Windows Server

Windows Server 2008 Server Core : The Command Line Made Easy

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10/22/2010 6:16:07 PM
Some people are of the opinion that the command line works one way. You type in a command and hope that you got all of the information right and received the correct result, which you then have to interpret. This entire activity sounds quite difficult, somewhat boring, and error prone to say the least. You have to wonder why someone would put themselves through all that pain. However, the command line isn't anything like the scenario just mentioned. Actually, if you know a few simple rules, using the command line doesn't have to be hard at all. The following sections describe some of the methods you can use to work at the command line.

Alternatives to Exclusive Command Line Management

After you perform the initial Server Core setup, you have several ways to work with Server Core without using the command line exclusively. One technique is to create a Remote Desktop connection. Using this approach, you can use the features of your local client to reduce the work required at the command line. You can learn more about this technique in the "Working with the Remote Desktop Connection Application" section of the chapter.

A second method is to rely on Windows PowerShell. You can't run Windows PowerShell in Server Core because Windows PowerShell requires a managed environment. Microsoft is actually working on a smaller version of the .NET Framework that lacks the graphical features of the full version so you can run Windows PowerShell in Server Core, but for now, you need to run Windows PowerShell from the client against Server Core instead of the local machine. You're limited to using the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) features of Windows PowerShell when working with Server Core.

The third method is to rely on the standard consoles that you've always used. These consoles appear in the Administrative Tools folder of the Control Panel. Not all of the consoles will work with Server Core and some of the consoles will have limited functionality. For example, the Computer Management console shown here contains fewer entries for Server Core because not all of the entries apply. In addition, when you select some entries, the console tells you that it can't display the information. For example, if you click on Performance Logs and Alerts, Device Manager, any of the Storage features, or SQL Server Configuration Manager, the Computer Management console will tell you that these features aren't available.

To access Server Core from a console, right-click the root node and choose Connect to Another Computer from the context menu. You'll see a Select Computer dialog box. Type the name of the other computer (or click Browse to select it) and click OK. The console makes the connection to the server and displays its contents. Depending on your network connection speed and the load on the server, you may notice a significant delay between actions. Just be patient and the console will provide the information you need.

1. Using Utilities Directly

Generally, you'll begin using the command line by working with the utilities directly. After all, it's a little hard to create a batch file or script if you don't know how the command works. However, using a command doesn't have to be hard. All you need to remember are two simple characters, /?. That command line switch says, "Help me!" The command usually will help by presenting you with some options for using it.

Let's begin by working with one of the more useful commands to determine how much of a load the server is carrying. Type TaskList /? and press Enter. Figure 1 shows what you'll see. (I've scrolled back to the top so you can see the major entries.)

Figure 1. Make things simple; ask the command for usage instructions.

The first piece of information is the usage instructions for the command. A set of square brackets ([]) tells you about an optional input. In this case, everything is optional; you can use TaskList by itself.

A slash (/) tells you about a command line switch. Sometimes command line switches appear with a dash (-) instead. In either case, a command line switch configures the command to perform a task in a specific way. For example, TaskList doesn't normally display services, but you can tell it to display services by adding the /SVC command line switch.


Most command line switches are case insensitive, which means you can type them in either uppercase or lowercase (or even a mix). A few command line switches are case sensitive, which means you must type them as shown. In fact, a few command line switches appear in both uppercase and lowercase—/A may mean sort in alphabetical order, while /a may mean to ignore binary information. This book will always tell you when the command line switch case matters. Otherwise, you can assume that the command line switches are case insensitive and you can type them using any case that you wish.

Some command line switches depend on other command line switches. You'll see the command line switches nested within multiple layers of square brackets in this situation. For example, if you want to supply a password for logging into a remote system to view the tasks running on it, you must also supply the /System and /Username command line switches.

In other cases, command line switches are mutually exclusive. The command line separates these switches with the pipe (|) symbol. The TaskList command won't allow you to use the /M command line switch with the /SVC switch; you must select one or the other.

After the usage information, you'll normally see a description section for newer commands. The description tells you what task the command performs and why you would want to use it. Sometimes this information is quite complete, as it is with the TaskList command, and in other cases, you'll still be scratching your head after you read the description. Older commands don't provide a description at all; you just have to know what task they perform, which is why many people don't use them.

A description of the individual parameters (or arguments and inputs) comes next. These entries tell you how to use the individual command line switches. You'll also discover other kinds of information you must provide. For example, the Dir (directory) command information shown in Figure 2 tells you that you can provide a drive letter, followed by a colon, followed by a directory path, and ending with a filename specification. None of these entries is a command line switch, but they're all important parameters.

