James O'Neill's Blog

May 31, 2016

Help = Spec = Test

Filed under: Powershell,Testing — jamesone111 @ 2:55 pm

Going back for some years – at least as far the talks which turned into the PowerShell Deep Dives book – I have told people ”Start Help Early” (especially when you’re writing anything that will be used by anyone else).
In the face of time pressure documentation is the first thing to be cut – but this isn’t a plea to keep your efforts from going out into the world undocumented. 
Help specifies what the command does, and help examples are User Stories – a short plain English description of something someone needs to do.
Recently I wrote something to combine the steps of setting up a Skype for business (don’t worry – you don’t need to know S4B to follow the remainder) – the help for one of the commands looked like this

Sets up a Skype for business user including telephony, conference PIN and Exchange Voice mail
Initialize-CsUser –ID bob@mydomain –PhoneExtension 1234 –pin 2468 –EnterpriseVoice
Enables a pre-existing user, with enterprise voice, determines and grants the correct voice policy,
sets a conferencing PIN, updates the Phone number in AD, and enables voice mail for them in Exchange.

I’ve worked with people who would insist on writing user stories as “Alice wants to provision Bob… …to do this she …”  but the example serves well enough as both help for end users and a specification for one use case: after running the command  user “bob” will

  • Be enabled for Skype-for-Business with Enterprise Voice – including “Phone number to route” and voice policy
  • Have a PIN to allow him to use voice conferencing
  • Have a human readable “phone number to dial”  in AD
  • Have appropriate voice mail on Exchange

The starting point for a Pester test (the Pester testing module ships with PowerShell V5, and is downloadable for earlier versions) ,  is set of simple statements like this – the thing I love about Pester it is so human readable.

Describe "Adding Skype for business, with enterprise voice, to an existing user"  {
### Code to do it and return the results goes here
    It "Enables enterprise voice with number and voice policy" {    }
    It "Sets a conference PIN"                                 {    }
    It "Sets the correct phone number in the directory"        {    }
    It "Enables voice mail"                                    {    }

The “doing” part of the test script is the command line from the example (through probably with different values for the parameters).
Each thing we need to check to confirm proper operation is named in an It statement with the script to test it inside the braces. Once I have my initial working function, user feedback will either add further user stories (help examples), which drive the creation of new tests or it will refine this user story leading either to new It lines in an existing test (for example “It Sets the phone number in AD in the correct format”) or to additional tests (for example “It generates an error if the phone number has been assigned to another user”)

In my example running the test a second time proves nothing, because the second run will find everything has already been configured, so a useful thing to add to the suite of tests would be something to undo what has just been done. Because help and test are both ways of writing the specification, you can start by writing the specification in the test script – a simplistic interpretation of “Test Driven Development”.  So I might write this

Describe "Removing Skype for business from a user"   {
### Code to do it and return the results goes here       
    It "Disables S4B and removes any voice number"   {    } –Skip
    It "Removes voice mail"                          {    } –Skip

The –Skip prevents future functionality from being tested. Instead of making each command a top-level Describe section in the Pester script, each can be a second-level Context section.

Describe "My Skype for business add-ons" {
    Context "Adding Skype for business, with enterprise voice, to an existing user"   {...}
    Context "Removing Skype for business from a user"  {...}

So… you can start work by declaring the functions with their help and then writing the code to implement what the help specifies, and finally create a test script based on the Help/Spec OR you can start by writing the specification as the outline of a Pester test script, and as functionality is added, the help for it can be populated with little more than a copy and paste from the test script.
Generally, the higher level items will have a help example, and the lower level items combine to give the explanation for the example. As the project progresses, each of the It commands has its –Skip removed and the test block is populate, to-do items show up on the on the test output as skipped.

Describing My Skype for business add-ons
   Context Adding Skype for business, with enterprise voice, to an existing user

    [+] Sets the phone number to call in the directory 151ms
    [+] Enables enterprise voice with the phone number to route and voice policy  33ms
    [+] Sets a conference PIN  18ms
    [+] Enables voice mail  22ms

   Context Removing Skype for business from a user
    [!] Disables S4B and removed any voice number 101ms
    [!] Removes voice mail 9m
Tests completed in 347ms
Passed: 4 Failed: 0 Skipped: 2 Pending: 0

With larger pieces of work it is possible to use –skip and an empty script block for an It statement to mean different things (Pester treats the empty script block as “Pending”), so the test output can shows me which parts of the project are done, which are unfinished but being worked on, and which aren’t even being thought about at the moment, so it compliments other tools to keep the focus on doing the things that are in the specification. But when someone says “Shouldn’t it be possible to pipe users into the remove command”, we don’t just go and write the code, we don’t even stop at writing and testing. We bring the example in to show that way of working.

May 23, 2016

Good and bad validation in PowerShell

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 10:35 am

I divide input validation into good and bad. image

Bad validation on the web makes you hate being a customer of a whichever organization. It’s the kind which says “Names can only contain alphabetic characters” so O’Neill isn’t a valid name.
Credit card companies think it’s easier to write blocks of 4 digits but how many web sites demand an unbroken string of 16 digits?

Good validation tolerates spaces and punctuation and also spots credit card numbers which are too short or don’t checksum properly and knows the apostrophe needs special handling. Although it requires the same care on the way out as on the way in as this message from Microsoft shows.
And bad validation can be good validation paired with an unhelpful message  – for example telling your new password you chose isn’t acceptable without saying what is.

