Tip

Using the time-saving FOR command

You can save yourself a lot of time with repetitive tasks by using the FOR command in a simple batch file or using it directly from the command line. The help for this little command can be a bit daunting, but once you've learned what it is doing you'll be able to figure out creative ways to use it.

The command can be broken down into a few parts to simplify it:

  1. The FOR command itself.
  2. The switch (i.e. /F, /D, /L) that tells the command how to behave.
  3. The variable it will use in a command.
  4. The file-set, set, string, etc., it will use to get the variable.
  5. And, finally the command it will do.

A simple scenario where you would use the FOR command is to copy files to several servers in a domain. Instead of doing a manual copy you would do something like this:
FOR /f %i in (servers.txt) do (xcopy /ecify c:Source_files %ic$temp)

This example tells it to use the servers.txt file (that contains a list of servers) and make a copy of all of the files contained in the Source_files folder to the temp folder on each server. To use the FOR command in a batch program, specify %%variable instead of %variable. In the example, it would be %%i instead of %i if used in a batch file.

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This was first published in October 2004

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