James O'Neill's Blog

October 13, 2019

The colour of data

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 1:55 pm

imageI was speaking at the PSDayUK event in Birmingham recently, I had a good audience quite a few of them said nice things on twitter afterwards. A couple of days this showed up in my feed.

Why is Tom apologizing ?

I was talking about writing code to be sharable and easily re-usable, and I had a slide headed

The Biggest need to rewrite …

  • Scripts which are too concerned with printing output on screen
    • Write-Host –because coloured output is important.

And I said something along the lines of “If what colour should it be” seems like an important question your focus is wrong. And I think I said that formatting should convey something.  Why did I put the previous bit in bold ? So that if you skim down the page important things jump out. We know instinctively, that Red output means error, and Orange means warning, we learn how editors colour code different parts of syntax and what initially feels a bit random soon makes sense.  But what about the use of cyan and green text tell us in the screen shot Tom posted ? The link is not clickable in most places where PowerShell is hosted (it is in Visual Studio code), and the title definitely isn’t. Might the green sometimes turn red to indicate a problem ? No, it’s always green. This is formatting at the whim of the author. I’m left looking for a deeper meaning that isn’t there, so in a sense this “prettiness” is making a less effective result.
[Edit: After I posted this Steve Lee reminded me that some people may need to customize the colour of the error messages, so it is not completely safe to assume Red. Forcing text into a specific colour might make it unreadable for some users.]

Interestingly the author hadn’t gone down the rat-hole of using Write-Host. So this will work
$GFI =  Get-PSGoodFirstIssue
Start $GFI.html_url

This alone saves the need to rewrite to use the command in a way the author didn’t think of, which is a fairly big win. However that’s not quite the end of the story because
$GFI > temp.txt
Gives a text file like this

Title       : {esc}[96mPowerShell should… {esc}39[m
Repository  : {esc}[92mPowerShell/PowerShell{esc}39[m
Issue       : {esc}[92m2875{esc}39[m
Status      : {esc}[92mopen{esc}39[m
Assigned to : {esc}[92mUnassigned[{esc}39[m
Link        : {esc}[96mhttps://github.com/PowerShell/PowerShell/issues/2875{esc}39[m

The {esc}[  introduces a control sequence. 96m sets the foreground to bright cyan, and 92m sets it bright green and 39m sets it back to the default. How did that happen ?
In the function, a type is set on the data to be returned, like this

and Type data is set up for this type with half a dozen lines like this one.
Update-TypeData -TypeName PSGFI.GithubIssue -MemberType ScriptProperty -MemberName "Title "
-Value {$this.Title -replace '.*',"`e[96m`$0`e[39m"} -Force

Notice that for the title property here it creates a new title-with-a-trailing space property.
And finally the script adds one more piece of type data to say what should be displayed by default.
Update-TypeData -TypeName PSGFI.GithubIssue -DefaultDisplayPropertySet "Title ", 
, Issue, Status, "Assigned to", Link

The net effect of all of this is that the returned object is given 6 extra properties, and those properties are displayed by default.
If you want the original object and its properties, they are there, untouched. They are available for a Select-Object or Format-List command to get different output – much better than Write-Host.

Instead of adding the properties via TypeData, it’s possible to acheive the same effect on output using a format.ps1xml file, the result is the same: the default formatter outputs text with ANSI escape sequences embedded in it.  The whole thing could be done as using Format-List with custom properties and adding a –Raw option to output unformatted data, but the formatted version gives the same results when redirected and when saved to a variable this gives bad results.

Emphasis in PowerShell 7 Preview (daily build)
While I was drafting this, the preview of PowerShell 7 updated Select-String to have an emphasis option which on by default, but can be turned off with –NoEmphasis.  This conveys information – Select-String matches regular expressions, so finding the matching text by eyeball alone might be hard work. The default formatting for the [MatchInfo] objects that Select-String returns says “Call the object’s .ToString() method” and it is a change in .tostring() which applies the new formatting.  The result is the same – objects with the right properties for the pipeline and escape sequences preserved if redirecting to a the file. Quickly putting > filename after a select-string command isn’t a very common thing to do, the command-line switch works provided you remember to use it and those who frequently do it can use a format.ps1xml file or set a default for the parameter
$PSDefaultParameterValues=@{"Select-String:NoEmphasis"=$true} to prevent it, so the file content issue should be over-stated.

My original advice was not to get too hung up on formatting, to use colour sparingly to add meaning (not to ‘pretty things up’) and never compromise on passing proper objects along the pipeline; and that advice remains. It doesn’t mean colour is never beneficial, the preview Select-String shows it can be, but the benefit has side effects and the ideal is allow people to turn it off. [Edit that ability to turn it off is can help avoid accessibility issues, and be very careful with dark colours on a dark background. ]


September 23, 2019

The classy way to complete and validate PowerShell Parameters

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 1:51 pm
Tags: , ,

Do you ever wonder why PowerShell parameters are written the way they are? For example, when saying a parameter may have a value of null why does the attribute need to be written [AllowNull()]  with an empty () ?   

A simple answer would be that [AllowNull] alone would be setting the type for parameter’s content, but other attributes have things inside the brackets, and these vary: some just have the argument values, for example [ValidateRange(0,5)]
And others have Name=Value, like [Parameter(ParameterSetName='Another Parameter Set')]

These ‘tags’ , more properly called ‘attributes’ are actually types, and we can see what happens when an instance of them is created; here’s the New method for ValidateRange:


  ValidateRange new(System.Object minRange, System.Object maxRange)

The constructor for a new ValidateRange object needs the min and max values for the range; if you create one with the New-Object cmdlet you need to put these in the -ArgumentList parameter.   Often you see the New-Object written as New-object ValidateRange(0,5) which looks like the “New” statements in other languages. PowerShell parses that line as New-object -TypeName ValidateRange –Argumentlist (0,5).

Looking at the constructor for the  Parameter attribute, shows that it takes no arguments:

  Parameter new()

If “ParameterSetName=’Another Parameter Set’” in the example above is not an argument for the constructor, what is it?
The best way to find out is to create one of these objects and look inside:

>[Parameter]::new() | gm -MemberType Property

      TypeName: System.Management.Automation.ParameterAttribute     
  Name                            MemberType Definition     
  ----                            ---------- ----------
  DontShow                        Property   bool DontShow {get;set;}
  HelpMessage                     Property   string HelpMessage {get;set;}
  HelpMessageBaseName             Property   string HelpMessageBaseName {get;set;}
  HelpMessageResourceId           Property   string HelpMessageResourceId {get;set;}       
  Mandatory                       Property   bool Mandatory {get;set;}
  ParameterSetName                Property   string ParameterSetName {get;set;}     
  Position                        Property   int Position {get;set;}
  TypeId                          Property   System.Object TypeId {get;}
  ValueFromPipeline               Property   bool ValueFromPipeline {get;set;}
  ValueFromPipelineByPropertyName Property   bool ValueFromPipelineByPropertyName {get;set;}
  ValueFromRemainingArguments     Property   bool ValueFromRemainingArguments {get;set;}

Notice that the type name is “ParameterAttribute” – all these types have a suffix of “attribute” which is added automatically. The properties are all valid names in a [Parameter()] declaration, so
[Parameter(ParameterSetName='Another Parameter Set')]  means create a new ParameterAttribute object and set its “ParameterSetName” property. Much like setting properties in the New-Object command with the -Property parameter.

Argument completion and validation.

For a long time now I have been writing Argument Completers, for example to allow the name of a printer to be completed by pressing [Tab]. Usually these are written as functions and registered like this:
Register-ArgumentCompleter -CommandName Out-Printer -ParameterName PrinterName -ScriptBlock $Function:PrinterCompletion  

PowerShell 5 added a new parameter attribute to specify an Argument Completer. Its constructor looks like this:


  ArgumentCompleter new(scriptblock scriptBlock)
  ArgumentCompleter new(type type)

The new attribute can contain the whole of the script block (instead of saving it as a function) or use a small script block as a wrapper to call a function like this:
{PrinterCompletion $args}    

I saw the ArgumentCompleter attribute used with script block in a script someone had shared on-line (I’d like to credit them here but I can’t recall who it was), initially I thought it was something which had been in PowerShell as long as all the other parameter attributes, the about_functions_advanced_Parameters help was only updated to include it in V6 but the first script where I used failed on PowerShell 4 and more checking showed it was only added in V5. So I mentally filed it as “one to go back to”.

I had to go back to it recently because I was converting a script cmdlet to C# and I didn’t want leave the completers as scripts.
Moving the script block out of the call to Register-ArgumentCompleter and into a parameter attribute is simple enough, but it takes a bit more digging to understand using a type; and after looking at all the parameter attributes, I found a similar one which is new in PowerShell 6 (Core)

  ValidateSet new(Params string[] validValues)     
  ValidateSet new(type valuesGeneratorType)

In both cases the type parameter is a class that we define. One class might complete Color parameters used in for Excel formatting; another might validate printer names. The classes must implement methods which follow a specific template, and these templates are usually known as “Interfaces”, so for for a ValidateSet the interface says “I have a Method, GetValidValues()” – and for an Argument Completer it says “I have a method CompleteArgument(String, String, String, CommandAst, IDictionary)” which is the same set of parameters you can use when writing a script block for the attribute or for Register-ArgumentCompleter.

Let’s look at converting from using the Register-ArgumentCompleter example above to using a class which implements the IArgumentCompleter interface.  I wrote a function to give PowerShell 6 (core) the Out-Printer functionality found in Windows PowerShell (5); I wanted Tab-completion of printer names and the function to do that looks like the code below:

Function PrinterCompletion {
    $wildcard          = ("*" + $wordToComplete + "*")

    [System.Drawing.Printing.PrinterSettings]::InstalledPrinters.where({$_ -like $wildcard }) |
        ForEach-Object {[System.Management.Automation.CompletionResult]::new("'" + $_ + "'")}


So the change is to implement this as a method of a class, and use an the argumentcompleter parameter attribute to my new class, before going into that there is an one other thing to look at…

Using “using”

Powershell 5 supports a using statement in a similar way to C# and VB to shorten
System.Management.Automation.CompletionResult to CompletionResult, or
System.Drawing.Printing.PrinterSettings to PrinterSettings  
Sometimes writing things explicitly is good but a using statement reduces verbosity without sacrificing clarity.
Classes need be explicit about types where functions can be lazy so before converting the function I’m going to type all the parameters and that would look horrible with Using  – I need to specify 4 namespaces because CommandAst, IDictionary, PrinterSettings and CompletionResult are each in different ones; the revised function looks like the following example. 

using namespace System.Collections
using namespace System.Drawing.Printing
using namespace System.Management.Automation
using namespace System.Management.Automation.Language

Function PrinterNameCompleterFunction {
    [string]      $commandName,
    [string]      $parameterName,
    [string]      $wordToComplete,
    [CommandAst]  $commandAst,
    [IDictionary] $fakeBoundParameter

    $wildcard          = ("*" + $wordToComplete + "*")

    [PrinterSettings]::InstalledPrinters.where({$_ -like $wildcard }) |
        ForEach-Object –Process {[CompletionResult]::new("'" + $_ + "'")}


This version will work with Argument Completer attribute and a simple script block like this :
[ArgumentCompleter({PrinterNameCompleterFunction $args})]

