Obtaining Command Line Help

Both Administering Windows Server 2008 Server Core and it’s more diminutive counterpart, Windows Command-Line Administration Instant Reference, are reference manuals that tell how to use the command line to perform specific tasks. The first book is more complete, in that it contains many uncommon commands and utilities. The second book is designed to provide more hands-on help by supplying a significant number of actual usage examples. In both cases, you get a significant amount of help about the commands. As long as you have one of these two books by your side, you’re in great shape for knowing how to use the commands at the command line. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of us don’t stuff a library full of books in our back pocket. Even with an e-Reader, such as the Kindle, you can be sure of having the device available every time you need it. So, how do you get at least some quick help when there aren’t any resources available?

The first thing to remember is that you can get at least some useful information for any command or utility by using the /? or -? command line switches (some commands and utilities are peculiar in that they require either the /? or the -? command line switch, while many will allow you to use either). For example, when you want to discover how to use the Dir command, you type Dir /? and press Enter. Here’s typical output when using the /? command line switch.

GettingHelp01

This help screen is also typical in showing what you get. Help normally includes a short description of the command, the command line syntax, and a short description of each of the command line switches. You may also see usage examples for more complex commands. In rare cases, the help screen will provide an URL for additional help.

Some commands and utilities are complex enough that they require several help screens. For example, if you type WMIC /? and press Enter, you’ll see a list of help topics, not help of the sort provided for the Dir command. Let’s say you want to know more about the CPU topic. So, now you type WMIC CPU /? and press Enter. The help looks a little more normal now, but still isn’t very complete because you need to choose a subcommand. Perhaps you want just a list of CPUs on a system, so you request information about the List subcommand by typing WMIC CPU List /? and pressing Enter. Wow, now you see a number of listing formats. This time you add a listing format by typing WMIC CPU List Brief /? and pressing Enter. It turns out that you can also discover information about command line switches used with the Brief format. The final level in this case is to type WMIC CPU List Brief /Translate /? and press Enter. The WMIC utility is unique in providing so many levels of help, but other complex commands and utilities, such as Net, do provide multilevel help.

No matter how many help screens you see, sometimes it isn’t enough to give you the help you need. That’s when you need to find your copy of my book to get additional information. Of course, a single book can do only so much—some complex commands and utilities may require still more information. Technet is a good place to start. For example, you can find an excellent article on WMIC at http://technet.microsoft.com/library/bb742610.aspx. Knowledge base articles also provide useful information, especially when it comes to issues that Microsoft has solved for a given command or utility. For example, the Knowledge Base contains an article entitled, “How to find computer serial number” that relies on WMIC. Finally, make sure you look at third party articles, such as the one entitled, “WMIC: the best command line tool you’ve never used.”

Many people complain about not being able to remember all of the commands and utilities, and this is a problem. After you use a command or utility often enough, you tend to remember it, but the memorization process can take time. Unfortunately, there isn’t any single quick method of finding every command or utility on a system. However, you should start by typing Help | More and pressing Enter. (Using the More command lets you see the information that a utility has to provide one screen at a time, rather than seeing the information scroll right past.) You’ll get a list of common commands like this one.

GettingHelp02

Not all of the commands appear on this list and none of the utilities do. Another way to obtain the information you need is to type Dir *.COM and press Enter in the \Windows\system32 directory. (You can type CD \Windows\System32 and press Enter to get to the appropriate directory.) Every directory entry you see is very likely a utility. However, many utilities are in .EXE form, so you also need to type Dir *.EXE | More and press Enter. You can eliminate files that contain more than eight letters in the filename from the list in most cases because command line utilities usually rely on the old 8.3 naming convention. Check filenames that look like they could be what you want by typing Filename /? and pressing Enter (where Filename is the name of the file you want to test). Useful command line utilities will generally display a help screen.

Now that you have a better idea of how to get command line help when you need it and where to obtain a list of useful commands and utilities, you should take some time to try it out for yourself. What techniques do you use to obtain the additional information you need at the command line? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Visual Studio Quick Guide to Accessibility (Part 1)

One of the most important accessibility aids that also applies to common users is the keyboard accelerator (or keyboard shortcut). In fact, this issue figures prominently in both C# Design and Development and Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. Just why Microsoft decided to turn this feature off in Windows 7 is a complete mystery to me. All of the pertinent examples in Professional Windows 7 Development Guide include keyboard accelerators, but you can’t see them. I’ve received a number of queries about this problem and decided that this two-part post on accessibility for Visual Studio developers is really necessary.

First, let’s discuss the keyboard accelerator from a programming perspective. A keyboard accelerator is the underline you see on a button, label, menu, or other control. You press Alt+Letter to perform the equivalent of a click or selection with the associated control. For example, most people know that you press Alt+F to access the File menu in an application that has keyboard accelerators properly implemented.

To create a keyboard accelerator, the developer precedes the letter or number with an ampersand (the & character). For example, to make the File menu respond to Alt+F, the developer would type &File in the development environment. I’ve always strongly encouraged the use of keyboard accelerators as a must have for any application because many keyboardists are seriously hindered by an application that lacks them. In fact, you’ll find the keyboard accelerators used in the vast majority of my books, even for examples that aren’t related to programming in any way.

