James O'Neill's Blog

March 6, 2019

PowerShell formatting [not just] Part 3 of the Graph API series

Filed under: Microsoft Graph,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 8:12 am

Many of us learnt to program at school and lesson 1 was writing something like

PRINT “Enter a number”    
Xsqrd = X * X
PRINT “The Square of ” + STR(X) + “Is ” + STR(Xsqrd)

So I know I should not be surprised when I read scripts and see someone has started with CLS (or Clear-Host) and then has a script peppered with Read-Host and Write-Host, or perhaps echo – and what is echoed is a carefully built up string. And I find myself saying “STOP”

  • CLS I might have hundreds or thousands of lines in the scroll back buffer of my shell. Who gave you permission to throw them away ?
  • Let me  run your script with parameters. Only use commands like Read-Host and Get-Credential if I didn’t (or couldn’t) provide the parameter when I started it
  • Never print your output

And quite quickly most of us learn about Write-Verbose, and Write-Progress and the proper way to do “What’s happening messages” ; we also learn to Output an object, not formatted text. However, this can have a sting in the tail: the previous post showed this little snipped of calling the graph API.

Invoke-Restmethod -Uri "https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/me" -Headers $DefaultHeader

@odata.context    : https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/$metadata#users/$entity
businessPhones    : {}
displayName       : James O'Neill
givenName         : James
jobTitle          :
mail              : xxxxx@xxxxxx.com
mobilePhone       : +447890101010
officeLocation    :
preferredLanguage : en-GB
surname           : O'Neill
userPrincipalName : xxxxx@xxxxxx.com
id                : 12345678-abcd-6789-ab12-345678912345

Invoke-RestMethod  automates the conversion of JSON into a PowerShell object; so I have something rich to output but I don’t want all of this information, I want a function which works like this

> get-graphuser
Display Name  Job Title  Mail  Mobile Phones UPN
------------  ---------  ----  ------------- ---
James O'Neill Consultant jxxx  +447890101010 Jxxx

If no user is specified my function selects the current user. If I want a different user I’ll give it a –UserID parameter, if I want something about a user I’ll give it other parameters and switches, but if it just outputs a user I want a few fields displayed as a table. (That’s not a real phone number by the way). This is much more the PowerShell way, think about what it does, what goes in and what comes out, but a vaguer about the visuals of that output.

A simple, but effective way get this style of output would be to give Get-GraphUser a –Raw switch and pipe the object through Format-Table, unless raw output is needed; but I need repeat this anywhere that I get a user, and it only works for immediate output. If I do
$U = Get-GraphUser
<<some operation with $U>>

and later check what is in the variable it will output in the original style. If I forget –RAW, $U won’t be valid input… There is a better way and to tell PowerShell “When you see a Graph user format it as a table like this” ; that’s done with a format.ps1xml file – it’s easiest to plagiarize the ones in $PSHOME directory – don’t modify them, they’re digitally signed – you get an XML file which looks like this

        < View>
            <Name>Graph Users</Name>


< /Configuration>

There is a <view> section for each type of object and a <tableControl> or <listControl> defines how it should be displayed. For OneDrive objects I copied the way headers work for files, but everything else just has a table or list.  The XML says the view is selected by an object with a type name of GraphUser, and we can add any name to the list of types on an object. The core of the Get-GraphUser function looks like this:

$webparams = @{Method = "Get"
              Headers = $Script:DefaultHeader

if ($UserID) {$userID = "users/$userID"} else {$userid = "me"}

$uri = "https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/$userID"
#Other URIs may be defined 

$results = Invoke-RestMethod -Uri $uri @webparams

foreach ($r in $results) {
   if ($r.'@odata.type' -match 'user$')  {


The “common” web parameters are defined, then the URI is determined, then a call to Invoke-RestMethod, which might get one item, or a array of many (usually in a values property). Then the results have the name “GraphUser” added to their list of types, and the result(s) are returned. 

This pattern repeats again and again, with a couple of common modifications ; I can use Get-GraphUser <id> –Calendar to get a user’s calendar, but the calendar that comes back doesn’t contain the details needed to fetch its events. So going through the foreach loop, when the result is a calendar it is better for the function to add a property that will help navigation later

$uri = https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/$userID/Calendars

Add-Member -InputObject $r -MemberType NoteProperty -Name CalendarPath -Value "$userID/Calendars/$($r.id)"

As well as navigation, I don’t like functions which return things that need to be translated, so when an API returns dates as text strings I’ll provided an extra property which presents them as a datetime object. I also create some properties for display use only, which comes into its own for the second variation on the pattern. Sometimes it is simpler to just tell PowerShell – “Show these properties” when there is no formatting XML PowerShell has one last check – does the object have a PSStandardMembers property with a DefaultDisplayPropertySet child property ? For events in the calendar, the definition of “standard members” might look like this:

[string[]]$defaultProperties = @('Subject','When','Reminder')
$defaultDisplayPropertySet = New-Object System.Management.Automation.PSPropertySet`
             -ArgumentList 'DefaultDisplayPropertySet',$defaultProperties
$psStandardMembers = [System.Management.Automation.PSMemberInfo[]] @($defaultDisplayPropertySet)

Then, as the function loops through the returned events instead of adding a type name it adds a property named PSStandardMembers

Add-Member -InputObject $r -MemberType MemberSet  -Name PSStandardMembers -Value $PSStandardMembers

PowerShell has an automatic variable $FormatEnumerationLimit  which says “up to some number of properties display a table, and for more than that display a list” – the default is 4. So this method suits a list of reminders in the calendar where the ideal output is a table with 3 columns, and there is only one place which gets reminders. If the same type of data is fetched in multiple places it is easier to maintain a definition in an XML file.

As I said before working on the graph module the same pattern is repeated a lot:  discover a URI which can get the data, then write a PowerShell function which:

  • Builds the URI from the function’s parameters
  • Calls Invoke-RestMethod
  • Adds properties and/or a type name to the returned object(s)
  • Returns those objects

The first working version of a new function helps to decide how the objects will be formatted which refines the function and adds to the formatting XML as required. Similarly the need for extra properties might only become apparent when other functions are written; so development is an iterative process.   

The next post will look at another area which the module uses, but applies more widely which I’ve taken to calling “Text wrangling”,  how we build up JSON and other text that we need to send in a request.

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