The class implements IArgumentCompleter: and function morphs into the class’s only method, “CompleteArgument”. As well as being explicit about inputs, methods are more explicit about returning their results and what type they are so the class looks like this:

using namespace System.Collections
using namespace System.Collections.Generic
using namespace System.Drawing.Printing
using namespace System.Management.Automation
using namespace System.Management.Automation.Language
class printerNameCompleterPSClass : IArgumentCompleter {
    [IEnumerable[CompletionResult]] CompleteArgument(
        [string]      $CommandName ,
        [string]      $ParameterName,
        [string]      $WordToComplete,
        [CommandAst]  $CommandAst,
        [IDictionary] $FakeBoundParameters
        $wildcard          = ("*" + $wordToComplete + "*")
$CompletionResults = [List[CompletionResult]]::new()
        [PrinterSettings]::InstalledPrinters.where({$_ -like $wildcard } |
            ForEach-Object {$CompletionResults.Add([CompletionResult]::new("'" + $_ + "'")}
        return $CompletionResults

With the class in place it can be used in the Argument Completer attribute like this:


If/when you write cmdlets in C#, classes are the way to embed the completers and we can also write the class in C# and load it with Add-Type, in a PowerShell script like the following:

Add-type  -ReferencedAssemblies "System.Drawing.Common", "System.Linq",
"System.Collections", "System.Management.Automation"  -TypeDefinition
using System.Collections;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Drawing.Printing;
using System.Linq;
using System.Management.Automation;
using System.Management.Automation.Language;
public class printerNameCompleterCSharpClass: IArgumentCompleter {
IEnumerable<CompletionResult> IArgumentCompleter.CompleteArgument(
        string      commandName,
string      parameterName,
        string      wordToComplete,
        CommandAst  commandAst,
        IDictionary fakeBoundParameters
        WildcardPattern wildcard = new WildcardPattern("*" + wordToComplete + "*", WildcardOptions.IgnoreCase);
        return PrinterSettings.InstalledPrinters.Cast<string>().ToArray().
            Where(wildcard.IsMatch).Select(s => new CompletionResult("'" + s + "'"));

"@ -WarningAction SilentlyContinue    

The list of referenced assemblies may need to change on different versions of PowerShell, this one was PowerShell 7 Preview 4.
Note that the class needs to be a Public class, and because it has no public methods, Add-Type generates a warning (which is supressed in the example above).
I can see reasons for using any of the ways

  • For compatiblity with PowerShell before V5, stick with Register-ArgumentCompleter, this has the disadvantage that you can’t see there is a completer when you are looking at the code, which is solved if you … 
  • Use the argument completer attribute with a PowerShell function or Class. If you won’t target older versions. The function is probably more natural to write.
  • If you are prototyping a cmdlet to which will eventually be implemented in C#, then using a C# class from the start saves changing it later; and if you have code that you can borrow from C# it saves re-writing, just ensure the class is public and you list the right assemblies to for the version of PowerShell.

Completers and ValidateSets drive Intellisense, but the behaviour is different. Completers suggest Completing one parameter based on the value of anotherwhat the full argument could be, returning a list of based on what has been typed so far, they can use everything on the command line to make a suggestion, so when I wrote Get-Sql the completer for column names looks at the –Table parameter and gets the columns for that table.
The completer decides which of the “possibles”  are valid suggestions – and completer can become sluggish if the logic in it is to complicated.  
In the printer names example above I wanted “PDF” to suggest “Microsoft Print to PDF” so the filter matches "*$wordToComplete*". The user is not constrained to the the values suggested by the completer – for example it might suggest, “Red” or “Green” but #0000ff might a valid way to specify Blue. The validation inside the function decides that “Gray” is valid and “Grey” is not  – even the names of colors/colours change their spellings in different flavours/flavors of English.   

ValidateSets define allowed choices,  if the value entered is not in the set, PowerShell will throw an error saying “valid values are …”.  The set is passed to the shell which filters the list to valid options (this only works against the start of the text, so “PDF” doesn’t match “Microsoft Print to PDF”). PowerShell will also use Enum types to produce a set of of choices, but an invalid value causes a different error when PowerShell tries to convert it to the Enum type.  

Hard coding the valid values will fail for some things, like Printers or Fonts which vary between machines ; V6 supports using types which implement the IValidateSetValuesGenerator interface; the interface specifies one method “GetValidValues” which takes no arguments and returns an array of strings, a ValidateSet for printer names can be created at runtime, with a class like this:
using namespace System.Management.Automation      
using namespace System.Drawing.Printing

class ValidPrinterSetGenerator : IValidateSetValuesGenerator { 
    [string[]] GetValidValues() {
        return [string[]][PrinterSettings]::InstalledPrinters


and which can be used like this


As with the argument completer, this class could be written in C#,  and loaded with Add-Type; the following example is written for PowerShell 7 preview 4:

Add-type  -ReferencedAssemblies "System.Drawing.Common", "System.Linq",
              "System.Management.Automation"  -TypeDefinition
using System.Drawing.Printing;
using System.Linq;
using System.Management.Automation;
public class PrinterNameValidator : IValidateSetValuesGenerator {
      public string[] GetValidValues() {
        return PrinterSettings.InstalledPrinters.Cast<string>().ToArray();

Adding customer parameter attributes

Additional special attribute classes are available in PowerShell 5 onwards, and they are used in slightly different way. You still declare a class, but now that class says it implements one of two classes rather than an interface. One of these does validation, and its job is to throw an error when the argument is not valid; here is an example.

using namespace System.Management.Automation
using namespace System.Collections.Generic
using namespace System.Drawing.Printing

class ValidatePrinterExistsAttribute : ValidateArgumentsAttribute {
    [void] Validate([object]$Argument, [EngineIntrinsics]$EngineIntrinsics) {
        if(-not ($Argument -in [PrinterSettings]::InstalledPrinters)) {
          Throw [ParameterBindingException]::new("'$Argument' is not a valid printer name.")

This creates a class whose name ends with “Attribute” which implements the ValidateArgumentsAttribute class; it inherits the properties and methods of that class but replaces the Validate() method with its own code. Validate doesn’t return a value, it either completes or it throws an exception, and it takes two arguments, the argument being validated and “Engine Intrinsics” which is what we can see as $ExecutionContext in a script. This has some advantages over using [ValidationScript{}]:

  • It is easier to read than embedding a long script in an attribute.
  • It removes duplication when same validation applies to multiple parameters (for example if we have to apply the same Printer name check in more than one command)
  • We control the error message. This :
    'Wibble' is not a valid printer name
    is more helpful than 
    Cannot validate argument on parameter 'name'. The "$_ -in [System.drawing.Printing.PrinterSettings]::InstalledPrinters " 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.
  • It’s how things are done in C# – as before , the class above could be written in C# and loaded using Add-Type.

When we tag a parameter with this class we omit the “Attribute” part of the Class name and need to include the () to say we are creating a new object of this type as an attribute, so it is written:


The other class that works in this way is the Argument Transformation Attribute. Again we have the option to use Add-Type and write the class in C# but if we do it PowerShell the declaration looks like this 

using namespace System.Management.Automation
using namespace System.Collections.Generic
using namespace System.Drawing.Printing

class PrinterTransformAttribute : ArgumentTransformationAttribute  {
    [object] Transform([EngineIntrinsics]$EngineIntrinsics, [object] $InputData) {

       ## transform $inputdata to $something
        return $something

This,too can throw if the input is invalid, so I could look for a printer which matches InputData and if I find exactly one, return it. If I find none, or more than one, I can throw an error. This might be better than using the custom validate set: I have these printers on my Laptop:

Brother HL-1110 series
EPSON Stylus Photo R2880
Microsoft Print to PDF
Microsoft XPS Document Writer
Send To OneNote 2016

Notice I have two OneNote versions, each with their own driver. So a transformation attribute would need to check for a perfect match and then check for a partial match. If I combine this with the completer I can:-

  • Keep pressing tab until I get “Microsoft Print to PDF”
  • Type PD [tab] to fill in “Microsoft Print to PDF”
  • Type PDF and let the transformation attribute change it to “Microsoft Print to PDF”
  • Use “Brother”, “Epson”, “PDF”, “XPS”, or “OneNote” as printer short names.
  • Reject names which are wrong like “PFD” or ambiguous like “Microsoft”

More than one combination of validation, completion and transformation may be right, and different ones might be optimal in different cases. If you need backwards compatibility your choices are more limited, but knowing what is available, and where, lets you pick the one best suited for the task at hand. I like to tell people that job of validation is to help users put in good input, not to save you from catching bad input, intellisense, transformation, and custom validations help.
A message like  Supply an argument that matches "\d{2}-\d{2}-\d{2}[a-z]?" will is unhelpful;  but a custom validator takes only a little longer to write and can tell the user ”'1234' is not a valid Part number. Part numbers are formatted as '11-22-33' or '99-88-77C'; it can can be reused if part numbers a parameters in multiple places, and it also makes the script easier to read later, because [ValidatePattern("\d{2}-\d{2}-\d{2}[a-z]?")] means we mentally parse the regular expression and then say, “ah, yes, that’s describing a part number”.  [ValidAsPartNumber()] tells us what is being done, if we need to know how we look somewhere else for the answer. They don’t support early versions of Windows PowerShell (4 and below), but I expect to use them where that is not an issue.

August 21, 2019

Exit, Throw, Return, Break and Continue. A Round up.

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 2:14 pm

PowerShell recognises all the words in the title. I’ve previously written about the problem with assuming that throw will exit from a script or function. Normally it will, but if the error action preference has been changed it might not. So I now put return after throw to prevent execution running on.

Making exceptions for exceptions

Return is one of those Powershell commands that people get upset about; we can break normal rules to handle exceptions, I tend to avoid using throw, unless I expect something to want to catch the error. I prefer this:

Write-Warning "Couldn't do what you wanted with $parameter." ; return
to this:
Throw "$parameter is Evil" ; return

But when it isn’t really an exception… I was taught that this:
if ($result) {return}

is wrong – I can hear “that’s just ‘goto end’, and you know `goto` is evil” and the right way is:
if (-not $result) {


However when the “etc” part of that code goes on for a whole screen it gets hard to see that nothing else happens if $result evaluated as true; in that case  putting in a comment (“If result was set, the work is complete”) and using return can make things clearer. I’ll come back to this later.

Break and stopping with “Continue”

There are two other sort-of “goto” commands which can be allowed: Continue has one use if you use trap instead of try/catch, which is to resume execution at the line after the error. It has another use in loops; to save doing the job of an if which runs a large amount of the script conditionally, continue says “Skip the rest of the work for this item and Continue with the next one.”, it has a companion, break which says “Skip the rest of the work on for this item, and don’t bother with any remaining ones.”  Here’s a slightly contrived example, finding primes with the sieve of Eratosthenes

$Primes = @()
foreach ($i in 2..100) {
    $isPrime = $true
    foreach ($p in $Primes) {
        if ($i % $p -eq 0 ) {$isPrime = $false; break}
    if (-not $isPrime) {continue}
    Write-Verbose "$i is prime" -Verbose
    $primes += $i

There are two nested loops. The inner one looks at each of the primes already found and sees if the number being looked at divides by any of them. Once we have found one we don’t need to look at any of the others, break gets us out of that for loop, but not out of the Outer loop or the script or function that contains it. 
The outer loop does something if the number IS prime, but it uses continue to go on to the next number – I said the example was contrived, the if would normally be written the other way round without using continue.

Switch Statements

Both Break and continue work in a switch statement if you are using switch against a file, break stops looking and ignores the rest of the file, and Continue stops for the current line and continues for the next. I’ve saved the fragment below as deleteMe.Ps1 so it reads itself …

Switch -Regex -file .\deleteme.ps1 {
    "w" {"Contains W" ; break}
    "o" {"Contains o" ; break}
    default {"Default msg"}

The first line matches on the W in switch so it outputs “Contains W” and the statement stops.
If I replace each break with continue I get
“Contains W”, “Contains W”, “Contains O”, “Default”, and “Default”.
I.e. each line line is processed for a maximum of one match; And if I remove break/continue , the second line matches both W in the quotation marks and the O  in “contains” so I get
“Contains W”, “Contains W”, “Contains O”,“Contains O”, “Default”, and “Default”.

