DOSBox · Windows

DosBox beginners, newbie and first timers guide


Updated in January 2014 to fix some formatting issues and broken links.
Updated in September 2010 for DOSBox 0.74.

DOSBox is a brilliant yet compact and easy to use virtualisation program designed to run old DOS applications under modern operating systems. This tutorial assumes you have a little understanding of the underlying DOS commands and the use of a command line.

This tutorial will be designed for Windows users, though DOSBox does work on other operating systems such as Mac OS/X, Linux and FreeBSD.

Download DOSBox from their website (http://www.dosbox.com).

DosBox Installer

Run and install the newly downloaded DOSBox program. Follow all the defaults if you don’t understand any of the questions or prompts.

DOSBox 0.74 Windows start menu

Once installed, you should have a new DOSBox entry in your Windows Start Menu.

DOSBox 0.74 Manual is the extensive DOSBox instruction manual in plain text format.
DOSBox 0.74 is a shortcut to start the application. By default, it loads up a partner debugging console which is useful for troubleshooting your emulated DOS games and applications.
DOSBox 0.74 (noconsole) runs the application without the partner debugging console.
Screenshots & Recordings loads up Windows File Explorer to browse your DOSBox screen, audio and video captures.
Uninstall will remove DOSBox from your computer.
Video folder contains instructions on how to use the video capture feature within DOSBox. There is also link to the ZMBV codec that might be required to view your view your video captures within Windows Media Player.
DOSBox 0.74 Options loads up the default settings file used by DOSBox. It is a text INI settings file which is human readable and editable.
Reset KeyMapper will return DOSBox’s control and function keys back to their default.
Reset Options will return DOSBox’s settings file to its default.

To edit DOSBox’s settings, you need to click on the DOSBox Options shortcut. It should open up a configuration INI file within Windows Notepad. If you are using Windows Vista, you may need to right-click the shortcut and Run as administrator otherwise you might not be able to save any changes you make.

Within the file, you will see rows of text and settings most of which contain short descriptions. All the rows that start with a hash # are commented out which means DOSBox ignores them. Scroll down to the very bottom of the file, and you should encounter [autoexec]. It is where you will type and save commands that DOSBox will automatically instigate every time it starts up.

Somewhere on your computer, you will need to create a directory that DOSBox will use for its virtual hard drive. You will be able to copy files and folders into this directory and DOSBox will be able to access it. If you don’t know what this all means, then we will do a simple exercise to show you.

Go to Computer in your Windows Start Menu
Double-click your Local Disk (C:)
Right-click on the whitespace within the window but make sure no folders or files are selected
Select New and then Folder
Rename the newly created folder to DOS Hard Disk
Return to Notepad that is open with dosbox-0.74.conf.
Under [autoexec] on a new line add the following text …

mount C "C:\DOS Hard Disk\"
C:

The first line tells DOSBox to mount your directory C:\DOS Hard Disk\ as a virtual hard disk and assign it a drive letter of C:
The C: tells DOSBox  to go to your newly created C: drive automatically.

Save your file in Notepad (File > Save).

Now run DOSBox.

DOSBox 0.74 startup

Thanks to our changes to the dosbox-0.74.conf file, DOSBox has automatically mounted the directory and used it as a pseudo hard drive. Now you are running a simulated DOS prompt.

In DOS to list the content of your hard drive, you use the command DIR which is probably short for directory list.

Currently, this shows the C: drive is empty.

Open Computer from your Windows start menu and go to your DOS Hard Disk folder located on your C: drive. Create a new directory and name it anything you want.

Now if you return to DOSBox and type DIR, your C: drive will still list your DOS hard disk as empty. DOSBox caches the drive on startup. So every time you make a file or directory change outside of DOSBox you need to refresh the cache using the RESCAN command or by using the [CTRL] F4 key combination.

Now download the file vgaseasn.zip (http://www.bengarrett.info/blog/vgaseasn.zip).

Download the file vgaseasn.exe (http://thelarkins.com/fun/SierraChristmas/1992/). It’s an old DOS VGA Christmas card demo created by Sierra Online back in the early 1990’s. Once downloaded, copy the file into your C:\DOS Hard Disk\ directory.

