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How to use the Windows XP Recovery Console

Once you install the Recovery Console, you have to familiarize yourself with the new command prompt -- and how it differs from the one within the OS itself.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Brien M. Posey
In the first part of this series, I showed you how to install the Recovery Console onto a computer that's running Windows XP. In this article, I want to continue the discussion by showing you how to use the Recovery Console once it's installed.

The Windows XP Recovery Console installation process reconfigured Windows so that it boots to a boot menu rather than immediately booting the Windows operating system. This boot menu gives you the choice of booting Windows XP or loading the Recovery Console, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

If you choose the Recovery Console option, the Recovery Console will begin to load. It will then display every Windows installation that it can locate on the hard drive. As you can see in Figure B, each installation is assigned a number. You must enter the number that corresponds to the Windows installation that you want to work with.

Figure B

Upon selecting a Windows installation, you are prompted to enter the local administrator password for that installation. Upon doing so, you are taken to a command prompt, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

At first glance, the Recovery Console's command prompt looks identical to the command prompt you can access from within Windows. Looks can be deceiving, though, as there are some very important differences between the two.

I tend to think of the Recovery Console's command prompt as a handicapped version of the Windows command prompt. For the Recovery Console, Microsoft purposefully disabled a lot of the command prompt features and capabilities in the name of security. This never made much sense to me, because even though you are using the Recovery Console, you have still authenticated into Windows using administrative credentials. But I digress.

How Windows XP and Recovery Console command prompts are different

The first major difference between the Recovery Console and the Windows XP command prompts is that the Recovery Console does not give you full access to the system's hard drive, even though you are logged in as an administrator. Also, while you can view the root directory, you can only gain access to specific subdirectories.

The Recovery Console command prompt allows you to access the Windows system folder (usually C:\Windows), the CMDCONS folder (part of the Recovery Console) and files and folders stored on removable media. The Recovery Console denies access to all other folders, including those created by Windows, such as the Program Files folder.

Note: Incidentally, there is a way that you can gain access to these folders through a roundabout method. I will show you that trick in the next article of this series.
You may find that "getting around" works a bit differently in the Recovery Console as well. For example, if you look at Figure C, you will notice that the Recovery Console initially places you in the Windows system folder. In a normal Command Prompt environment you could drop down to the root directory by entering the CD\ or CD.. command. In the Recovery Console, however, you must insert a space between the CD and the backslash. The CD.. command is invalid, and you will find that many of the typical DOS commands have been changed for use in the Recovery Console environment. I will discuss the commands in detail later on in this series.

Besides not having access to the majority of the folders on the hard disk, the Windows XP Recovery Console imposes some other significant restrictions as well. One such restriction is that removable media is designated as Read Only. If, however, you need to copy a file to removable media, there is a workaround to this restriction.

Other restrictions include the fact that you cannot reset the administrator password while working in the Recovery Console, and you do not have the ability to edit text files. This is important because most configuration files are text based.

In this article, I've talked about a lot of the things that you can not do through the Windows XP Recovery Console. In part three of this series, I will continue the discussion by showing you things that you can do, including some workarounds for issues I've already mentioned.


How to install it
How to use it
Regaining lost functionality

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award four times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities, and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox. You can visit his personal Web site at

This was last published in February 2008

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