But that is the less common way to use switch this is more usual:

$s = "Hello World"
Switch -Regex ($s) {
    "w" {"Contains W" ; }
    "o" {"Contains o" ; }
    default {"Default msg"}

Here, without break or continue the value matches two values and outputs “Contains W”, “Contains O”, because only one value is examined, both break or continue have the same effect. Default only gets run if nothing matches.  Often I’ll see something a switch statement that could be written like this: 

Switch ($birthday.tostring("dddd")) {
   "Monday"      {"fair of face"}
   "Tuesday"     {"full of grace"}
   "Wednesday"   {"full of woe"}

and although the values don’t overlap and all there isn’t an “Output this for ‘none of the above’”  (we’ve written the case for each of the days) the writer has carefully added Break or Continue to each of the blocks and a default block which only contains Continue. Does putting these things in and being absolutely explicit make things clearer ? I don’t think so. Putting in an empty “else” is just more to read; and the continue is a stylistic tick – because it is needed sometimes, and it is harmless when it is not needed why not put it in always?  It’s more typing, more to read and some people will focus on the tick. 

Break and Continue work anywhere. Switch, while, for, and foreach statements handle them as “exit from this statement”, other commands (including if and the ForEach-Object cmdlet) treat them as “exit from where this is running”  So I could write this:
Write-Warning "Couldn't do what you wanted with $parameter." ; break
or this:
Write-Warning "Couldn't do what you wanted with $parameter." ; continue

But using “Continue” to exit from a function or script is showing off in a “I know a trick that I bet you don’t” kind of way. It hinders when someone else is dealing with my code. Lately I find I keep repeating the importance of clarity, some people like to say “Imagine the next person who looks at this is an axe wielding maniac who knows where you live”; I imagine that the next person will be me, and people will be screaming that something is broken, it’s late, I’m tired and I have forgotten ever writing the script.    

Since I’ve returned to the example that used return, it’s worth taking a moment to mention that I have written about implicit or explicit return before.
Some people habitually write return $result as the last line of their function / script ; which sets other people’s teeth on edge. I tend to only write that if, somewhere before the end of a function / script I would otherwise write

As I said at the start my computer science training would tell me that I should write this way : 
#try quick way
$result = simpleCommand
if (-not $result) {
    complex | pipeline -of "commands"
else {$result}

But I think the return in the next example is OK: it is clearer so say “if we got a result return it, otherwise do X, Y and z;” than to write it the other way around “if we didn’t get the result do X,Y and Z, otherwise return the result”. (If one clause is simple and one is complex, put the simple clause in the IF ).   
#try quick way
$result = simpleCommand
if ($result) {return $result}       
complex | pipeline -of "commands"  

but this next return is unnecessary

$Result = complex | pipeline -of "commands"     
return $result     

And finally … Exit

And then there is Exit. Exit says “Leave what you are running” at the PowerShell prompt it is Leave PowerShell, in a script it is Leave the script. Exit can return an exit code. If a script wants to tell another script or PowerShell itself what happened it should really send output or throw errors; some people really don’t like seeing Exit in a script and often it’s just old habits refusing to die. Codes don’t help fix a problem “Error 4096 occurred” doesn’t help users understand what did go wrong but makes them feel worse for not knowing 4095 other things that might have gone wrong.  But sometimes an error code is the only way to to tell something which called the script what happened.

However in a script exit doesn’t always behave as people expect:  
PowerShell "something" is treated as PowerShell –Command "something" which  works like this:

  • It starts PowerShell,
  • It runs the command and returns any output
  • Because -command was specified and –NoExit wasn’t, PowerShell exits. If the last command ran to completion the exit code is 0; if the last command threw a terminating error the exit code is 1.


  • If I run PowerShell –Command "1/0" from an existing instance of PowerShell $LASTEXITCODE is 1 ;
  • If I run PowerShell –Command "1/0 ; hostname"  it is 0 because the last command ran to completion and past errors are forgotten.
  • If I run PowerShell –Command "MyScript.ps1" the rules don’t change. PowerShell returns an exit code of 1 or 0 depending on whether the last (only) command threw an error.   If the script ends with exit 123 then $LASTEXITCODE is 123 in that instance of PowerShell and in that instance something else can see that exit code. 
    Then when that instance of PowerShell exits, it follows the standard rules – the Exit code from the script is lost.

I’m sure someone must want this behaviour, but there are multiple ways to get the script’s exit code back one is to make a command which runs the script, and explicitly exits with the code it returns, like this:
powershell 'MyScript.ps1; exit $lastexitcode'  
A better way is to tell PowerShell this is not a command, but a file. That does return the the error code from the script. 
Don’t run  PowerShell 'MyScript.ps1' instead run  
PowerShell –File 'MyScript.ps1'.

In PowerShell [core] 6 and later the behaviour is reversed so pwsh –command 'hostname' needs the explicit –command but Pwsh 'MyScript.ps1' doesn’t need the explicit –File.  Getting in the habit of being explicit with the switches in either environments means if/when a script/command it should do what you expect.

The other way  is to put

in the script. This time when PowerShell exits it has been primed to leave with a specific code. Which is better ? Of course, it depends. It you want to test the script by running it in PowerShell and looking at $lastExitCode using exit in the script might be better, but it relies on others not just running powershell MyScript  The second way (with information written to error or verbose) avoids that, and as bonus lets you set what code should go back from PowerShell to the caller if a terminating error happens in specific section of code, and then change the code for the next section and so on.

June 22, 2019

Last time I saw this many shells, someone sold them by the sea shore.

Filed under: Azure / Cloud Services,Linux / Open Source,Powershell,Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 10:04 pm

I’ve been experimenting with lots of different combinations of shells on Windows 10.

imageBASH.  I avoided the Subsystem for Linux on Windows 10 for a while. There are only two steps to set it up – adding the Subsystem, and adding your chosen Linux to it. If the the idea of installing Linux into Windows, but not as a virtual machine, and getting it from the Windows store gives you a headache, you’re not alone, this may help or it make things worse. I go back to the first versions of Windows NT which had a Windows-16 on Windows-32 subsystem (WoW, which was linked to the Virtual Dos Machine – 32-bit Windows 10 can still install these), an OS/2 subsystem, and then a Posix subsystem. Subsystems translated APIs so binaries intended for a different OS could run on NT, but kernel functions (drivers, file-systems, memory management, networking, process scheduling) – remained the responsibility of underlying OS. 25 years on, the Subsystem for Linux arrives in two parts – the Windows bits to support all the different Linuxes , and then distributor-supplied bits to make it look like Ubuntu 18.4 (which is what I have) or Suse or whichever distribution you chose. wslconfig.exe will tell you which distro(s) you have and change the active one. There is a generic launcher wsl.exe which will launch any Linux binary in the subsystem so you can run wsl bash but a Windows executable, bash.exe streamlines the process

imageLinux has a view of Windows’ files (C: is auto-mounted at/mnt/c and the mount command will mount other Windows filesystems including network and removable drives) but there is strongly worded advice not to touch Linux’s files via their location on C: – see here for more details. – Just before publishing this I updated the 1903 release of Windows 10 which adds a proper access which you can see in the screen shot 
Subsystem processes aren’t isolated – although a Linux API call might have a restricted view of the system. For example ps only sees processes in the subsystem but if you start two instances of bash, they’re both in the subsystem they can both see each other and running kill in one will terminate the other. The subsystem can run a Windows binary (like net.exe start which will see Windows services) and pipe its output into an Linux one, like less;  those who prefer some Linux tools get to use them in their management of Windows.
The subsystem isn’t read-only – anything which changes in that filesystem stays changed – since the subsystem starts configured for US Locale,
sudo locale-gen en_GB.UTF-8 and sudo update-locale LANG=en_GB.UTF-8 got me to a British locale. 

Being writable meant I could install PowerShell core for Linux into the subsystem: I just followed the instructions (including running sudo apt-get update and sudo apt-get upgrade powershell to update from 6.1 to 6.2). Now I can test whether things which work in Windows PowerShell (V5), also work with PowerShell Core (V6) on different platforms.  I can tell the Windows Subsystem for Linux to go straight into PowerShell with  wsl pwsh (or wsl pwsh –nologo if I’m at a command line already). Like bash it can start Windows and Linux binaries and the “in-the-Linux-subsystem” limitations still hold. Get-Process asks about processes in the subsystem , not the wider OS. Most PowerShell commands are there; some familiar aliases overlap with Linux commands and most of those have been removed (so | sort will send something to the Linux sort, not to sort-object,  and ps is not the alias for get-process;  kill and CD are exceptions to this rule.). Some common environment variables (Temp, TMP, UserProfile, ComputerName) are not present on Linux, and Windows specific cmdlets, like Get-Service,  don’t exist in the Linux world, and tab expansion switches to Unix style by default but you can set either environment to match the other. My PowerShell Profile soon gained a Set-PsReadlineOption command to give me the tab expansion I expect and it sets a couple of environment variables which I know some of my scripts use.  It’s possible (and tempting) to create some PSDrives which map single letters to places on /mnt, but things like to revert back to the Linux path. After that V6 core is the same on both platforms

PowerShell on Linux has remoting over SSH; it connects to another instance of PowerShell 6 running in what SSH also terms a “subsystem”. Windows PowerShell (up to 5.1) uses WinRM as its transport and PowerShell Core (6) on Windows can use both. For now at least, options like constrained endpoints (and hence “Just Enough Admin”  or JEA), are only in WinRM.
The instructions for setting up OpenSSH are here; I spent a very frustrating time editing the wrong config file – there is one in with the program files, and my brain filtered out the instruction which said edit the sshd_config file in C:\Program Data\ssh. I edited the one in the wrong directory and could make an SSH session into Windows (a useful thing to know to prove Open SSH is accepting connections) but every attempt to create a PowerShell session gave the error
New-PSSession : [localhost] The background process reported an error with the following message: The SSH client session has ended with error message: subsystem request failed on channel 0.
When I (finally) edited the right file I could connect to it from both Windows and Linux versions of PowerShell core with New-PSSession -HostName localhost.  (Using –HostName instead of –Computername tells the command “This is an SSH host, not a WinRM one”). It always amazes me how people, especially but not exclusively those who spend a lot of time with Linux, are willing to re-enter a password again and again and again. I’ve always thought it was axiomatic that a well designed security system granted or refused access to many things without asking the user to re-authenticate for each (or “If I have to enter my password once more, I’ll want the so-called ‘Security architect’ fired”). So within 5 minutes I was itching to get SSH to sign in with a certificate and not demand my password.

image I found some help here, but not all the steps are needed. Running the ssh-keygen.exe utility which comes with OpenSSH builds the necessary files – I let it save the files to the default location and left the passphrase for the file blank, so it was just a case of hitting enter for each prompt. For a trivial environment like this I was able to copy the id_rsa.pub file to a new file named authorized_keys in the same folder, but in a more real world case you’d copy and paste each new public key file into authorized_keys, then I could test a Windows to Windows remoting session over SSH. When that worked I copied the .ssh directory to my home directory in the Subsystem for Linux, and the same command worked again.

