Friday, March 6, 2009

DOSBox for Dummies

What is DOSBox?

DOSBox is a program that emulates DOS, allowing you to run most old games that might not run on modern operating systems.

This is what it looks like (as soon as you run it):

This is what it looks like after running a game:

How do I use DOSBox?

DOSBox can be used like any command line interface. The commands are pretty standard: cd changes directory; typing the name of an executable runs that executable, etc.

But first, before you can access your files, you need to mount a drive. In DOSBox you start at drive Z:, which is virtual, so you need to map a drive in DOSBox (e.g. C:) to a particular drive or folder on your hard disk. You can mount drive C: as follows:

mount c c:\

DOSBox recommends that you don't map a DOSBox drive directly to a root directory, so you should use some folder instead of C:\.

Note that in case a folder name is longer than 8 characters or contains spaces, you should use the tilde version of that folder name (e.g. administrator -> admini~1, i.e. take the first 6 characters and add ~1). In case a folder name contains spaces you should do something similar but take the first word instead, but I believe DOSBox still has problems with folder names containing spaces.

Writing Batch Files for DOSBox

If you use DOSBox often and don't want to do some of the repetitive tasks (e.g. mounting a drive, or running your favourite game) every time, you can write a batch file to automate the process.

A batch file (on Windows) is a text file with a .bat extension (e.g. u5.bat). In the batch file you write a list of commands that you would write in the command line; each new line runs the previous command.

The following is an example of a batch file I wrote to run Ultima 5 right away:

cd tools
cd dosbox
dosbox -c "mount c C:\docume~1\admini~1\Desktop" -c "C:" -c "cd U5" -c "ultima"

Each line is run as a separate command. In the first 3 lines, I'm going to the DOSBox directory, and in the fourth I'm running DOSBox.

Now DOSBox is nice because you can give it certain parameters, one of which is "-c". "-c" means that the following parameter is a command to be run in DOSBox. Like this, you can make DOSBox run several commands as soon as it starts, without you having to type them. Line 4 shows four commands: first I'm mounting the C drive, then I'm switching to it, then I'm going to the U5 directory, then I'm running Ultima 5.


Some games may run too fast or too slow. Hit Ctrl+F11 to slow DOSBox, or Ctrl+F12 to speed it up.


  1. Nice article dosox is great
    dgbl is good front end in many cases

  2. Thanks for the suggestion -- I am trying to run a program such as

    c:\X\program.exe %1 %2

    where %1 = c:\Y\input.file
    %2 = c:\Y\output.file

    but I don't understand the subtlties of "mount" etc.

    if I -c "mount c c:\X" I don't think dosbox can find c:\Y

  3. Wow that's actually really cool. I never tried to run these older games via DOSbox. Recently I stumbled upon a site where some of these old DOS games are available for free. Definitely going to try this out. Thanks.