What is a Command Prompt?

Mary McMahon

A command prompt is a text-based interface which allows someone to interact with an operating system via a command line, which allows the user to type commands and hit “enter” to execute them. Originally, all operating systems were text-based, requiring users to enter text commands to accomplish various tasks. In the 1980s, graphical user interfaces began to be developed, allowing users to interact with their operating systems in a way comparable to the way that most computer users operate today. Text-based operating systems, along with their command prompts, are still in use, and at the core of every graphical user interface, there is a command prompt.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

In the case of a text-based system, being able to navigate with the command prompt is critical, because there is no other option. Users must learn the proper syntax for the system, along with the terminology accepted and understood by the command prompt. Numerous handbooks can be found for learning about various command prompt interfaces, and many experts in the computer field work with command prompts on a regular basis because they can allow for great power and flexibility.

Users of operating systems with graphic interfaces can still have reason to need a command prompt. For example, it is often easier to perform system diagnostics when there is a problem with the use of the command prompt. This tool can also be used for things like pinging and performing other tasks. Windows users can usually get to the command prompt by entering “cmd” into the “Run” box in the Start menu, or by going into the “Accessories” menu. Mac users can access their command prompt by going into “Terminal.”

People need to be careful when working within the command prompt, because it is very easy to make mistakes. The failsafes such as messages asking if a user really wants to do something are often not present, and people who are unfamiliar with the proper syntax and terminology to use can get into trouble and have difficulty navigating. It is also important to be aware that malicious and more experienced computer users may give out dangerous directions as pranks, so when someone provides a list of suggestions and command line shortcuts, it's a good idea to research them to confirm that they will perform the desired operations.

The easiest way to learn to work with the command line is through practice and regular use. Numerous guidelines can be found on the web for people who want examples of simple tricks and tips. Guidebooks are also published in hard copy version, and these guidebooks often contain a great deal of useful information which can help people gain experience.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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