imagePowerShell Core V6 is built on .NET core, so some parts of PowerShell 5 have gone missing: there’s no Out-Grid, or Show-Command, No Out-Printer (I wrote a replacement), no WMI commands, no commands to work with the event log, no transactions and no tools to manage the computer’s relationship with AD.  The  Microsoft.* modules provide about 312 commands in V5.1 and about 244 of those are available in V6; but nearly 70 do things which don’t make sense in the Linux world because they work with WinRM/WSMan, Windows security or Windows services. A few things like renaming the computer, stopping and restarting it, or changing the time zone need to be done with native Linux tools. But we have just over 194 core cmdlets on all platforms, and more in pre-installed modules. There was a also a big step forward with compatibility in PowerShell 6.1 and another with 6.2 – there is a support for a lot more of the Windows API, so although some things don’t work in Core a lot more does than at first release. It may be necessary to specify the explicit path to the module (the different versions use either “…\WindowsPowerShell\…” or “..\PowerShell\…” in their paths and Windows tools typically install their modules for Windows PowerShell) or to use Import-Module in V6 with the –SkipEditionCheck switch. Relatively few stubbornly refuse to work, and there is a solution for them: remotely run the commands that otherwise are unavailable – instead of going over SSH this time you use WinRM, (V5 doesn’t support SSH) When I started working with constrained endpoints I found I liked the idea of not needing to install modules everywhere and running their commands remotely instead, once you have a PSSession to the place where the commands exist, you can use Get-Module and Import-Module with a –PsSession switch, to make them available. So we can bridge between versions – “the place where the commands exist” is “another version of PowerShell on the same machine” it’s all the same to remoting. The PowerShell team have announced that the next release uses .Net core 3.0 which should mean the return of Out-Gridview (eventually), and other home brew tools to put GUI interfaces onto PowerShell; that’s enough of a change to  bump the major version number, and they will drop “Core” from the name to try to remove the impression that it is a poor relation on Windows. The PowerShell team have a script to do a side by side install of the preview – or even the daily builds – Thomas Lee wrote it up here. Preview 1 seems to have done the important but invisible work of changing .Net version; new commands will come later; but at the time of writing PowerShell 7 preview has parity with PowerShell Core 6, and the goal is parity with Windows PowerShell 5

There is no ISE in PowerShell 6/7, Visual Studio Code had some real annoyances but pretty well all of them have been fixed for some months now and somewhere I joined the majority who see it as the future. Having a Git client built-in has made collaborating on the ImportExcel module so much easier, and that got me to embrace it . Code wasn’t built specifically for PowerShell which means it will work with whichever version(s) it finds.  
imageThe right of the status bar looks like this and clicking the green bit pulls up a menu where you can swap between versions and test what you are writing in each one. These swaps close one instance of PowerShell and open another so you know you’re in a clean environment (not always true with the ISE); the flip side is you realise it is a clean environment when you want something which was loaded in the shell in the shell I’ve just swapped away from.
VS Code’s architecture of extensions means it can pull all kinds of clever tricks – like remote editing –and the Azure plug in allows an Azure Cloud Shell to be started inside the IDE. imageWhen you use Cloud Shell in a browser it has nice easy ways to transfer files; but you can discover the UNC path to your cloud drive with Get-cloudDrive  then , Get-AzStorageAccount will show you a list of accounts, you can work out the name of the account from the UNC path and you use this as the user name to logon but you also need to know the resource group it is in, and Get-AzStorageAccount shows that. Armed with the name and resource group  Get-AzStorageAccountKey gives you one or more keys which can be used as a password, and you can map a drive letter to the cloud drive.

Surely that’s enough shells for one post … well not quite. People have been getting excited about the new Windows Terminal which is went into preview in the Windows store a few hours before I posted this Before that you needed to enable developer options on Windows and build it for yourself. It needs the 1903 Windows update and with that freshly installed I thought “I’ve also got [full] Visual Studio on this machine, why not build and play with Terminal”. As it turns out I needed to add the latest Windows SDK and several gigabytes of options to Visual Studio (all described on the github page), but with that done it was one git command to download the files, another to get submodules, then open visual studio, select the right section per the instructions and say build me an X64 release, have a coffee … and the app appears. (In the limited time I’ve spent with version in store it looks to be the same as the build-your-own version).

imageIt’s nice, despite being early code (no settings menu, just a json file of settings to change)., It’s the first time time Microsoft have put out a replacement for the host which Window uses for command line tools – shells or otherwise, so you could run ssh, ftp, or a tool like netsh in it.  I’ve yet to find a way to have “as admin” and normal processes running in one instance. It didn’t take long for me to add PowerShell on Linux and PowerShell 7 preview to the default choices (it’s easy to copy/paste/adjust the json – just remember to change the guid when adding an new choice, and you can specify the path to a PNG file to use as an icon).
So, in a single window, I have all the shells, except for 32-bit PowerShell 5, as tabs:  CMD, three different, 64-bit versions of PowerShell on Windows, PowerShell on WSL, BASH on WSL, and PowerShell on Linux in Azure.
I must give a shout out to Scott Hanselman for the last one; I was thinking “there must be a way to do what VS code does” and from his post Scott thought down the same lines a little while before me. He hooked up with others working on it and shared the results. I use a 2 line batch file with title and azshell.exe (I’m not sure when “title” crept into CMD, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t always there. I’ve used it to keep the tab narrow for CMD: to set the tab names for each of the PowerShell versions I set $Host.UI.RawUI.WindowTitle  which even works with from WSL) [UPDATED 3 Aug. Terminal 0.3 has just been releases with an Azure option which starts the cloud shell, but only in its bash incarnation. AzShell.exe can support a choice of shell by specifying –shell pwsh or –shell bash ] 
So I get 7 Shells, 8 if I added the 32 bit version of PowerShell. Running them in the traditional host would give me 16 possible shells. Add the 32 and 64 bit PowerShell ISEs and VS code with Cloud shell and 3 Versions of local PowerShell, and we’re up to 22. And finally there is Azure cloud shell in a browser, or , if you must, the azure phone app, so I get to an nice round two dozen shells in all without ssh’ing into other machines (yes terminal can run ssh) , using any of the alternate Linux shells with WSL or loading all the options VS code has. “Just type the following command line” is not as simple as it used to be.

April 6, 2019

PowerShell functions and when NOT to use them

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 3:56 pm

When I was taught to program, I got the message that a function should be a “black box”: we know what goes in one side, what comes out on the other, we don’t care how inputs become outputs. We learn that these “boxes” can leak, a function can see things outside and, in some cases (like connecting to another system) its purpose is to change its environment. But a function shouldn’t manipulate the working variables used by the code which called it. Recently I’ve found myself dealing with PowerShell authors who write like this:

$var_x = 10
$var_y = [math]::pi
$var_i = $var_y * $var_a

We can’t tell from reading this what do_stuff does, it seems to set $var_a because that has magically appeared; but does it use $var_x and $var_y? Does it change them? Will things break if we rename them? The only way to find out is to prise open the box and look inside (read the function definition). If you’re saying “That function can’t change the value of $var_x because it’s not global” here’s a fragment for you to copy and paste:

function do_stuff {
  Set-variable -Scope 1 -Name var_x -Value 30

$var_x = 10

If the function just set $var_x = $var_x + 20 that would put 30 into a new variable, local to the function  ($var_x += 20 would add 20 to a new local variable, so the result is different). But it didn’t do that, it specifically said “set this variable in the scope 1 above this one”. That’s how things like -ErrorVariable and -WarningVariable work. Incidentally if the command setting the variable is in a function in a module, it is a jump of TWO levels to set things in the scope which called it. Recently I saw a good post from Dave Carrol on using the script scope – which is a de-facto module scope as this older post of Mike’s explains – which can help to avoid this kind of thing.

You might wonder “would someone who doesn’t know how to write a function with parameters really use this…?” I’ve encountered it.
Another case where someone should be using parameters or at least making their variables script-scoped or globally-scoped, was this
Function Use-Data {
   $Y = [int]$data.xvalue * [int]$data.xvalue
   Add-Member -InputObject $data -MemberType NoteProperty -Name Yvalue -Value $y

$data = New-object pscustomobject
Add-Member -InputObject $data -MemberType NoteProperty -Name Xvalue -Value $x

Normally we can see the = sign and we know this named place now holds that value. But Set-Variable and Add-Member make that harder to see. We would have one problem fewer to unravel if the writer used $Global:X and $Global:Y.

An example like the last one can be given a meaningful name, modified to take input through parameters and made to return the result properly. But the function is only called from one place. One of the main points of a function is to reduce duplication, but single-use is not an automatic reason to bring a function’s code into the main body of the script which calls it . For example, this:
if (Test-PostalCodeValid $P) {...}
saves me reading code which does the validation – there is no need to know how it does it (the sort of regex used in such cases is better hidden); it is enough that it does: and the function has a single purpose communicated by its name. The problematic functions look like they are the writer’s first mental grouping of tasks (which leads to vague names) and the final product doesn’t benefit from that grouping. The script can’t be understood by reading from beginning to end – it requires the reader to jump back and forth – so flattening the script makes it easier to follow. Because the functions are sets of loosely connected tasks, they don’t have a clear set of inputs or outputs and rely on leakiness.

Replacing a block of code with a black-box whose purpose, inputs and outputs are all clear should make for a better script. And if those things are unclear the script is probably worse for putting things in boxes. You need to call a function many times for the tiny overhead in each call to matter, but I hit such a case while I was working on this post. Some users of Export-Excel work on sheets with over a million cells (I use a 24,000-row x 23 column sheet for tests – 550K cells), and the following code was called for each row of data

$ColumnIndex = $StartColumn
foreach ($Name in $script:Header) {
    Add-CellValue -TargetCell $ws.Cells[$Row, $ColumnIndex] -CellValue $TargetData.$Name
    $ColumnIndex += 1

So, for my big dataset the Add-CellValue function was called 550,000 times which took about 80 seconds in total or 150 microseconds per cell, on my machine. I’d say this fragment is clear and easy to work with: for each name in $header, that property of $targetData is added as a cell-value at the current row and column, and we move to the next column. Add-CellValue handles many different kinds of data – how it does so doesn’t matter. This meets all the rules for a good function. BUT… of that 150μS more than 130 is spent going into and out of the function. That 80 seconds becomes about 8 seconds if I put the function code in the for loop instead of calling out to it. Changes that cut the time to run a script from 0.5sec to 0.4999 sec don’t matter – you can’t use the saved time, and it is better to give up 100μS on each run for the time you save reading clearer code. Changing the time to run scripts from minutes to seconds does matter. So even though using the function was more elegant it wasn’t the best way. As both a computer scientist and an IT practitioner I never forget Jeffrey Snover’s saying Computer scientists want elegant code; IT pros just want to go home.

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&quot; -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&quot;
#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.

March 3, 2019

PowerShell and the Microsoft Graph API : Part 2 – Starting to explore

Filed under: Azure / Cloud Services,Office 365,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 12:21 pm

In the previous post I looked at logging on to use Graph – my msftgraph module has a Connect-MsGraph function which contains all of that and saves refresh tokens so it can get an access token without repeating the logon process, it also refreshes the token when its time is up. Once I have the token I can start calling the rest API. Everything in graph has a URL which looks like


Version is either “V1.0” or “beta” ; the resource type might be “user” or “group”, or “notebook” and so on and a useful one is “me”; but you might call user/ID to get a different user. to get the data you make an HTTP GET request which returns JSON; to add something it is usually a POST request with the body containing JSON which describes what you want to add, updates happen with a PATCH request (more JSON), and DELETE requests do what you’d expect. Not everything supports all four – there are a few things which allow creation but modification or deletion are on someone’s to do list. 

