How-to: Pass Command Line arguments (Parameters) to a Windows batch file.

A command line argument (or parameter) is any value passed into a batch script on the command line:

C:> MyScript.cmd January 1234 "Some value"

Arguments can also be passed to a subroutine with CALL:

CALL :my_sub 2468

You can get the value of any argument using a % followed by it's numerical position on the command line. The first item passed is always %1 the second item is always %2 and so on.

%* in a batch script refers to all the arguments (e.g. %1 %2 %3 %4 %5 ...%255)
only arguments %1 to %9 can be referenced by number.

If the argument being passed contains any spaces, then surround it with double quotes.
If there is any chance that an argument may be NULL or a zero length string, then surround it with double quotes. This will keep the parameter numbers (%1 %2 etc) consistent.

Parameter Extensions

When an argument is used to supply a filename then the following extended syntax can be applied:
We are using the variable %1 (but this works for any argument, including FOR parameters).

%~f1  Expand %1 to a Fully qualified path name - C:\utils\MyFile.txt

  Expand %1 to a Drive letter only - C:

%~p1  Expand %1 to a Path only e.g. \utils\ this includes a trailing \ which will be interpreted as an escape character by some commands.

%~n1  Expand %1 to a file Name without file extension or path - MyFile
or if only a path is present, with no trailing backslash, the last folder in that path.

%~x1  Expand %1 to a file eXtension only - .txt

%~s1  Change the meaning of f, n, s and x to reference the Short 8.3 name (if it exists.)

%~1   Expand %1 removing any surrounding quotes (")

%~a1  Display the file attributes of %1

%~t1  Display the date/time of %1

%~z1  Display the file size of %1

%~$PATH:1  Search the PATH environment variable and expand %1 to the fully qualified name of the first match found.

The modifiers above can be combined:

%~dp1 Expand %1 to a drive letter and path only.

%~sp1 Expand %1 to a path shortened to 8.3 characters.

%~nx2 Expand %2 to a file name and extension only.

These parameter/ argument variables are always denoted with a single leading %
This is unlike regular variables which have both leading and trailing %'s such as %variable%, or FOR command variables which use a single leading % on the command line or a double leading %% when used in a batch file.

When used as part of a FOR command in a batch file, two %'s are required:

Set _file=C:\Program Files\SS64\Demo.exe
For %%G in ("%_file%") DO echo Drive=%%~dG Path=%%~pG Name=%%~nG Ext=%%~xG

Parameter expansion does not perform any checking that the file/folder actually exist. The CMD shell does not read file descriptors, or work with filesystem objects the way that PowerShell does, it is processing a simple list of text strings.

Parameter expansion will treat a Full Stop within a directory name as a file extension, so for a name like "Sample 2.6.4" the output of %~n1 will be truncated to "Sample 2.6" to return the whole directory name use %1 or %~nx1

If the output of DIR, or a filename with no drive letter/path is expanded to display a Full pathname %~f1 the command shell will assume; often incorrectly; that the file resides in the current directory.

When writing batch scripts it's a good idea to store the values in a named variable SET _LogFile=%~dp1, the rest of the script can then refer to the easy-to-read variable name %_LogFile% This will also make life easier if you later need to change around the order of the parameters.


Tokenization of the command line arguments is not always done by the cmd.exe shell. Most often the tokenization is done by the newly formed processes' runtime, at the OS level, Windows passes a command line untokenized as a single string to the new process. You can read more about the low-level details of the batch language/cmd escaping from the excellent answers by jeb and dbenham on this StackOverflow question.

Passing by Reference

In addition to passing numeric or string values on the command line, it is also possible to pass a variable name and then use the variable to transfer data between scripts or subroutines. Passing by reference is a slightly more advanced technique but can be essential if the string contains characters that are CMD delimiters or quotes, otherwise passing a string like Start & middle:"and & End is likely to break something.