Second, some developers who feel as I do about keyboard accelerators are upset that adding them to applications no longer works (apparently). Windows 7 hides the keyboard accelerators for some odd reason known only to Microsoft. The Ribbon interface provides an equivalent when the developer provides it, but we’re talking about all of the applications (the vast majority) that don’t use the Ribbon interface. It turns out that you must manually turn the keyboard accelerator support back on. Follow this steps to accomplish the task manually:

 

  1. Open the Control Panel, followed by the Ease of Access applet. Click the Ease of Access Enter link. You’ll see the list of options shown here:Accessibility0101
  2. Click Make the Keyboard Easier to Use. You’ll see a list of options for making the keyboard easier to use. Near the bottom of the list you’ll see the Underline Keyboard Shortcuts and Access Keys option shown here.
    Accessibility0102
  3. Check this option and then click OK. The system will now display the underlines as before.

One of the biggest questions I had while working through this is whether there is a method for turning this feature on or off at the command line. There isn’t any WMIC command that I’ve found to make the change (nor any other command for that matter), so I’m currently trying to discover the associated registry keys. I’ve found one so far. The On value in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Accessibility\Keyboard Preference key must be changed to 1. However, that value alone doesn’t make the change work, so there are more keys and values to find. If anyone has some clues to provide me about this particular need, please let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In the meantime, I’ll continue looking for the elusive registry updates required to automate this change.

 

Quotas Revisited for Windows XP

The other day I provided a post about quotas that contained a simple three step process for turning quota monitoring on and logging quota events, without actually enforcing the quota. It turns out that the process works just fine with Vista and Windows 7, but it doesn’t quite work with Windows XP. Microsoft made a fix between operating systems and didn’t mention the change to anyone. Of course, this is an old story with Microsoft. You have to watch carefully because you might miss a fix and find that your perfectly functioning batch file or script suddenly stops working.

It turns out that Windows XP does things a little differently. When you execute the FSUtil Quota Track C: command, you get the expected result; tracking is enabled. The next step is to turn on exception logging using the WMIC QuotaSetting Where Caption=”C:” Set ExceededNotification=True command, which also works as expected. However, when you execute the WMIC QuotaSetting Where Caption=”C:” Set WarningExceededNotification=True command to turn on warning logging, suddenly, the exception logging is turned off. Likewise, if you were to reverse the order of the two WMIC commands, you’d find that warning logging is turned off.

Fortunately, there is a fix to this problem and it’s a very odd fix indeed. In order to enable tracking and turn on both levels of logging, you need to follow this order in Windows XP:

  1. FSUtil Quota Track C:
  2. WMIC QuotaSetting Where Caption=”C:” Set ExceededNotification=True
  3. WMIC QuotaSetting Where Caption=”C:” Set ExceededNotification=True

That’s right, you issue the exception logging command twice and you’ll find that both logging check boxes are checked. Microsoft fixed this particular error between Windows XP and Vista, but I can’t find any source that tells me about the fix. If you find one, feel free to contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

FSUtil and Quotas

There is more than a little confusion about the use of FSUtil with quotas. For one thing, precisely why would someone use the FSUtil Quota Track command when it doesn’t enforce the quotas you set? I’m sure Microsoft has some scenario in mind for just tracking and not enforcing the quotas. I did talk with one of my administrator friends. She uses just the tracking option at her company. The reasoning is that she can then talk with the user when the user goes over a limit. In this particular organization, it’s bad form to limit the user’s access to the hard drive when in the midst of an important procedure (as it might have dire consequences). She says that she does see the event log entries when someone goes over their quota. So, that’s one potential scenario—you have an administrator that has to work with the users to maintain the hard drive but isn’t allowed to enforce those limits directly because doing so could impede work.

Of course, one of the problems with the tracking feature is that it doesn’t automatically set logging. In order to configure drive C on your system to track user activities and log them in the event, you must initially configure the drive using these three commands.

  1. FSUtil Quota Track C:
  2. WMIC QuotaSetting Where Caption=”C:” Set ExceededNotification=True
  3. WMIC QuotaSetting Where Caption=”C:” Set WarningExceededNotification=True

The two WMIC commands set the two logging options for you. What these commands do is set the quota exceeded and quota warning flags for drive C. After you issue these three commands, the Quota Settings dialog box will look like this:

Quota1

You can now add quotas using the FSUtil Quota Modify command as described in page 89 of my book, “Windows Command Line Administration: Instant Reference.” Generally speaking, you can add an overall quota for the entire drive or individual quotas for each person. The overall quota affects everyone who doesn’t have a specific individual quota.

OK, now you’ve configured the C drive to provide quota information in the form of event log entries. So, you create a test case to make sure everything works and that’s when you figure out that you can’t see any entries in the event log. In addition, it appears that the FSUtil Quota Violations command doesn’t work either. Well, that’s a little disappointing.

The problem is a lot simpler to correct than you might initially think. Microsoft hides the information you need in the Knowledge Base article at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/228812. The short story is that NTFS only scans the drive once an hour for violations, so you’ll have to wait a while to see any test violations. Of course, you might not have all day to wait around for NTFS to get around to scanning the drive. So, you can use the FSUtil Behavior Set QuotaNotify 60 command to set NTFS to scan the drive once a minute. In order to get this command to work, however, you must reboot the system. It seems that NTFS also loads its settings once during each boot cycle and then ignores the registry settings thereafter.

Once NTFS starts scanning the drive at a reasonable interval, you’ll begin seeing entries in the System event log. In addition, you can use the FSUtil Quota Violations command to look for violations as shown here:

Quota2

At this point, you’re ready to go. Your system is setup to monitor quotas in a critical environment, but not to enforce the quotas (thus preventing people from completing tasks). I’ve had at least one person tell me that the FSUtil Quota Violations command tends not to work if the System event log gets too full; I’d like to find out whether other people are having the same problem. Let me know how you use quotas on your system at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.