The Connect-MsGraph function runs the following so the other functions can use the token in whichever way is easiest:

if ($Response.access_token) {
    $Script:AccessToken     = $Response.access_token
    $Script:AuthHeader      = 'Bearer ' + $Response.access_token
    $Script:DefaultHeader   = @{Authorization = $Script:AuthHeader}

– by using the script: scope they are available throughout the module, and I can I run

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

Afterwards, $result.Content will contain this block of JSON
{ "@odata.context": "https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/$metadata#users/$entity", "businessPhones": [], "displayName": "James O'Neill", "givenName": "James", "jobTitle": null, "mail": "xxxxx@xxxxxx.com", "mobilePhone": "+447890101010", "officeLocation": null, "preferredLanguage": "en-GB", "surname": "O'Neill", "userPrincipalName": "xxxxx@xxxxxx.com", "id": "12345678-abcd-6789-ab12-345678912345" }

It doesn’t space it out to make it easy to read. There’s a better way: Invoke-RestMethod creates a PowerShell object like this 

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
$D = Invoke-Restmethod -Uri "https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/me/drive" -Headers $DefaultHeader    
lets me refer to $D.webUrl to get the path to send a browser to to see my OneDrive. It is quite easy out what to do with the objects which come back from Invoke-RestMethod; arrays tend to come back in a .value property, some data is paged and gives a property named ‘@odata.nextLink’  , others objects – like “me” give everything on the object. Writing the module I added some formatting XML so PowerShell would display things nicely. The  The work is discovering URIs that available to send a GET to, and what extra parameters can be used – this isn’t 100% consistent – especially around adding query parameters to the end of a URL (some don’t allow filtering, some do but it might be case sensitive or insensitive, it might not combine with other query parameters and so on) and although the Microsoft documentation is pretty good, in some places it does feel like a work in progress. I ended up drawing a map and labelling it with the functions I was building in the module – user related stuff is on the left, teams and groups on the right and things which apply to both are in the middle. The Visio which this is based on an a PDF version of it are in the Repo at  https://github.com/jhoneill/MsftGraph 


Once you can make your first call to the API the same techniques come up again and again , and future posts will talk how to get PowerShell formatting working nicely, and how to create JSON for POST requests without massive amounts of “text wrangling” But as  you can see from the map there are many rabbit holes to go down, I started with a desire to post a message to a channel in Teams. Then I saw there was support for OneDrive and OneNote , and work I had done on them in the past called out for re-visit. Once I started working with OneDrive I wanted tab completion to expand files and folders, so I had to write an argument completer … and every time I looked at the documentation I saw “There is this bit you haven’t done” so I added more (I don’t have anywhere to experiment with  Intune so that is conspicuous by its absence, but I notice other people have worked on that), and that’s how we end up with big software projects … and patterns I used will come up in those future posts.

February 28, 2019

PowerShell and the Microsoft Graph API : Part 1, signing in

Filed under: Azure / Cloud Services,Microsoft Graph,Office,Office 365,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 6:13 pm

I recently I wanted a script to be able to post results to Microsoft teams,  which led me to the Microsoft Graph API which is the way to interact with all kinds of Microsoft Cloud services, and the scope grew to take in OneNote, OneDrive, SharePoint, Mail, Contacts, Calendars and Planner as well. I have now put V1.0 onto the PowerShell Gallery , and this is the first post on stuff that has come out of it.

if you’ve looked at anything to do with the Microsoft Graph API, a lot things say “It uses OAuth, and here’s how to logon”. Every example seems to log on in a different way (and the authors seem to think everyone knows all about OAuth). So I present… fanfare … my ‘definitive’ guide to logging on. Even if you just take the code I’ve shared, bookmark this because at some point someone will say  What’s Oauth about ?  The best way to answer that question is with another question: How can a user of a service allow something to interact with parts of that service on their behalf?  For example, at the bottom of this page is a “Share” section, WordPress can tweet on my behalf; I don’t give WordPress my Twitter credentials, but I tell Twitter “I want WordPress to tweet for me”. There is a scope of things at Twitter which I delegate to WordPress.  Some of the building blocks are

  • Registering applications and services which permission will be delegated to, and giving them a unique ID; this allows users to say “This may do that”, “Cancel access for that” – rogue apps can be de-registered.  
  • Authenticating the user (once) and obtaining and storing their consent for delegation of some scope.
  • Sending tokens to delegates – WordPress sends me to Twitter with its ID; I have a conversation with Twitter, which ends with “give this to WordPress”.

Tokens help when a service uses a REST API, with self-contained calls. WordPress tells Twitter “Tweet this” with an access token which says who approved it to post. The access token is time limited and a refresh token can extend access without involving the user (if the user agrees that the delegate to should be allowed to work like that).

Azure AD adds extra possibilities and combined with “Microsoft Accounts”, Microsoft Graph logons have a lot permutations.

  1. The application directs users to a web login dialog and they log on with a “Microsoft Account” from any domain which is not managed by Office 365 (like Gmail or Outlook.com). The URI for the login page includes the app’s ID and the the scopes it needs; and if the app does not have consent for those scopes and that user, a consent dialog is displayed for the user to agree or not. If the logon is completed, a code is sent back. The application presents the code to a server and identifies itself and gets the token(s). Sending codes means users don’t hold their own tokens or pass them over insecure links.
  2. From the same URI as option 1, the user logs on with an Azure AD account a.k.a. an Office 365 “Work or school” account; Azure AD validates the user’s credentials, and checks if there is consent for that app to use those scopes.  Azure AD tracks applications (which we’ll come back to in a minute) and administrators may ‘pre-consent’ to an application’s use of particular scopes, so their users don’t need to complete the consent dialog. Some scopes in Microsoft Graph must be unlocked by an administrator before they can appear in a consent dialog

clip_image002For options 1 & 2 where the same application can be used by users with either Microsoft or Azure-AD accounts,  applications are registered at https://apps.dev.microsoft.com/ (see left). The application ID here can be used in a PowerShell script.

Azure AD learns about these as they are used and shows them in the enterprise applications section of the Azure Active imageDirectory Admin Center. The name and the GUID from the App registration site appear in Azure and clicking through shows some information about the app and leads to its permissions.  (See right)

The Admin Consent / User consent tabs in the middle allow us to see where individual users have given access to scopes from a consent dialog, or see and change the administrative consent for all users in that Azure AD tenant.

The ability for the administrator to pre-consent is particularly useful useful with some of the later scenarios, which use a different kind of App, which leads to the next option…

  1. The App calls up the same web logon dialog as the first two options except the logon web page is tied to specific Azure AD tenant and doesn’t allow Microsoft accounts to log on. The only thing which has changed between options 2 and 3 is the application ID in the URI.
    This kind of logon is associated with an app which was not registered at https://apps.dev.microsoft.com/ but from the App Registrations section of the Azure Active Directory Admin Center. An app registered there is only known to oneimage AAD tenant so when the general-purpose logon page is told it is using that app it adapts its behaviour.
    Registered apps have their own Permissions page, similar to the one for enterprise apps; you can see the scopes which need admin consent (“Yes” appears towards the right).
  2. When Azure AD stores the permitted Scopes for an App, there is no need to interact with the user (unless we are using multi-factor authentication) and the user’s credentials can go in a silent HTTPS request. This calls a different logon URI with the tenant identity embedded in it – the app ID is specific to the tenant and if you have the app ID then you have the tenant ID or domain name to use in the login URI.
  3. All the cases up to now have been delegating permissions on behalf of a user, but permissions can be granted to an Azure AD application itself (in the screen shot on the right user.read.all is granted as a delegated permission and as an Application Permission). The app authenticates itself with a secret which is created for it in the Registered Apps part of the Azure AD admin Center. The combination of App ID and Secret is effectively a login credential and needs to be treated like one.

Picking how an app logs on requires some thought.

Decision Result Options
Will it work with “Live” users’ Calendars, OneDrive, OneNote ? It must be a General app and use the Web UI to logon. 1 or 2
Is all its functionality Azure AD/Office 365 only (like Teams) ?
or is the audience Office 365 users only ?
It can be either a General or Azure AD App,
(if general is used, Web UI must be used to logon).
Do we want users to give consent for the app to do its work ? It must use the Web UI. 1-3
Do we want avoid the consent dialog ? It must be an Azure AD app and use a ‘Silent’ http call to the Tennant-specific logon URI. 4
Do we want to logon as the app rather than a user ? It must be an Azure AD app and use a ‘Silent’ http call to the Tennant-specific logon URI. 5

Usually when you read about something which uses graph the author doesn’t explain how they selected a logon method – or that other ways exist. For example the Exchange Team Blog has a step-by-step example for an app which logs on as itself.  (Option 5 above). The app is implemented in PowerShell and the logon code the boils down to this:

$tenant    = 'GUID OR Domain Name'
$appId     = 'APP GUID'
$appSecret = 'From Certificates and Secrets'
$URI       = 'https://login.microsoft.com/{0}/oauth2/token' -f $tenant

$oauthAPP  = Invoke-RestMethod -Method Post -Uri $URI -Body @{
        grant_type    = 'client_credentials';
        client_id     =  $appid ;
        client_secret =  $appSecret;
        resource      = 'https://graph.microsoft.com';

After this runs $oauthApp has an access_token property which can be used in all the calls to the service.
For ease of reading here the URI is stored in a variable, and the Body parameter is split over multiple lines, but the Invoke-RestMethod command could be a single line containing the URI with the body on one line

Logging on as the app is great for logs (which is what that article is about) but not for “Tell me what’s on my one drive”; but that code can quickly be adapted for a user logon as described in Option 4 above, we keep same tenant, app ID and URI and change the grant type to password and insert the user name and password in place of the app secret, like this:

$cred      = Get-Credential -Message "Please enter your Office 365 Credentials"
$oauthUser = Invoke-RestMethod -Method Post -Uri $uri -Body  @{
        grant_type = 'password';
        client_id  =  $clientID;
        username   =  $cred.username;
        password   =  $cred.GetNetworkCredential().Password;
        resource   = 'https://graph.microsoft.com';

Just as an aside, a lot of people “text-wrangle”  the body of their HTTP requests, but I find it easier to see what is happening by writing a hash table with the fields and leave it to the cmdlet to sort the rest out for me; the same bytes go on the wire if you write
$oauthUser = Invoke-RestMethod -Method Post -Uri $uri -ContentType  "application/x-www-form-urlencoded"

As with the first example, the object returned by Invoke-RestMethod, has the access token as a property so we can do something like this

$defaultheader = @{'Authorization' = "bearer $($oauthUser.access_token)"}
Invoke-RestMethod -Method Get -Uri https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/me

I like this method, because it’s simple, has no dependencies on other code, and runs in both Windows-PowerShell and PowerShell-core (even on Linux).
But it won’t work with consumer accounts. A while back I wrote something which built on this example from the hey scripting guy blog which displays a web logon dialog from PowerShell; the original connected to a login URI which was only good for Windows Live logins – different examples you find will use different end points – this page gave me replacement ones which seem to work for everything .

With $ClientID defined as before and a list of scopes in $Scope the code looks like this

Add-Type -AssemblyName System.Windows.Forms
$CallBackUri = "https://login.microsoftonline.com/common/oauth2/nativeclient"
$tokenUri    = "https://login.microsoftonline.com/common/oauth2/v2.0/token"
$AuthUri     = 'https://login.microsoftonline.com/common/oauth2/v2.0/authorize' +
                '?client_id='    +  $ClientID           +
                '&scope='        + ($Scope -join '%20') +
                '&redirect_uri=' +  $CallBackUri        +

$form     = New-Object -TypeName System.Windows.Forms.Form       -Property @{
$web      = New-Object -TypeName System.Windows.Forms.WebBrowser -Property @{
                Width=900;Height=800;Url=$AuthUri }
$DocComp  = { 
    $Script:uri = $web.Url.AbsoluteUri
    if ($Script:Uri -match "error=[^&]*|code=[^&]*") {$form.Close() }
$web.Add_DocumentCompleted($DocComp) #Add the event handler to the web control
$form.Controls.Add($web)             #Add the control to the form
$form.ShowDialog() | Out-Null

if     ($uri -match “error=([^&]*)”) {
    Write-Warning (“Logon returned an error of “ + $Matches[1])
elseif ($Uri -match “code=([^&]*)” ) {# If we got a code, swap it for a token
    $oauthUser = Invoke-RestMethod -Method Post -Uri $tokenUri  -Body @{
                   ‘grant_type’  =‘authorization_code’;
= $Matches[1];
                   ‘client_id’   = $Script:ClientID;
= $CallBackUri

This script uses Windows Forms which means it doesn’t have the same ability to run everywhere; it defines a ‘call back’ URI, a ‘token’ URI and an ‘authorization URI’. The browser opens at the authorization URI, after logging on the server sends their browser to callback URI with code=xxxxx  appended to the end the ‘NativeClient’ page used here does nothing and displays nothing, but the script can see the browser has navigated to somewhere which ends with code= or error=, it can pick out the code and and it to the token URI. I’ve built the Authorization URI in a way which is a bit laborious but easier to read; you can see it contains list of scopes separated by spaces, which have to be escaped to “%20” in a URI, as well as the client ID – which can be for either a generic app (registered at apps.dev.microsoft.com) or an azure AD app.

