Command Prompt vs. PowerShell: What Are the Differences?

What is the Difference Between Command Prompt and PowerShell

Being a Windows user, you don’t have to deal with the command line interface for daily activities. That being said, for any advanced tasks the command line provides greater flexibility and control over the task. In fact, that’s the sole reason why Windows has both the Command Prompt and PowerShell. Since both are command line interfaces, the PowerShell and Command Prompt may look similar at first glance. But there are significant differences between both of them. Let us get to know what PowerShell and Command Prompt actually mean and how PowerShell differs from Command Prompt.

Command Prompt is the default command line interface provided by Microsoft starting from Windows NT (Windows NT 3.x and above). It is a simple win32 application that can interact and talk with any win32 objects in the Windows operating system. It has a user-friendly command structure and is widely used to execute batch files, troubleshoot Windows problems, perform advanced actions, get information, etc. Due to its user interface and command line structure, many call it “the DOS prompt,” though it doesn’t have anything to do with MS-DOS.

powershell-cmd--diff-simple-command

The first version of PowerShell, which is based on the .NET framework, was released way back in 2006 and is much more advanced than the Command Prompt. PowerShell has many different advanced features like command piping, task automation, remote execution, etc.

powershell-cmd--diff-cmdlet

On the other hand, PowerShell deeply integrates with the Windows operating system while still providing interactive command line interface and scripting language. Considering the deep integration and support for the scripting language, it is often used by system administrators and IT professionals to perform task automation and configuration management.

The PowerShell is much more advanced in terms of features, capabilities and inner workings when compared to the legacy Command Prompt. In fact, almost every under-the-hood module of Windows can be exposed by PowerShell, thus making it a useful tool for IT professionals, system administrators, and power users.

When I say PowerShell, most of you may think of the standard command-line interface, but Windows also comes with PowerShell ISE (Integrated Scripting Environment) which helps you create custom and complex PowerShell scripts for all kinds of works.

powershell-cmd--diff-ise

Moreover, PowerShell uses what are known as cmdlets. These cmdlets can be invoked either in the runtime environment or in the automation scripts. Unlike the Command Prompt or even the *nix shell, the output generated from a cmdlet is not just a stream of text (strings) but a collection of objects.

Since PowerShell treats them as objects, the output can be passed as an input to other cmdlets through the pipeline. This allows you to manipulate the data as much as you want without seeking the help of complex Reg expressions. This is just not possible in the Command Prompt.

When you compare all this to the legacy Command Prompt, you will find it painfully inferior to the PowerShell in terms of both functionality and how much you can do with it.

But all this power of PowerShell comes at a cost; that is the learning curve. If you don’t mind the steep learning curve, then do give PowerShell a try. Of course, if you are entering into the realm of system administration, then you definitely need to learn PowerShell to make your life easier.

If you are an average Windows user who hardly uses the Command Prompt, then you might not get much out of the PowerShell.

What do you prefer to use, Command Prompt or PowerShell? Do comment below sharing your thoughts and experiences about using both the PowerShell and Command Prompt.

13 comments

  1. I have no real need for a CLI in Windows. Thankfully, it is a GUI-centric OS and there is almost no need to use the CLI unless you still work with legacy apps and systems (I’ve seen a bank still use Win98 and command prompt to access their corporate network). I pine for the day that I may not need to launch the terminal in Linux.

    As for Command Prompt vs PowerShell, I must pick the former. I still retain some knowledge from the Command Prompt from my days using DOS, especially 5 and 6 where I learned some advanced scripting with batch files. I tried PowerShell but find it frustrating to learn.

    • I guess it all depends on the type of work you need to do.

      But if you write a lot of scripts in Perl, Bash, Python, Groovy, etc. to maintain systems, configure networks, set up servers like Apache Tomcat or WebLogic through WLST or simply prefer to code using a powerful and fast editor like vi or emacs, the GUI world just slows you down and gets in your way.

      I can ssh out to any server in one quick line, or I can open something like Filezilla, wait for it to load, set the widgets to make a connection, wait for it to paint the file structure of both my home and destination machines and then drag and drop. On our secure systems, I can only copy files to a temp directory off of the root. Then I STILL have to go in to a command-line shell and use a super user account to move that file where I want it to be. That’s just good security.

      Which would you choose?

    • Not 100%. Newer versions of Windows server are moving back to a CLI only interface, with only PowerShell being loaded. So Windows isn’t a “GUI-centric” operating system in 50% of it’s family.

    • @Sarkis
      If this topic doesn’t interest you, just move on!
      Was helpful for my personal comprehension.

  2. Concerning the new activating features of windows 10, when I replaced my motherboard I had to perform a clean install of windows 10 and it gave me a new key. I had to reload everything from my backup as it would not allow me to re load the backup straight over the top. no big deal I thought but it can be a pain if you have a lot of programmes to put back on.
    Well I decided to upgrade my i3 cpu to a i7 and thought about the problem I had when I replaced the motherboard, so after some research I found an article that is exactly the same as my situation now. so I went ahead and replaced the cpu. and before I started the computer I removed the ethernet cable and then started the computer, it went straight to the eufi bios and I had to configure a few things and then reboot, it cvame up to the desktop truly fast and I let everything load and then I connected the ethernet and let it find it’s new ip and bang I was connected, I did a window Key plus X and checked system properties and it was showing activated, so it worked as long as you are not connected to the Internet it seems. whish I had tried that with the motherboard…………I will see if it stays activated???

  3. I much prefer to work from a command-line interface than a GUI and I lament how the Windows command-line is virtually useless compared to any Linux or Unix shell. I spend most of my work day logged in to dozens of Red Hat and Solaris servers through terminal windows. I can’t imagine trying to get my work done using a GUI. Even the simplest piping is not possible with most GUIs and I can type much faster than I can use a mouse to open countless windows and click through supposedly “user-friendly” screens.

    For me, a good command-line interface is the only way to go. (Operable word “good”.)

    I’m glad that Windows offers the “Power Shell” and I will give it a try.

    Thanks for letting me know it exists!

  4. PowerShell is a great tool, we used it a lot, for server administration, and as you write, for task automation, we virtually manage active directory, exchange, virtual machines, vm backups, office 365… and a lot of things coming.
    This article is great for let the people knowing about these tools.
    Thanks

  5. As an IT professional in a primarily Windows environment (with some Linux servers) PowerShell is the admins’ best friend. You can do more, efficiently, from the shell than you can from the GUI.

    Let me provide one simple example: we work with a datacenter provider that hosts 200+ Windows servers for us. Because of specific dependencies server reboots must occur in specific sequence. To ensure that the vendor hosting the servers adheres to this during monthly patching cycles, I have a scheduled PowerShell script that runs the week of patching:

    This script generates an excel spreadsheet report listing all servers and their reboot times so that we can ensure the reboots occurred in the proper sequence. Since this is automated we always have the report waiting for us the day following the patching. If we want it at another time we can manually trigger the script to run at anytime and it will generate a report (with a unique name each time) in less than 15 minutes.

    Try using the GUI to get that kind of information for so many servers, properly formatted, in 15 minutes.

  6. Off-topic perhaps, but I found powershell pretty opaque and difficult to get into (as a developer of several decades standing). All I needed was to run some C programs and the equivalent of gawk/bash scripts. I gave up in the end and persuaded my client to let us build the application in Cygwin.

    Cygwin is worth a try – you can run bash, all your unix/linux favourites (gawk, vim, sed, mv, cp, etc.) on a windows machine. http://www.cygwin.com

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