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The Best Tools Hidden in Windows' Command Line  February 19, 2016 – 01:47 am

The Best Tools Hidden in Windows' Command LineWhile it may not always be the best choice in Windows, there are certain things you can only do from the command line. We've talked about a few command line essentials before, like using tracert to troubleshoot a flaky Internet connection and using recimg to create a custom Windows recovery image. Here are a few more you should probably know about (if you don't already).

We're using Windows 8.1 for screenshots and details in this article, but most of these tools have been around a long time and are available in previous versions of Windows. If you have any doubt about whether they're available or if options are different, just open up the command prompt and type the command followed by /?. That will let you know if the command exists and what options you can use with it.

Also, many of these tools require that you run the Command Prompt with administrator privileges. To do that, right-click the Command Prompt icon and choose Run as administrator. Better yet, pin it to your Start menu or taskbar, right-click it and choose Properties, click the Advanced button, and choose Run as administrator. That way, it will run with elevated privileges every time.

The Best Tools Hidden in Windows' Command LineSystem File Checker

Windows can usually detect when a system file is missing and replace it for you without any intervention on your part. You typically won't even be notified when it happens. But even with this ability, system files can become corrupted or the wrong versions of system files can get installed by errant applications. Sometimes, these problems slip by Windows unnoticed.

Windows includes the command line tool System File Checker, which scans several thousand basic Windows files, comparing them against the original versions that shipped with Windows or, depending on the files, that have been updated through Windows Updates. If System File Checker finds a mismatch, it replaces the original file. Depending on how you installed Windows, you may or may not need the installation media, but usually you won't.

The Best Tools Hidden in Windows' Command LineTo run the tool, just type sfc at the command prompt followed by a space and then any of the following common options:

  • /scannow. This performs an immediate scan of your system and will replace files as necessary. You may need to restart Windows when it's done if it finds problems.
  • /scanonce. This performs a scan the next time you restart your system.
  • /scanboot. This schedules a scan to be performed every time you restart your system.
  • Revert. This returns the System File Checker to its default settings. You can use it to turn off the /scanboot option, for example.

Check Disk

Check Disk attempts to repair file system errors, locate bad sectors, and recover readable information from those bad sectors. If you ever start Windows and it tells you that it's scanning your hard disks before starting up, that's Check Disk at work. When Windows detects certain types of errors, it schedules a scan all by itself.

It takes a long time to run, especially if you let it scan the entire hard disk, including free space, so it's not really the kind of tool you want to run regularly. If you're concerned about general hard disk health, you should make use of one of the free S.M.A.R.T checkup utilities out there. I'm a fan of Passmark Disk Checkup, personally. It reads various self-monitoring data the hard disk itself collects and gives you a pretty good idea of how your hard disk is doing.

Still, sometimes hard disks are physically fine to keep using, but suffer from the occasional bad sector and corrupted files those bad sectors can cause. Windows tries its best to correct those problems for you, and it does a pretty good job. But if you ever notice that certain programs just refuse to start or you get an error when you try to access particular folders or files, bad sectors on the disk are a possible culprit. Check Disk can find those bad sectors, often recover data from them, and then map those sectors out so Windows doesn't use them anymore.


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