The  middle part of the script creates a the windows form with a web control which points at the authorization URI, and has a two line script block which runs for the “on_DocumentCompleted” event, it knows the login process is complete when the browser’s URI contains either with a code or an error when it sees that, it makes the browser’s final URI available and closes the form.
When control comes back from the form the If … ElseIf checks to see if the result was an error or a code. A code will be posted to the token granting URI to get the Access token (and refresh token if it is allowed). A different post to the token URI exchanges a refresh token for a new access token and a fresh refresh token.
To test if the token is working and that a minimum set of scopes have been authorized we can run the same script as when the token was fetched silently.

$defaultheader = @{'Authorization' = "bearer $($oauthUser.access_token)"}
Invoke-RestMethod -Method Get -Uri https://graph.microsoft.com/v1.0/me

And that’s it.

In the next part I’ll start looking at calling the rest APIs, and what is available in Graph.

January 30, 2019

PowerShell. Don’t Just Throw

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 3:17 pm

I write  “ ;return ” every time that I put throw in my PowerShell scripts. I didn’t always do it. Sooner or later I’ll need to explain why.

First off: when something throws an error it is kind-of ugly, and it can stop things that we don’t to be stopped, sometimes Write-Warning is better than throw.  But many (probably most) people don’t realise the assumption they’re making when they use throw

Here’s a simple function to demonstrate the point
function test {
    Write-verbose "Starting ..."
    if ($GoWrong) {
        write-host "Something bad happened"
        throw "Failure message"
    else {
        Write-Host "All OK So Far"
    if ($GoWrong) {
        write-host "Something worse happens. "
    else {
        Write-Host "Still OK"

So some input causes an issue and to prevent things getting worse, the function throws an error. I think almost everyone has written something like this (and yes, I’m using Write-Host – those messages are decoration for the user to look at not output , I could use Write-Verbose with –Verbose but then I’d have to explain… )

I can call the function

All OK So Far
Still OK
or like this

>test -GoWrong
Something bad happened
Failure message
At line:9 char:9
+         throw "Failure message"

Exactly what’s expected – where’s the problem? no need to put a return in is there ?
Someone else takes up the function and they write this.

Function test2 {
    $x = 2 + 2 #Really some difficult operation 
    test -GoWrong:$Something
    return $x

This function does some work, calls the other function and returns a result

All OK So Far
Still OK

But some input results in a problem.

>test2 -Something
Something bad happened
Failure message
At line:9 char:9
+         throw "Failure message"
That throw in the first function was for protection but it has lost some work. And the author of Test2 doesn’t like big lumps of “blood” on the screen. What would you do here? I know what I did, and it wasn’t to say “Oh somebody threw something, so I should try to catch it” and start wrapping things in Try {} Catch {}. I said “One quick change will fix that!” 

    test -GoWrong:$Something -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue

Problem solved.

What do you think happens if I run that command again; I’m certain a lot of  people will get the answer wrong, and I’m tempted to say copy the code into PowerShell and try it, so that you don’t read ahead and see what happens without thinking about it for a little bit.  Maybe if I waffle for a bit… Have you thought about it ? This is what happens.  

>test2 -Something
Something bad happened
Something worse happens.

The change got rid of the ‘blood’, and the result came back. But… the second message got written – execution continued into exactly the bit of code which had to be prevented from running. Specifying the error action stopped the throw doing anything.

Discovering that made me put a return after every throw, even though it should be redundant more than 99% of the time. And I now think any test of error handling should include changing the value of $ErrorActionPreference.

November 15, 2018

Putting Out-Printer back into PowerShell 6.1

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 11:10 pm

One of the things long term PowerShell folk have to get on top of is the move from Windows PowerShell (up to V5.1) to PowerShell Core (V6 and beyond). PowerShell Core uses .NET core which is a subset that is available cross platform. Having a “Subset” means we pay a price for getting PowerShell on Linux, things in Windows-PowerShell which used parts not in the subset went missing from PowerShell 6 on Windows. When PowerShell 6.1 shipped the release notes said

On Windows, the .NET team shipped the Windows Compatibility Pack for .NET Core, a set of assemblies that add a number of removed APIs back to .NET Core on Windows.
We’ve added the Windows Compatibility Pack to PowerShell Core 6.1 release so that any modules or scripts that use these APIs can rely on them being available.

When they say “a number of”, I don’t know how big the number is, but I suspect it is a rather bigger and more exciting number than this quite modest statement suggests. The team blog says 6.1 gives Compatibility with 1900+ existing cmdlets in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2019, though they don’t give a breakdown of what didn’t work before, and what still doesn’t work.

But one command which is still listed as missing is Out-Printer. Sending output to paper might cause some people to think “How quaint”  but the command is still useful, not least because “Send to One note” and “Print to PDF” give a quick way of getting things into a file. In Windows PowerShell Out-Printer is in the Microsoft.PowerShell.Utility system module, but it has gone in PowerShell core. So I thought I would try to put it back. The result is named 6Print and you can install it from the PowerShell gallery (Install-Module 6print). It only works with the Windows version of PowerShell – .NET core on Linux doesn’t seem to have printing support. I’ve added some extra things to the original, you can now specify:

  • -PaperSize and –Landscape, -TopMargin, –BottonMargin, –LeftMargin and –RightMargin to set-up the page
  • -FontName and –FontSize, to get the print looking the way you want.
  • -PrintFileName  (e.g to specify the name of a PDF you are printing to)
  • -Path and -ImagePath although you would normally pipe input into the command (or pass the input as –inputObject) you can also specify a text file with -Path or a BMP, GIF, JEPG, PNG, TIFF file with –ImagePath

As well as –Name, –Printer or –PrinterName to select the printer (a little argument completer will help you fill in the name).

I may try to get this added to the main PowerShell project when it has had some testing. Because so many more things now work you can load the CIM cmdlets for print management with Import-Module -SkipEditionCheck PrintManagement.

it will install on PowerShell 5.1 if you want the extra options.

July 30, 2018

On PowerShell Parameters

Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 2:53 pm

When I talk about rules for good, reusable, PowerShell I often say “Parameters should be flexible …… so should constants.

The second half of that is a reminder that the first step from something quickly hacked together, towards something sharable is moving some key assignment statements to the top of the script, then putting param( ) around them and commas between them. Doing that means the  = whatever  part is setting the default for a parameter which can be changed at runtime. 

Good parameters allow the user to pipe input into commands, to provide an object or a name which allows the object to be fetched, they support multiple targets from one command (e.g. Get the contents of multiple files) and they help intellisense to suggest values to the user (validationSets, enum types and argument completers all help with that). I thought I did a good job with parameters most of the time – until someone commenting on work I’d contributed to Doug Finke’s ImportExcel  module showed me I wasn’t being as flexible as I should be, and how I had developed a bad habit.

The first thing to mention is that PowerShell is different to most other languages when it comes to labelling parameters with a type. In other places doing that means “this must be an X”; but if you write this in PowerShell:
Param (

It means “Try to make h an int, try to make b a boolean… don’t bother trying to P into anything”  and passing –h “Hello”  doesn’t cause a  “Type Mismatch Error” which other languages would throw, but PowerShell says ‘Cannot convert value "Hello" to type "System.Int32"’

in that example, none of the parameters is mandatory, and if none is specified PowerShell tries to convert the empty values: the Integer parameter – becomes zero, the boolean becomes false, and an enum type, will fail silently. This means we can’t tell from the value of $h or $b if the user wanted to change things to zero and false or they wanted things to be left as they are. We can use [Nullable[Boolean]] and [Nullable[Int]] and then code must allow for three states – the following will run code that we don’t want to be run when $b is null.
if ($b) {do something}
else    {do something different}

it needs to be something like  
# $b can be true, false or null
if     ($b) {do something}
elseif ($null –ne $b) {do something different}

I don’t like using Boolean parameters: when something is a “Do or Do not” choice like “Append” or “Force”* we would never specify –Append $false or –Force $false – so typing “True” is redundant.
The function in question sets formatting so I have
Param (            
if ($bold)      {$row.bold      = $true}
if ($italic)    {$row.italic    = $true}
if ($underline) {$row.underline = $true}

This where my bad habit creeps in … at first sight there is nothing wrong with carrying on like this… 
if ($alignment) {$row.alignment = $alignment}
if ($height)    {$row.height    = $height   }

I test this by setting alignment to bottom and height to 20: everything works, and the code sets off into the world.   
Then the person who was testing my code said “I can’t set the height to zero” . My test can’t differentiate between “blank” and “zero”. Not allowing height to be zero might be OK, but there was worse to come: alignment is an Enum type
Top    = 0
Center = 1
Bottom = 2


Because “Top” is zero it is treated as false , so the code above works except when “top” is chosen. I need to use better tests.
The new test solved the next problem: my tester said “I can’t remove bold” . Of course, I had seen bold as “Do , or Do not. There is no un-do.”; because the main task of the code is to create new Excel sheets it will setting bold etc… almost exclusively.  And “Almost” is a nuisance.

I don’t want to change these parameters to Booleans because (a) it will break a lot of existing things and (b) it feels wrong to make everyone add “  $true” because a few sometimes use “ $false”. The  parameter list is already overcrowded so I don’t want to add -noBold –noUnderline and so on ; I’d need to figure out what to do about –bold and –notbold being specified together.  The least-inelegant solution I could come up with was based on a little used feature of switches…

Switch parameters are used without a value, if specified they are treated as true. But very early in my PowerShell career, I had a function which took a couple of switches which needed to be passed on to another command. I asked some kind soul (I forget who) how to do this and they said call the second command with –SecondSwitch:$FirstSwitch (in fact you can write any PowerShell parameter with a colon between the name and the value, instead of the conventional space) . So –bold:$false is valid, and   -bold still turns bold on.  But checking the value $bold will return false if the parameter was omitted or set to false explicitly.

So now I have 3 cases where I need to ask “was this parameter specified, or has it defaulted to being…”; and that’s what $PSBoundParameters is for – it’s a dictionary with the names and values that were passed into the command. Not values set as a parameter default, not parameters changed as the function proceeds; bound parameters. So I changed my code to this

if ($PSBoundParameters.ContainsKey('Bold')    ) {$row.Bold      = [boolean]$bold}
if ($PSBoundParameters.ContainsKey('Height')  ) {$row.Height    = $Height       }
if ($PSBoundParameters.ContainsKey(Alignment')) {$row.Alignment = $Alignment    }

So now if the parameters are given a value, whether it is false, zero, or an empty string, the property will be set. There is one last thing to do, and this is why I said it was the least inelegant solution, because –switch:$false is a rarely-used syntax, it’s reasonable to assume people won’t expect that to be the way to say “remove bold” so the parameter help needs to be updated to read “Make text bold; use -Bold:$false to remove bold”.

* If “Do or Do not” sounds familiar, Yoda would tell you that using the –Force switch is something you can not do in a try{}/ catch{} construct.