Figure 2. Sometimes you provide text input as well as command line switches.

The final section is a list of examples. Only a few commands provide this kind of information, but it's always helpful when they do. The examples come in many forms. The TaskList command provides a list of filters first, so you can see how to get the output you want. It provides actual usage examples next so you can see what to type at the command line. The point is that most people could use a command at the command prompt if they knew the simple /? command line switch. Go ahead and try it out now with the TaskList and Dir commands. You'll want to keep the /? command line switch in mind as you read about other commands in this book. Try it out with every one of them and you'll find that most commands provide some information, usually enough to jog your memory when you need to use the command.

Storing Commands in Batch Files

I've worked at the command line for years, so you might assume that I have all of these commands memorized by now. However, like many people, I find that memorizing all of the commands, their parameters, and their command line switches is just too much work. However, discovering the required parameters one time isn't too much work. That's where batch files come to my aid. I use batch files to remember specific command sequences for me.

When you need to store one or more commands so you don't have to remember them every time you want to use them, a batch file can do the job. In fact, you can create batch files that have a limited amount of intelligence so they don't perform the same task in the same way every time. Batch files are the first method that many people use to automate the command line. I have batch files that I wrote over 18 years ago when I started with computers and I'm still using them today. In short, a good batch file can last a very long time. The thing to remember about batch files is that they're very easy to write, only have a little intelligence (so there isn't any heavy coding), and don't require anything special to execute.

2. Writing Scripts

Scripts are the next step up in complexity. A script uses a simple programming language to accomplish tasks. You can't create complex applications using a script. For example, you wouldn't want to write a word processor application using a script. However, scripting languages provide more intelligence than a batch file can. In addition, you can access some of the functionality that Windows provides. Consequently, rather than rely on utilities for every action, you can ask Windows for some help in automating your tasks.

A script requires a special environment to run. Windows provides this environment in the form of a script interpreter. The interpreter reads every line of code you write in your script and performs the task it requests. Writing scripts is a little harder than writing batch files, but not nearly as difficult as writing an application with a full-fledged programming language. Consequently, scripts are exactly what many people need to automate tasks when they don't want to learn a full-fledged programming language, yet find batch files less robust than they'd like.

Most of the tasks you perform using scripts have standard requirements and need to execute successfully. Active Directory, the Windows enterprise database, requires some special handling to work correctly. 

3. Scheduling Tasks

No matter how you work with the command line, whether you use individual commands, batch files, or scripts, you can schedule a task to run at a specific time. For example, if you want to defragment your hard drive every night. Of course, you'd better be certain that everything is set up correctly before you assume the computer can perform the task on its own. Many people begin using the Task Scheduler to run tasks that they could forget during normal work hours and then progress to after-hours tasks.

4. Relying on Third-Party Utilities

The tools that Microsoft provides for working at the command line are basic, simple, and not always the best tools at your disposal. However, Microsoft is actually spending a lot of time trying to upgrade their offerings with new features such as the OCList utility provided with Server Core. Third-party tools for working at the command prompt have been around for a long time. Most of these products are mature, fully tested, and quite capable of making your command line experience everything it should be.
Other -----------------
- Windows Server 2008 Server Core : Accessing DLLs Using the RunDLL32 Utility
- Windows Server 2008 Server Core : Configuring the Server for Initial Use
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Terminal Services (part 3)
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Terminal Services (part 2)
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Terminal Services (part 1)
- Windows Server 2008 : Deploying a Terminal Server (part 2) - Specifying NLA Settings
- Windows Server 2008 : Deploying a Terminal Server (part 1)
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Server Clusters (part 2)
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Server Clusters (part 1)
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Server Storage (part 3) - Configuring a Mount Point
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Server Storage (part 2) - Managing Disks, Volumes, and Partitions
- Windows Server 2008 : Configuring Server Storage (part 1)
- Use the Microsoft Management Console (MMC)
- Manage Windows Server 2008 : Work with Preconfigured MMCs
- Manage Windows Server 2008 : Work with the Task Scheduler
- Manage Windows Server 2008 Using Remote Desktop
- Manage Windows Server 2008: Configure Backups and Perform Restores
- Windows Server 2008 : Determine Which Terminal Services Roles to Install
- Windows Server 2008 : Install the TS Gateway Role Service and TS Web Access Role Service
- Windows Server 2008 : Install the TS Licensing Role Service
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