In PowerShell, parameter declarations can include validation, but keep in mind validation is not automatically good.
Here’s good validation at work: I can write parameters like this. 
     [ValidateSet("None", "Info", "Warning", "Error")]
     [string]$Icon = "error"

PowerShell’s intellisense can complete values for the -Icon parameter, but if I’m determined to put an invalid value in here’s the error I get.
Cannot validate argument on parameter 'Icon'.
The argument "wibble" does not belong to the set "None,Info,Warning,Error" specified by the ValidateSet attribute.
Supply an argument that is in the set and then try the command again.

It might be a bit a verbose, but it’s clear what is wrong and what I have to do to put it right. But PowerShell builds its messages from templates and sometimes dropping in the text from the validation attribute gives something incomprehensible, like this 
Cannot validate argument on parameter 'Path'.
The argument "c:" does not match the "^\\\\\S*\\\S*$" pattern.
Supply an argument that matches "^\\\\\S*\\\S*$" and try the command again.

This is trying to use a regular expression to check for a UNC path to a share ( \\Server\Share), but when I used it in a conference talk none of 50 or 60 PowerShell experts could work that out quickly. And people without a grounding in regular expressions have no chance.
Moral: What is being checked is valid but to get a good message, do the test in the body of the function.

Recently I saw this – or something like it via a link from twitter.

function Get-info {
  Param (
  Get-WmiObject –ComputerName $ComputerName –Class 'Win32_OperatingSystem'

Immediately I can see too things wrong with the parameter.
First is “All parameters must have a type” syndrome. ComputerName is a string, right? Wrong! GetWmiObject allows an array of strings, most of the time you or I or the person who wrote the example will call it with a single string, but when a comma separated list is used the “Make sure this is a string” validation concatenates the items into a single string.
Moral. If a parameter is passed straight to something else, either copy the type from there or don’t specify a type at all.

And Second, because the parameter isn’t mandatory and doesn’t’ have a default, so if we run the function with no parameter, it calls Get-WmiObject with a null computer name, which causes an error. I encourage people to get in the habit of setting defaults for parameters.

The author of that article goes on to show that you can use a regular expression to validate the input. As I’ve shown already regular expression give unhelpful error messages, and writing comprehensive ones can be and art in itself in the example, the author used
But if I try
Get-info MyMachine.mydomain.com
Back comes a message to
Supply an argument that matches "^\w+$" and try the command again
The author specified only “word” characters (letters and digits), no dots, no hyphens and so on. The regular expression can be fixed, but as it becomes more complicated, the error message grows harder to understand.

He moves on to a better form of validation, PowerShell supports a validation script for parameters, like this
[ValidateScript({ Test-Connection -ComputerName $_ -Quiet -Count 1 })]
This is a better test, because it checks whether the target machine is pingable or not. But it is still let down by a bad error message.
The " Test-Connection -ComputerName $_ -Quiet -Count 1 " validation script for the argument with value "wibble" did not return a result of True.
Determine why the validation script failed, and then try the command again.

In various PowerShell talks I’ve said that a user should not have to understand the code inside a function in order to use the function. In this case the validation code is simple enough that someone working knowledge of PowerShell can figure out the problem but, again, to get a good message, do the test in the body seems good advice, in simple form the test would look like this
if (Test-Connection -ComputerName $ComputerName -Quiet -Count 1) {
        Get-WmiObject –ComputerName $ComputerName –Class 'Win32_OperatingSystem'
else {Write-Warning "Can't connect to $computername" }

But this doesn’t cope with multiple values in computer name – if any are valid the code runs so it would be better to run.
foreach ($c in $ComputerName) {
    if (Test-Connection -ComputerName $c -Quiet -Count 1 ) {
        Get-WmiObject –ComputerName $c –Class 'Win32_OperatingSystem'
    else {Write-Warning "Can't connect to $c"}

This doesn’t support using “.” to mean “LocalHost” in Get-WmiObject – hopefully by now you can see the problem: validation strategies can either end up stopping things working which should work or the validation becomes a significant task. If a bad parameter can result in damage, then a lot validation might be appropriate. But this function changes nothing so there is no direct harm if it fails; and although the validation prevents some failures, it doesn’t guarantee the command will succeed. Firewall rules might allow ping but block an RPC call, or we might fail to logon and so on. In a function which uses the result of Get-WmiObject we need to check that result is valid before using it in something else. In other words, validating the output might be better than validating the input.

Note that I say “Might”: validating the output isn’t always better. Depending on the kind of things you write validating input might be best, most of the time. Think about validation rather than cranking it out while running on autopilot. And remember you have three duties to your users

  • Write help (very simple, comment-based help is fine) for the parameter saying what is acceptable and what is not. Often the act of writing “The computer name must only contain letters” will show you that you have lapsed into Bad validation
  • Make error messages understandable. One which requires the user to read code or decipher a regular expression isn’t, so be wary of using some of the built in validation options.
  • Don’t break things. Work the way the user expects to work. If commands which do similar things take a list of targets, don’t force a single one.
    If “.” works, support it.
    If your code uses SQL syntax where “%” is a wildcard, think about converting “*” to “%”, and doubling up single apostrophes (testing with my own surname is a huge help to me!)
    And if users want to enter redundant spaces and punctuation, it’s your job to remove them.

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