May 31, 2018

More tricks with PowerShell and Excel

Filed under: Office,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 6:25 am

I’ve already written about Doug Finke’s ImportExcel module – for example, this post from last year covers

  • Basic exporting (use where-object to reduce the number of rows , select-object to remove columns that aren’t needed)
  • Using -ClearSheet to remove old data, –Autosize to get the column-widths right, setting titles, freezing panes and applying filters, creating tables
  • Setting formats and conditional format      
  • In this post I want to round up a few other things I commonly use.

    Any custom work after the export means asking Export-Excel to pass through the unsaved Excel Package object like this

    $xl = Get-WmiObject -Class win32_logicaldisk | select -Property DeviceId,VolumeName, Size,Freespace |
               Export-Excel -Path "$env:computerName.xlsx" -WorkSheetname Volumes –PassThru

    Then we can set about making modifications to the sheet. I can keep referring to it via the Excel package object, but it’s easier to use a variable. 
    $Sheet = $xl.Workbook.Worksheets["Volumes"]

    Then I can start applying formatting, or adding extra information to the file
    Set-Format -WorkSheet $sheet -Range "C:D" -NumberFormat "0,000"
    Set-Column -Worksheet $sheet -Column 5
    -Heading "PercentageFree" -Value {"=D$row/C$row"} -NumberFormat "0%" 

    I talked about Set-column in another post. Sometimes though, the data isn’t a natural row or column and the only way to do things is by “Poking” individual cells, like this

    $sheet.Cells["G2"].value = "Collected on"
    $sheet.Cells["G3"].value = [datetime]::Today
    $sheet.Cells["G3"].Style.Numberformat.Format =
    Close-ExcelPackage $xl –Show

    Sharp-eyed readers will see that the date format appears to be “Least-significant-in-the-middle” which is only used by one country – and not the one where I live. It turns out Excel tokenizes some formatsthis MSDN page explains and describes “number formats whose formatCode value is implied rather than explicitly saved in the file….. [some] can be interpreted differently, depending on the UI language”. In other words if you write “mm-dd-yy” or “m/d/yy h:mm” it will be translated into the local date or date time format. When Export-Excel encounters a date/time value it uses the second of these; and yes, the first one does use hyphens and the second does use slashes. My to-do list includes adding an argument completer for Set-Format so that it proposes these formats.

    Since the columns change their widths during these steps I only auto-size them when I’ve finished setting their data and formats. So now I have the first page in the audit workbook for my computer


    Of course there times when we don’t want a book per computer with each aspect on it’s own sheet, but we want book for each aspect with a page per computer.
    If we want to copy a sheet from one workbook to another, we could read the data and write it back out like this

    Import-Excel -Path "$env:COMPUTERNAME.xlsx" -WorksheetName "volumes" | 
    -Path "volumes.xlsx" -WorkSheetname $env:COMPUTERNAME

    but this strips off all the formatting and loses the formulas  – however the Workbook object offers a better way, we can get the Excel package for an existing file with
    $xl1 = Open-ExcelPackage -path "$env:COMPUTERNAME.xlsx"

    and create a new file and get the Package object for it with 
    $xl2 = Export-Excel -Path "volumes.xlsx" -PassThru

    (if the file exists we can use Open-ExcelPackage). The worksheets collection has an add method which allows you to specify an existing sheet as the basis of the new one, so we can call that, remove the default sheet that export created, and close the files (saving and loading in Excel, or not, as required) 

    $newSheet = $xl2.Workbook.Worksheets.Add($env:COMPUTERNAME, ($xl1.Workbook.Worksheets["Volumes"]))
    Close-ExcelPackage $xl2 -show
    Close-ExcelPackage $xl1 –NoSave

    The new workbook looks the same (formatting has been preserved -  although I have found it doesn’t like conditional formatting) but the file name and sheet name have switched places.


    Recently I’ve found that I want the equivalent of selecting “Transpose” in Excel’s paste-special dialog- take an object with many properties and instead of exporting it so it runs over many columns in making a two-column list of Property name and value
    For example
    $x = Get-WmiObject win32_computersystem  | Select-Object -Property Caption,Domain,Manufacturer,
                                Model, TotalPhysicalMemory, NumberOfProcessors, NumberOfLogicalProcessors

    $x.psobject.Properties | Select-Object -Property name,value |
        Export-Excel -Path "$env:COMPUTERNAME.xlsx" -WorkSheetname General -NoHeader -AutoSize –Show


    When I do this i a real script I use the –passthru swtich and apply some formatting

    $ws    = $excel.Workbook.Worksheets["General"]
    $ws.Column(1).Width                     =  64
    $ws.Column(1).Style.VerticalAlignment   = "Center"
    $ws.Column(2).Width                     =  128
    $ws.Column(2).Style.HorizontalAlignment = "Left"
    $ws.Column(2).Style.WrapText            = $true

    Of course I could use Set-Format instead but sometimes the natural way is to refer to use .Cells[]  , .Row() or .Column().

    May 14, 2018

    A couple of easy boosts for PowerShell performance.

    Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 10:55 am

    At the recent PowerShell and Dev-ops summit I met Joshua King and went to his session – Whip Your Scripts into Shape: Optimizing PowerShell for Speed – (an area where I overestimated my knowledge) and it’s made me think about some other issues.  If you find this post interesting it’s a fair bet you’ll enjoy watching Joshua’s talk. There are a few of things to say before looking at a performance optimization which I added to my knowledge this week.

  • Because scripts can take longer to write than to run, we need to know when it is worth optimizing for speed. After all, if cut we the time from pressing return to the reappearance of the prompt from 1/2 second to 1/4 or even to 1/1000th second our reaction time is such that we don’t do the next thing we’re going to do any sooner. On the other hand if something takes 5 minutes to run (which might be the same command being called many times inside a script), giving minutes back is usable time.
  • Execution time varies with input – it often goes up with the square of the number of items being processed.  (Typically when the operation is in the form “For every item, look at [some subset of] all items”). So you might process 1,000 rows of data in half a second … but then someone takes your code and complains that their data take 5 minutes to process, because they’re working with many more rows. Knowing if you should optimize here isn’t straightforward  – most of the time doesn’t matter, but when it matters at all, it matters a lot.  You can discover if performance tails off badly at 10,000 or 1,000,000 rows but it isn’t easy to predict how many of any given size there will be and whether optimizing performance is time is well spent . If the problem happens at scale, then you might run sub-tasks in parallel (especially if each runs on a different computer), or change the way of working – for example this piece on hash tables is about avoiding the “look at every item” problem.
  • No one writes code to be slow. But the fast way might require something which is longer and/or harder to understand. If we want to write scripts which are reusable we might prefer tidy-but-slower over fast-but-incomprehensible. (All other things being equal we’d love the elegance of something tidy and fast, but a lot of us aren’t going to let the pursuit of that prevent us going home). 
    Something like $SetA | where {$_ –notIn $setB}  is easy to understand but if the sets are big enough it might need billions of comparisons, the work which gave rise to the hash tables piece  cut the number from billions to under a million (and meant that we could run the script multiple times per hour instead of once or twice in a day, so we could test it properly for the first time). But it takes a lot more to understand how it works.
  • One area from Joshua’s talk where the performance could be improved without adding complexity was reducing or eliminating the hit from using Pipelines; usually this doesn’t matter – in fact the convenience of being able to construct a bespoke command by piping cmdlets together was compelling before it was named “PowerShell”.  Consider these two scripts which time how long it takes to increment a counter a million times.

    $i  = 0 ; $j = 1..1000000 ;
    $sw = [System.Diagnostics.Stopwatch]::StartNew() ;
    $J | foreach {$i++ }  ;
    $sw.Stop() ; $sw.Elapsed.TotalMilliseconds

    $i  = 0 ; $j = 1..1000000 ;
    $sw = [System.Diagnostics.Stopwatch]::StartNew() ;
    foreach ($a in $j) {$i++ }  ;
    $sw.Stop() ; $sw.Elapsed.TotalMilliseconds

     The only thing which is different is the foreach – is it the alias for ForEach-Object, or is it a foreach statement . The logic hasn’t changed, and readability is pretty much the same; you might expect them to take roughly the same time to run … but they don’t: on my machine, using the statement is about 6 times faster than piping to the cmdlet.
    This is doing unrealistically simple work; replacing the two “ForEach” lines with

    $j | where {$_ % 486331 -eq 0}
    $j.where(  {$_ % 486331 -eq 0} )

    does something more significant for each item and I find the pipeline version takes 3 times as long! And the performance improvement remains if the output of the .where() goes into a pipeline. I’ve written in the past that sometimes very long pipelines can be made easier to read by breaking them up (even though I have a dislike storing intermediate results), and it turns out we also can boost performance by doing that.

    Recently I found another change : if I define a function

    Function CanDivide {
    Param ($Dividend)
        $Dividend % 486331 -eq 0
    and repeat the previous test with the command as
    $j.where( {CanDivide $_ } )

    People will separate roughly 50:50 into those who find the new version easier to understand, and those who say “I have to look somewhere else to see what ‘can divide’ does”. But is it faster or slower and by how much ? It’s worth verifying this for yourself, but my test said the function call makes the command slower by a factor of 6 or 7 times.  If a function is small, and/or is only called from one place, and/or is called many times to complete a piece of work then it may be better to ‘flatten’ the script. I’m in the “I don’t want to look somewhere else” camp so my bias is towards flattening code, but – like reducing the amount of piping – it might feel wrong for other people. It can make the difference between “fast enough”, and “not fast enough” without major changes to the logic.

    December 11, 2017

    Using the Import Excel module part 2: putting data into .XLSx files

    Filed under: Office,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 3:55 pm

    This is third of a series of posts on Excel and PowerShell – the first on getting parts of an Excel file out as images wasn’t particularly tied to the ImportExcel Module, but the last one, this one and next one are.  I started with the Import Command – which seemed logical given the name of the module; the Export command is more complicated, because we may want to control the layout and formatting of the data, add titles, include pivot tables and draw charts;. so I have split it into two posts. At its simplest the command looks like this :

    Get-Process | Export-Excel -Path .\demo.xlsx -Show

    This gets a list of processes, and exports them to an Excel file; the -Show switch tells the command to try to open the file using Excel after saving it. I should be clear here that import and export don’t need Excel to be installed and one of the main uses is to get things into Excel format with all the extras like calculations, formatting and charts on a computer where you don’t want to install desktop apps; so –Show won’t work in those environments.  If no –WorksheetName parameter is give the command will use “Sheet1”.

    Each process object has 67 properties and in the example above they would all become columns in the worksheet, we can make things more compact and efficient by using Select-Object in the command to filter down to just the things we need:

    Get-Process | Select-Object -Property Name,WS,CPU,Description,StartTime |
    Export-Excel -Path .\demo.xls -Show

    Failed exporting worksheet 'Sheet1' to 'demo.xls':
    Exception calling ".ctor" with "1" argument(s):
    "The process cannot access the file 'demo.xls' because it is being used by another process."

    This often happens when you look at the file and go back to change the command and forget to close it – we can either close the file from Excel, or use the -KillExcel switch in Export‑Excel – from now on I’ll use data from a variable

    $mydata = Get-Process | Select-Object -Property Name, WS, CPU, Description, Company, StartTime
    $mydata | Export-Excel -KillExcel -Path .\demo.xlsx -Show

    This works, but Export-Excel modifies the existing file and doesn’t remove the old data – it takes the properties of the first item that is piped into it and makes them column headings, and writes each item as a row in the spreadsheet with those properties. (If different items have different properties there is a function Update-FirstObjectProperties to ensure the first row has every property used in any row). If we are re-writing an existing sheet, and the new data doesn’t completely cover the old we may be left with “ghost” data. To ensure this doesn’t happen, we can use the ‑ClearSheet option

    $mydata | Export-Excel -KillExcel -Path .\demo.xlsx -ClearSheet -Show


    Sometimes you don’t want to clear the sheet but to add to the end of it, and one of the first changes I gave Doug for the module was to support a –Append switch, swiftly followed by a change to make sure that the command wasn’t trying to clear and append to the same sheet.

