What Is the Windows Terminal & How Does It Work?

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Windows Terminal is a terminal application from Microsoft. It only works with Windows 11 and Windows 10; it's built-in to the former, but you have to download it manually for Windows 10. It includes unique features not found in Microsoft's other command-line tools.

You might already know about Command Prompt and PowerShell, two command-line utilities that come with most versions of Windows. Windows Terminal is different for multiple reasons, but primarily because it’s a single program that provides developers with quick access to those tools and more.

Windows Terminal cmd application

Windows Terminal Features

Windows Terminal looks pretty basic at first glance, but there are a handful of features that set it apart from other Windows command-line tools:

  • Full screen mode
  • Tabbed interface to open multiple instances of the tools
  • Shortcut keys to quickly open new tabs
  • Zoom with the mouse
  • Unicode and UTF-8 character support permits the use of emoji and non-English characters
  • GPU-accelerated text rendering engine
  • Custom themes and styles can be created
  • Stylus support
  • Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), SSH, PowerShell, Command Prompt, and Azure Cloud Shell support

How to Use Windows Terminal

If you're on Windows 11, simply search for Windows Terminal from the Start menu to pull it up, or trigger it from the Power User Menu.

Windows 10 users need to follow these steps:

  1. Download and install Windows Terminal from Microsoft’s website.

  2. Use the search bar at the bottom of Windows to find and select Windows Terminal.

  3. PowerShell will open. You can enter commands just like you would if you’d had opened Windows PowerShell directly.

  4. To open another PowerShell tab, use the plus sign at the top of Windows Terminal. Or, to launch a different tool, select the down arrow and select cmd or Azure Cloud Shell.

    Windows Terminal menu options

Editing Windows Terminal Settings

Changing the settings for Windows Terminal is easy: Use the down arrow at the top of the program, and then select Settings

Windows Terminal Settings screen

There are a number of options you can customize there. To edit additional settings, select Open JSON file from the bottom of that screen. The file settings.json will open in your default text editor (likely Notepad, but you can use a different text editor if you want).

Microsoft has directions for using the Settings JSON file. There are also example edits here.

Tips for Using Windows Terminal

The default shell is Windows PowerShell, so every time you open Windows Terminal, PowerShell will be the utility you see first (you can change this in the settings). This also means that the plus sign next to the tabs at the top of Windows Terminal will always open PowerShell, regardless of the tool you’re currently using.

There are shortcut keys you can use to quickly open an item from the menu. These are the default key bindings for running these actions:

  • Ctrl+Shift+1 opens Windows PowerShell
  • Ctrl+Shift+2 opens Command Prompt
  • Ctrl+Shift+3 opens Azure Cloud Shell
  • Ctrl+, opens Settings
  • Ctrl+Shift+F opens the search box

Use the Command Palette menu option (Ctrl+Shift+P) to see other shortcuts.

Windows Terminal requires Windows 10 version 18362.0 or higher. If you can’t install it, update Windows to the latest version.

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