How to use the Windows command line shell to open files and folders

Published: Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Launching files and folders from the Command prompt

The following has only been tested on Windows XP.

Current directory structure

Those familiar with DOS will know that previously, only .bat, .com and .exe could be executed. However, it is now possible to open and run any file using the Windows command shell that has a program associated with it. This emulates the user opening the file from Window’s File Explorer.

For example, given the directory listing below (which contains a copy of this website):

 Volume in drive D is Programs
 Volume Serial Number is 366B-10EB

 Directory of D:\jurn\\src\output\html

30/03/2004  12:04 AM    <DIR>          .
30/03/2004  12:04 AM    <DIR>          ..
30/03/2004  12:04 AM             2,297 about.html
30/03/2004  12:04 AM    <DIR>          css
29/03/2004  06:57 PM    <DIR>          CVS
30/03/2004  12:04 AM    <DIR>          ent
30/03/2004  12:04 AM             1,406 favicon.ico
30/03/2004  12:04 AM    <DIR>          images
30/03/2004  12:04 AM             3,916 index.html
30/03/2004  12:04 AM    <DIR>          kb
29/03/2004  06:59 PM               940 Makefile
30/03/2004  12:04 AM               113 robots.txt
30/03/2004  12:04 AM    <DIR>          services
               5 File(s)          8,672 bytes
               8 Dir(s)   3,250,106,368 bytes free


We are able to do the following.

Open a folder into a new Explorer window

We can open the kb directory using the command

start kb

How to open a file with its associated program

Open index.html with the default web browser by typing its name in the DOS prompt.


Using cygwin

If you are writing scripts in Cygwin, you can access the Windows command shell, and then run the same commands prefixed with a cmd /c to achieve the same thing. e.g.

$ pwd

jurn@brownfang ~/
$ cmd /c index.html

jurn@brownfang ~/
$ cmd /c start kb

jurn@brownfang ~/


For a more detailed description of the commands, you can get help by using the help command. You can get help about most Windows standard command line tools using this.

help start will describe what the start command does.

help cmd will describe the options available when opening a new shell.