Steves XP Legacy Games Corner
DOS Tutorial
By Steve Metzler (Last updated: 23rd January, 2006)

Often we older folks (I'm speaking for myself here, so please don't be offended) forget things, as we are wont to do. Namely, we forget that other folks who only came into the realm of gaming recently may have never experienced the wonders of that venerable old PC operating system, DOS. So even though we may be able to get an old DOS game working for you in DOSBox, we still haven't told you how to actually run the game! With this in mind, we hereby present some DOS fundamentals. You're not going to learn everything about DOS here - just the commands you need to navigate around the place and set things running.

Getting around
When DOSBox comes up, if you have configured it according to our instructions, you wind up sitting in the root of the hard drive, which is letter 'C'. So start up DOSBox right now. Then you can Alt-Esc out of it to continue reading these instructions. After a bit of reading, just click on the DOSBox icon on the task bar to get back into it.

OK, let's begin the tutorial. If you want to switch to the CD-ROM drive, on most PCs you would type (note: all commands shown here must always be followed by the Return key to execute):


Think of each drive as a tree. The branches of the tree are off the aforementioned root, and these are called directories (what in Windows-speak are called 'folders'). If you did move to the CD-ROM drive, let's now move back to the hard drive by entering:


Now let's have a look at what directories are off the root. You do this by executing the following command:


Whoa! The first thing you may notice here is that we have a bit of information overload. There are typically so many files and directories off the root of a Windows PC hard drive that the 25 lines of a DOS display can't hold them all, so a lot of the information scrolled off the top. No fear, we can page the dir command:

dir /p

Now each time you hit the Return key, you get the next page. Note that all the directories are followed by <DIR>, whereas all the files are not, the size of each file being instead given in bytes.

Let's try a little more navigation, now that we're becoming more comfortable with the DOS commands. Pick one of the directories, and we'll now use the Change Directory command to change to it:

cd (directory name here)

One thing that you'll notice is that DOS has a limit of 8 characters for a file or directory name, and a limit of 3 characters for what we call a file extension, like EXE. This limitation results in some mighty strange directory names. For instance, the ubiquitous C:\Program Files directory is actually listed as: PROGRA~1 (note: that shifted tilde character is obtained in DOSBox, at least on English/American keyboards it is, by shifting the key to the left of the '1' key).

Another trick that you'll need to know is that to get from any directory back to the root, you just enter:

cd \

This can be combined with another directory name, or series of directory names. So you could enter:

cd \dir-x\dir-y

We call dir-y a sub-directory of dir-x. You may have also noticed that DOS is not case sensitive, so dir-x is the same as DIR-X is the same as DiR-x. Knock yourself out.

Running stuff
OK, I think we're ready for the big time. Now that we can move around to places where there are programmes to run, let's try running one. I've got Realms of the Haunting (ROTH) set up in DOSBox, so let's first change to the directory where I installed it via:

cd \roth

Performing a dir command here shows a few possible things I can run, most notably:

The BAT extension designates a batch file, which contains a series of DOS commands to be executed, just like these ones we are typing. An EXE file is an executable file (programme). Anyway, the ROTH manual says it's the batch file we want. So just enter:


...and we're away! If we instead were told to run the executable directly, we could have typed:


If you want to remove any ambiguity, you can type the full filename, with a dot between the filename and its extension, like this:


It's that easy, once you know how :-)