Using the DOSBox prompt RESCAN and then DIR. You should see the copied vgaseasn.exe directory.
Create a new directory named vgaseasn by running MKDIR vgaseasn
Move the file vgaseasn.exe to the directory vgaseasn by running MOVE vgaseasn.exe vgaseasn
To enter the directory use CD vgaseasn, once in use DIR to list the files within.
Run the program vgaseasn, and you should be prompted with the question Continue with Self Extraction?, answer Y

run vgaseasn

downloaded from sierra bbs

Use the DIR *.bat will list only the files with the BAT file extension. In DOS most games either used a file with a BAT (batch file), COM (command file) or more commonly an EXE (execute program) extension to start the program. Using DIR *.exe, you will see two files listed install.exe and sierra.exe.

Run the install.exe by typing install. It should run and a Sierra On-Line Game Install/Setup Program dialog should appear. Press [ENTER] to skip the dialog and you’ll go to a menu titled Installation Choices. There you will have a list of hardware selections, using your keyboard arrow keys move up to Graphics : VGA and press [ENTER].

You can see here that the Sierra On-Line installation program under DOSBox has detected both VGA and EGA graphic cards. Make sure VGA 256 colors is selected and then press [ENTER]. Return to the previous menu and scroll down to and select Music: .

Here you can see the Sierra install program detects some music cards that is emulated by DOSBox. [ESC] to return to the previous menu and then select Speech : . Again you will see many audio options available under DOSBox.

Now quit the install program by pressing [ESC] until you receive a red prompt asking you to exit. Back at the DOSBox prompt, type sierra. If everything goes well, an animated Christmas card will greet you. You can quit the program anytime by pressing [ESC]. Go back to the install program and play around with the graphic, music and sound options to see the effects.

Enjoy, I will have more tutorials in the future covering the functions and operations of DOSBox.

82 thoughts on “DosBox beginners, newbie and first timers guide

  1. hii! i already download the dos- box0.72 for my c++ projects bt i dont no how to to open the progarm means Z:\> after that what i have to press for open d program

    1. Sorry Nidhi but your question is a little vague so I don’t know if I can help. Please read and follow the article at the top of this page. You run a program by typing its name and pressing enter. If your c++ project is not compiled as a DOS EXE program file then I suggest using Google to find out how to do that.

  2. I have been trying to load the kings quest vii for my mother. I went through the installation while in dosbox as recommended and when i cd sierra.exe it gives me an error saying ‘unable to change to: sierra.exe’ but it doesn’t give me a reason why. I’ve tried everything from uninstalling and reinstalling to trying different drives and it still isn’t working. i’m at my wits end with this program file. also on my own computer it says ‘internal error occured. error 99’ or something. *sigh* i’ve tried to looking to other sites for help but you’re the only one that i see that seems to know what they’re talking about. please any help would be appreciated we are anticipating playing this game again.

    1. Hi Xylina, you seem to be using the wrong commands. CD is used to change into directory. SIERRA.EXE is the Kings Quest program file. Trying to CD into a file like you were attempting with CD SIERRA.EXE will always give an error. Instead just try SIERRA.EXE by itself. If you are finding that using DOS commands are too much effort you can legally buy and download Windows edition Kings Quest 7 & 8 packaged together from Good Old Games for $10. http://www.gog.com/gamecard/kings_quest_7_8. They optimise the install process and running of the games to work on modern day computers.

    1. You put the files in your DOSBox Virtual drive, not your Windows C: drive. In this example the DOSBox Virtual drive is “C:\DOS Hard Disk\”

  3. Hey, I just installed Dosbox, and learned to use it. I started playing The old dos game “syndicate” Yesterday, and it works great. The only problem is that i can’t save the game. Can you please help me solve that problem?

    1. This is not really a technical support for DOS games but generally games on the 1990s relied on buyers reading manuals. You can find a copy of the 59 page Syndicate manual here http://www.replacementdocs.com/download.php?view.879. It might be worth talking a look at incase you are missing some other core elements of the game.

      According to that manual to save your game you press Esc in-game to bring up the main menu and then select the Save and Load Game option.

