor|
|Doskey model=wmic csproduct get name |
|Gets a machine’s model name|
|Doskey version=wmic csproduct get Version |
|Gets a machine’s model version|
|Doskey patches=wmic qfe list full /format:htable||Lists all patches installed on a machine|
|Doskey getBios=WMIC BIOS Get Manufacturer,Name,Version /Format:csv||Shows BIOS details|
The most common use of aliases is to save from typing long, complex commands. This is done in a very UNIX-like style, using two- or three-letter abbreviations. For example, “ed” is great for handling text files.
It’s also useful for creating aliases for DOSkey itself.
|Alias||What It Does|
|dk=doskey $*||Creates a new alias|
|dkm=doskey /macros||Lists current aliases|
|dkh=doskey /history||Lists the command history|
Getting a little more complex, fs=findstr /s /i $* will search files using another underused command, findstr. Here’s the sample output to search VBS files for the word “Canon”:
C:\>fs Canon* c:\s\*.vbs C:\s\VB_LDAPnaming.vbs:'Read the canonicalName of Administrator C:\s\VB_LDAPnaming.vbs:user.GetInfoEx Array("canonicalName"), 0
How to use aliases permanently ^
- Create a shortcut.
- Edit the “start in” path to something sensible, such as %homepath%.
- Create a batch shell-startup.bat with the following contents:
- In the target, run the bat file by entering cmd.exe /k shell-startup.bat.
To force all shells to use a single alias file, you can use the registry key “autorun,” as specified on Technet. The following sample registry file will work fine:
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REGEDIT4 [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Command Processor] "CompletionChar"=dword:00000009 "DefaultColor"=dword:00000000 "EnableExtensions"=dword:00000001 "PathCompletionChar"=dword:00000009 "Autorun"="c:\\s\\shell-startup.cmd"