You may have noticed a new command-line environment in Windows since Windows 7 — PowerShell. PowerShell is a much more powerful command-line shell and scripting language than the Command Prompt is, giving Windows system administrators a useful command-line environment.
PowerShell is more complicated than the traditional Command Prompt, but it’s also much more powerful. The Command Prompt was dramatically inferior to shells available for Linux and other Unix-like systems, but PowerShell competes favorably with the shells available for other platforms.
How PowerShell Differs From the Command Prompt
PowerShell is actually very different from the Command Prompt. It uses different commands, known as cmdlets in PowerShell. Many system administration tasks — from managing the registry to WMI (Windows Management Instrumentation) — are exposed via PowerShell cmdlets, while they aren’t accessible from the Command Prompt.
PowerShell makes use of pipes, just as Linux and other Unix-like systems do. Pipes allow you to pass the output of one cmdlet to the input of another cmdlet, using multiple cmdlets in sequence to manipulate the same data. Unlike Unix-like systems, which can only pipe streams of characters (text), PowerShell pipes objects between cmdlets. This allows PowerShell to share more complex data between cmdlets.
PowerShell isn’t just a shell you use. It’s a powerful scripting environment that can be used to create complex scripts for managing Windows systems much more easily than you could with the Command Prompt.
The Command Prompt is essentially just a legacy environment carried forward in Windows — an environment that copies all of the various DOS commands you would find on a DOS system. It is painfully limited, can’t access many Windows system administration features, is more difficult to compose complex scripts with, and so on. PowerShell is a new environment for Windows system administrators that allows them to use a more modern command-line environment to manage Windows.
When You Would Want to Use PowerShell
So you’re an average Windows user — when would you want to use PowerShell? Well, if you rarely use the Command Prompt and fire it up to run the occasional ping or ipconfig command, you’ll probably never need to touch PowerShell
However, PowerShell can be a much more powerful command-line environment than the Windows command prompt. For example, we’ve shown you how to use the PowerShell environment built into Windows to perform a search-and-replace operation to batch rename multiple files in a folder — something that would normally require installing a third-party program. This is the sort of thing that Linux users were once able to do with their command-line environment, while Windows users were left out.
However, PowerShell isn’t like the Linux terminal — it’s a bit more complicated, and the average Windows user won’t see many benefits from playing with it.
System administrators will want to learn PowerShell so they can manage their systems more efficiently. If you need to write a script to automate various system administration tasks, you should do it with PowerShell.
PowerShell Equivalents of Common Commands
Many common Command Prompt commands — from ipconfig to cd — will work in the PowerShell environment. This is because PowerShell contains “aliases” that point these old commands at the appropriate new cmdlets, running the new cmdlets when you type the old commands.
We’ll go over a few common Command Prompt commands and their equivalents in PowerShell anyway — just to give you an idea of how PowerShell’s syntax is different.
Change a Directory
- DOS: cd
- PowerShell: Set-Location
List Files in a Directory
- DOS: dir
- PowerShell: Get-ChildItem
Rename a File:
- DOS: rename
- PowerShell: Rename-Item
To see if a DOS command has an alias, you can use the Get-Alias cmdlet. For example, Get-Alias cd shows you that cd is actually running the Set-Location cmdlet.
Want to learn more about PowerShell? Read our series of Geek School articles that will introduce you to PowerShell and help you get up to speed. If you’re a Windows system administrator, you should know this stuff.