Drag and Drop

If you drag and drop one or more files or folders onto a batch file, the batch will be executed and the filenames (or folder names) will be passed to the batch file as arguments:
%1 = "first file", %2 = "second file" etc
Quotes are automatically added to long file names. This also happens if you drag a file into a CMD window, the full quoted filename will appear at the prompt.
If you need to drag and drop more than 9 files, use the SHIFT command inside the script.

Links relative to the Batch Script

You can get the pathname of the batch script itself with %0, parameter extensions can be applied to this so %~dp0 will return the Drive and Path to the batch script e.g. W:\scripts\ and %~f0 will return the full pathname W:\scripts\mybatch.cmd

You can refer to other files in the same folder as the batch script by using this syntax:

  CALL %0\..\SecondBatch.cmd

This can even be used in a subroutine, Echo %0 will give the call label but, echo "%~nx0" will give you the filename of the batch script.

When the %0 variable is expanded, the result is enclosed in quotation marks.

Use %~a1 to display the Extended Attributes of a file.

FOR's %%~aI recognizes 9 NTFS file attributes. The expansion of a file attribute produces a series of 9 dashes, with each recognized attribute replacing a dash with a letter. A file with no recognized attributes or with none set will expand to 9 dashes like this: ---------

 Attribute                    Expansion 
 FILE_ATTRIBUTE_ARCHIVE       --a------ 
 FILE_ATTRIBUTE_HIDDEN        ---h----- 
 FILE_ATTRIBUTE_SYSTEM        ----s---- 
 FILE_ATTRIBUTE_OFFLINE       ------o-- 
 FILE_ATTRIBUTE_NORMAL        --------- 

Other NTFS attributes not recognised by %%~aI can be read using FSUTIL usn command:

Example: Expansion of a file with the Hidden and System attributes:

Maximum line length

The maximum length of any command line (or variable) within CMD is 8191 characters.

Terminology: Command-line Argument or Parameter?

In mathematical terms a parameter is "a numerical or other measurable factor" so typically a number.

In programming terminology:
A parameter represents a value that the procedure expects you to pass when you call it.
An argument represents the actual value that you pass to a procedure.

In practice the phrases argument and parameter tend to be used interchangeably, CMD batch files do not perform any type checking.

FOR parameters

The FOR command creates parameter variables which are identified with a letter rather than a number (e.g. %%G).
The Parameter Expansions described above can also be applied to these.
To avoid confusion between the two sets of letters, avoid using the letters (a, d, f, n, p, s, t, x, z) as FOR parameters or just choose a FOR parameter letter that is UPPER case.
So for example in a reference like %%~fG the %%G is the FOR parameter, and the ~f is the Parameter Expansion.


Pass parameters from one batch to another:

   MyBatch.cmd SMITH 100

Or as part of a CALL :

   CALL MyBatch.cmd SMITH 100

Get the file size of C:\demo\sample.xlsx using the %~z parameter extension:

   @Echo off
   For %%G in ("C:\demo\sample.xlsx") do set _var=%%~zG
   Echo File size is %_var%

Passing values from one part of a script to another:

   :: Using CALL to jump to a subroutine
   CALL :s_staff SMITH 100

   :: Calling a subroutine from a FOR command
   FOR /F %%G IN ('DIR /b *.*') DO call :s_subroutine %%G

“I came here for a good argument, No you didn’t, you came here for an argument” ~ Monty Python

Related commands

CALL - Call one batch program from another.
CMD - Start a new DOS shell (cmd.exe).
IF - Test that required inputs are in place (not NULL).
FOR - Conditionally perform a command several times.
SETLOCAL - Control the visibility of environment variables.
SHIFT - Shift the position of replaceable parameters in a batch file.
How-to: Escape chars, delimiters and quotes.
PowerShell equivalent: Cast a pathname string to [System.IO.FileInfo]
StackOverflow - Script to parse optional arguments by Dave Benham.
How Command Line Parameters are Parsed by David Deley.
StackOverflow - How does the Windows Command Interpreter (CMD.EXE) parse scripts?
Equivalent bash command (Linux): dirname - Convert a full pathname to just a path.

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