Windows PowerShell vs Command Prompt (cmd): Which to Choose

What is the Windows Command Prompt?

Windows Command Prompt (also known as the command line, cmd.exe or simply cmd) is a command shell based on the MS-DOS operating system from the 1980s that enables a user to interact directly with the operating system. Specifically, this venerable command shell provides an environment to run applications and various utilities; output is displayed in the same window. It is possible to use the cmd shell to create and edit scripts and save them to batch files to solve automation tasks in one-system frames; however, it was never intended for remote system administration.

What is Windows PowerShell?

Windows PowerShell is a command shell and scripting language designed for system administration tasks.  It was built on top of the .NET framework, which is a platform for software programming developed by Microsoft in 2002.

PowerShell commands, or cmdlets, help you manage your Windows infrastructure. In addition, they enable a user to access the registry, the file system and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) space on systems remotely. Moreover, the PowerShell command shell enables you to create complex scripts with multiple conditions.

How PowerShell differs from Command Prompt

As mentioned earlier, cmd is a very old tool that was never intended for remote system administration. Extending its functionality requires additional utilities, such as Microsoft Sysinternals PsExec.

PowerShell, on the other hand, provides many cmdlets to simplify system administration tasks. It supports the automation of a wide range of tasks, such as Active Directory administration, user and permissions management, and extracting data about security configurations. Moreover, PowerShell now supports Linux.

The following table summarizes the key differences between Command Prompt and PowerShell from a programming and operations perspective:

PowerShell or cmd: Which should I choose

Clearly, there are many reasons why Windows PowerShell replaced the Command Prompt as the default in the Windows 10 operating system, and was preinstalled starting with Windows XP. But if you’re used to using cmd, you don’t need to feel any urgency in switching to PowerShell. In fact, most commands from cmd work fine in the PowerShell environment — Microsoft wanted to simplify the lives of system administrators, so it created command prompt aliases in PowerShell that enable it to interpret old DOS commands as new PowerShell commands.

To find out how old cmd commands map to the newer PowerShell cmdlets, use the Get-Alias command:

However, there is a good case to be made for making the leap to PowerShell. Everything you can do with cmd you can also do with PowerShell — and often it is more convenient, since there is a special environment to develop and test scripts. Additionally, PowerShell is a live language with a strong community ready and willing to help those new to scripting.

If you are a beginner and have questions about how to get started with Windows PowerShell, here is a PowerShell tutorial that will help you learn the basics of scripting and code creation:

Ian is a former Technical Marketing Specialist at Netwrix. He is an IT professional with more than 15 years of experience and an avid PowerShell blogger.