    1. Do you mean whether you can target a Turbo C++ program for DOS, then yes you can with the earlier versions. There are a few versions of the Turbo C++ IDE that run in Windows but compile for DOS.

  4. Great program, easy to use, BUT, wonder if someone can help me, played around 15-20 games perfectly (especially love being able to adjust the game speed) – after 20 or so games, and I’m not sure if I’ve messed up some setting somewhere, the games don’t full screen when I ALT+ENTER, the screen goes full screen, but I have a 640 x 480 game with a huge black border..

    tl:dr: The window can be full screened, but the game stays the same size

    1. In your settings file look for the following under [sdl].

      fullresolution=0x0

      That setting locks the game to it’s original resolution in full screen mode, so delete that line and the border should be removed.

  5. I have a question regarding saved games. I used Oldgames to download TSR’s Goldbox series of games. Characters can be imported from one game in the series into the next. The problem I’m having is that I cannot get the characters to transfer. I managed to get my characters moved to the second game in the series by exiting the game in DOSBox to get to the command line and using “ren” command to move the files from the “c:\POOLS” folder to the “c:\CURSE” in a last ditch attempt to make it work. This worked because both the first Pools of Radiance) and second game (Curse of the Azure Bonds) saved characters with a filename based on their actual name and the extension “.cha”. The third game does not use that extension, but can transfer the game. It believe the game I’m trying to play looks for the previous characters under the “c:\curse\save” folder. Here’s the specs:

    Native OS: Windows XP
    Dosbox v 0.72 running DOS
    Games Secret of the Silver Blades TSR 1989(ish?)

    Actual organization of games
    c:\program files (x86)\Oldgames\Pool of Radiance\c\

    I have moved all three games under this folder so that DOSBox mounts the above address as c:/

    Once DOSBox is run and I go to the command line I can find all the files I need to look at, but I cannot find them when exploring in windows. Where do they go???

    1. Surprisingly for the extensive information you have given Mike I am still a little confused by your question. Any file on your hard disk in DOSBox will be shown in Windows file explorer. So if your mount folder for DOSBox is located in c:\program files (x86)\Oldgames\Pool of Radiance\c\, that is where they will be under Windows. DOSBox command line does not move files anywhere outside of the mount folder.

      I think the problem you maybe having is that by default Windows XP/Vista/7+ hides file extensions that it recognises so a file name README.TXT will only be shown as README. So I am guessing you may need to disable this hide extension feature?

      In Windows (file) Explorer use the pull-down menu at the top to select ‘Tools’, ‘Folder Options’ .. select the ‘View’ tab and look in the ‘Advanced settings’ for ‘Hide extensions for known file types’ and uncheck it. I am using Vista/7 so the menu navigation to get to that checkbox might be slightly different in XP. Let me know if that helps.

  6. I’m trying to get Return to Zork to play through Dosbox. It plays, and does rather well. Only thing is, when I start the game up it says “cannot open z:\fintro00.pmv. That, and it won’t open any of the other files that have to do with the wizard talking to you while you’re going through places. I have the files in every folder I can think of that it would need to go through but it still doesn’t work. Can you help me?

    1. Return to Zork was released on CD-ROM and floppy disk back in 1993. Are you running the game off the original media because by the sounds of your error it seems you are running a downloaded, CD-ROM pirated ‘ripped’ version? That error means you are missing the game’s introduction that was originally sitting on the CD-ROM. To correct this you can legally buy the game for $5.99 from GOG http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/return_to_zork which comes with the whole game intact and has been tested to work under Windows.

      Or if you do own the original media, please accept my apology and can I suggest trying it under ScumVM http://www.scummvm.org/.

      1. Oh, no, I’ve got the game and a ripped version of it. I’ve been using both the entire time. But it still doesn’t seem to want to work with me.

      2. No need for apologies, dude. I’m just glad someone has even somewhat of an idea of how to fix it. I’m just trying to get the game to work again so i can play it. It’s also sort of a surprise for my mom since it’s her game and she hasn’t been able to play it in over a decade. I just recently found out about the Dosbox.

      3. Sadly, no. The program didn’t seem to want to work. Although, I’m no genius. I really don’t have a clue of how to work it, but I did get it to where it would try to start it up. Only, it would just have a black screen.

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