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On the command line on Windows 8.1, how can I kill/close all Windows file explorer windows... but without killing and restarting the shell?

It's crazy that they're the same process.

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You can use the command line utility NirCmd (freeware) (archive.org's mirror for the webpage; archive.org's mirror for the binary) and execute:

nircmd.exe win close class "CabinetWClass"

I use it on Windows 7 SP1 x64 Ultimate and it works as intended: it will close all Windows Explorer windows, but won't kill the explorer.exe process.

The program is supposed to work on Windows 9x/ME, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10.

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    Thanks! Sorry it took so long to mark "answered". I'd totally forgotten I'd posted this question over a year ago, and just searched for a solution on Google again now only to find my own question here! nircmd rocks. – LaVache May 28 '19 at 2:15
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Complementing Franck's brilliant response:

You can automate a shortcut to this command by following the steps:

  • create a new folder somewhere you like
  • inside it, paste the app "nircmd.exe"
  • still inside it, create an expkill.txt file with the command informed by Franck:
    nircmd.exe win close class "CabinetWClass"
  • change the .txt file extension to .bat file, turning into expkill.bat
  • create a shortcut to this file and change its name to just "expkill"
  • move this shortcut to the 'user folder'

Result

now whenever you type the steps below, windows explorer windows will be closed WITHOUT terminating the explorer.exe process

  • [CTRL + R]
  • expkill
  • [ENTER]

Note

Don't know how to access the user's folder?
Follow the instructions:

  • type [Win + R]
  • type just a dot:.
  • type [enter]
  • the folder you open is the user's folder

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