    We could make this a nicer spreadsheet – we could make it clear the column headings look like headings, and even make them filters, we can also size the columns to fit…

    $mydata | Export-Excel -Path .\demo.xlsx -KillExcel -WorkSheetname "Processes" -ClearSheet `
    -AutoSize -Title "My Processes" -TitleBold -TitleSize 20 -FreezePane 3 -AutoFilter -Show


    The screen shot above shows the headings are now in bold and the columns have been auto sized to fit. A title has been added in bold, 20-point type; and the panes have been frozen above row 3. (There are options for freezing the top row or the left column or both, as well as the option used here –FreezePane row [column]) and filtering has been turned on.

    Another way to present tabular data nicely is to use the -Table option

    $mydata | Export-Excel -Path .\demo.xlsx -KillExcel -WorkSheetname "Processes" -ClearSheet –BoldTopRow    -AutoSize `
           -TableName table -TableStyle Medium6 -FreezeTopRow -show


    “Medium6” is the default table style but there are plenty of others to choose from, and intellisense will suggest them


    Sometimes it is helpful NOT to show the sheet immediately, and one of the first things I wanted to add to the module was the ability to pass on an object representing the current state of the workbook to a further command, which makes the following possible:

    $xl = $mydata | Export-Excel -Path .\demo.xlsx -KillExcel -WorkSheetname "Processes" `
    -ClearSheet -AutoSize -AutoFilter -BoldTopRow –FreezeTopRow -PassThru

    $ws = $xl.Workbook.Worksheets["Processes"]

    Set-Format -WorkSheet $ws -Range "b:b" -NumberFormat "#,###"   -AutoFit
    Set-Format -WorkSheet $ws -Range "C:C" -NumberFormat "#,##0.00" -AutoFit
    Set-Format -WorkSheet $ws -Range "F:F" -NumberFormat "dd MMMM HH:mm:ss" -AutoFit

    The first line creates a spreadsheet much like the ones above, and passes on the Excel Package object which provides the reference to the workbook and in turn to the worksheets inside it.
    The example selected three columns from the worksheet and applied different formatting to each. The module even supports conditional formatting, for example we could add these lines into the sequence above

    Add-ConditionalFormatting -WorkSheet $ws -Range "c2:c1000" -DataBarColor Blue
    Add-ConditionalFormatting -WorkSheet $ws -Range "b2:B1000" -RuleType GreaterThan
    -ConditionValue '104857600'  -ForeGroundColor "Red" -Bold

    The first draws data bars so we can see at glance what is using CPU time and the second makes anything using over 100MB of memory stand out.

    Finally, a call to Export-Excel will normally apply changes to the workbook and save the file, but there don’t need to any changes – if you pass it a package object and don’t specify passthrough it will save your work, so “Save and Open in Excel” is done like this once we have put the data in a formatted it the way we want.

    Export-Excel -ExcelPackage $xl -WorkSheetname "Processes" -Show


    In the next post I’ll look at charts and Pivots, and the quick way to get SQL data into Excel

    December 5, 2017

    Using the Import-Excel module: Part 1 Importing

    Filed under: Office,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 9:15 am

    The “EEPLus” project provides .NET classes to read and write XLSx files without the need to use the Excel object model or even have Excel installed on the computer (XLSx files, like the other  Office Open XML Format are actually .ZIP format files, containing XML files describing different aspects of the document – they were designed to make that sort of thing easier than the “binary” formats which went before.)   Doug Finke, who is well known in the PowerShell community, used EEPlus to build a PowerShell module named ImportExcel which is on GitHub and can be downloaded from the PowerShell gallery (by running Install-Module ImportExcel on PowerShell 5 or PS4 with the Package Management addition installed) As of version 4.0.4 his module contains some of my contributions. This post is to act as an introduction to the Export parts of the module that I contributed to; there are some additional scripts bundled into the module which do require Excel itself but the core Import / Export functions do not. This gives a useful way to get data on a server into Excel format, or to provide users with a work book to enter data in an easy to use way and process that data on the server – without needing to install Microsoft Office or translate to and from formats like .CSV.

    The Import-Excel command reads data from a worksheet in an XLSx file. By default, it assumes the data has headers and starts with the first header in Cell A1 and the first row of data in row 2. It will skip columns which don’t have a header and but will include empty rows. If no worksheet name is specified it will use the first one in the work book, so at its simplest the command looks like :
    Import-Excel -Path .\demo.xlsx  

    It’s possible that the worksheet isn’t the first sheet in the workbook and/or has a title above the data, so we can specify the start point explicitly
    Import-Excel -Path .\demo.xlsx -WorkSheetname winners -StartRow 2  

    We can say the first row does not contain headers and either have each property (column) named P1, P2, P3 etc, by using the ‑NoHeader switch or specify header names with the -HeaderName parameter like this

    Import-Excel -Path .\demo.xlsx -StartRow 3 -HeaderName “Name”,"How Many"

    The module also provides a ConvertFrom-ExcelSheet command which takes -Encoding and -Delimiter parameters and sends the data to Export-CSV with those parameters, and a ConvertFrom-ExcelToSQLInsert command which turns each row into a SQL statement: this command in turn uses a command ConvertFrom-ExcelData, which calls Import-Excel and then runs a script block which takes two parameters PropertyNames and Record.

    Because this script block can do more than convert data, I added an alias “Use-ExcelData” which is now  part of the module and can be used like this
    Use-ExcelData -Path .\NewUsers.xlsx -HeaderRow 2 -scriptBlock $sb

    If I define the script block as below, each column becomes a parameter for the New-AdUser command which is run for each row

    $sb = {
      param($propertyNames, $record)
      $propertyNames | foreach-object -Begin {$h = @{} }  -Process {
          if ($null -ne $record.$_) {$h[$_] = $record.$_}
      } -end {New-AdUser @h -verbose}

    The script block gets a list of property names and a row of data: the script block gets called for each row and creates a hash table, adds an entry for each property and finally Splats the parameters into a command. It can be any command in the end block provided that the column names in Excel match its Parameters , I’m sure you can come up with your own use cases.

    November 25, 2017

    Getting parts of Excel files as images.

    Filed under: Office,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 7:54 pm

    I feel old when I realise its more than two decades since I learnt about the object models in Word, Excel and even Microsoft project and how to control them from other applications. Although my preferred tool is now PowerShell rather than Access’s version of Visual basic, the idea that “it’s all in there somewhere” means I’ll go and do stuff inside Excel from time to time…

    One of the things I needed to do recently was to get performance data into a spreadsheet with charts – which the export part of Doug Finke’s ImportExcel module handles very nicely. But we had a request to display the charts on a web page without the need to open an Excel file, so it was time to have a look around in Excel’s [very hierarchical] object model.

    An Excel.Application contains
    …. Workbooks which contain
    …. …. Worksheets which contain
    …. …. …. Chartobjects each of which contains
    …. …. …. …. A Chart which has
    …. …. …. …. …. An Export Method

    It seems I can get what I need if I get an Excel application object, load the workbook, work through the sheets, find each chart, decide a name to save it as and call its export method. The PowerShell to do that looks like this

    $OutputType    = "JPG"
    $excelApp      = New-Object -ComObject "Excel.Application"
    $excelWorkBook = $excelApp.Workbooks.Open($path)
    foreach ($excelWorkSheet in $excelWorkBook.Worksheets) {
      foreach ($excelchart in $excelWorkSheet.ChartObjects([System.Type]::Missing)) {
        $imagePath = Join-Path -Path $Destination -ChildPath ($excelWorkSheet.Name +
                            "_" + ($excelchart.Chart.ChartTitle.Text + ".$OutputType"))
        $excelchart.Chart.Export($imagePath, $OutputType, $false)    

    A couple of things to note – the export method can output a PNG, JPG or GIF file and in the final version of this code, $OutputType is passed as a parameter (like $Path and $Destination  I’ve got into the habit of capitalizing parameter names, and starting normal variables with lowercase letters). There’s a slightly odd way of selecting ‘all charts’ and if the chart isn’t selected before exporting it doesn’t export properly.

    I sent Doug a this which he added to his module (along with some other additions I’d been meaning to send him for over a year!). Shortly afterwards he sent me a message 
    Hello again. Someone asked me about png files from Excel. They generate a sheet, do conditional formatting and then they want to save is as a png and send that instead of the xlsx…

    Back at Excel’s object model… there isn’t an Export method which applies to a range of cells or a whole worksheet – the SaveAs method doesn’t have the option to save a sheet (or part of one) as an image. Which left me asking “how would I do this manually?” I’d copy what I needed and paste it into something which can save it. From version 5 PowerShell has a Get-Clipboard cmdlet which can handle image data. (Earlier versions let you access the clipboard via the .net objects but images were painful). The Excel object model will allow a selection to be copied, so a single script can load the workbook, make a selection, copy it, receive it from the clipboard as an image and save the image.

    $Format = [system.Drawing.Imaging.ImageFormat]::Jpeg
    $xlApp  = New-Object -ComObject "Excel.Application"
    $xlWbk  = $xlApp.Workbooks.Open($Path)
    $xlWbk.ActiveSheet.Range($Range).Select() | Out-Null
    $xlApp.Selection.Copy() | Out-Null
    $image = Get-Clipboard -Format Image
    $image.Save($Destination, $Format)

    In practice $Path, $Worksheetname, $Range, $Format and $Destination are all parameters. And the whole thing is wrapped in a function Convert-XlRangeToImage
    Excel puts up a warning that there is a lot of data in the clipboard on exit and to stop that I copy a single cell before exiting.

    $xlWbk.ActiveSheet.Range("a1").Select() | Out-Null
    $xlApp.Selection.Copy() | Out-Null

    The Select and Copy methods return TRUE if they succeed so I send those to Null. The whole thing combines with Doug’s module like this

    $excelPackage = $myData | Export-Excel -Path $Path -WorkSheetname $workSheetname
    $workSheet    = $excelPackage.Workbook.Worksheets[$workSheetname]
    $range        = $workSheet.Dimension.Address
    #      << apply formatting >>
    Export-Excel -ExcelPackage $excelPackage -WorkSheetname $workSheetname
    Convert-XlRangeToImage -Path $Path -WorkSheetname $workSheetname -Range $range –Destination "$pwd\temp.png" –Show

    I sent the new function over to Doug and starting with version 4.0.8 it’s part of the downloadable module

    June 16, 2017

    More on writing clear scripts: Write-output and return … good or bad ?

    Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 11:26 am

    My last post talked about writing understandable scripts and I read a piece entitled Let’s kill Write-Output by Mark Krauss (actually I found it because Thomas Lee Tweeted it with “And sort out return too”).

    So let’s start with one practicality. You can’t remove a command which has been in a language for 10 years unless you are prepared for a lot of pain making people re-write scripts. It’s alias “echo” was put there for people who come from other scripting languages, and start by asking “How do I print to the console”. But if removing it altogether is impractical, we can advise people to avoid it, write rules to catch it in the script analyser and so on. Should we ? And when is a good idea to use it ?

    Mark points out he’s not talking about Write-host, which should be kept for limited scenarios: if you want the user to see it by default, but it isn’t part of the output then that’s a job for Write-host, for example with my Get-SQL command   $result = Get-SQL $sqlQuery writes “42 rows returned” to the console but the output saved into $result is the 42 rows of data. Mark gives an example:    
    Write-Output "PowerShell Processes:"
    Get-Process -Name PowerShell

    and says it is better written as  
    "PowerShell Processes:"
    Get-Process -Name PowerShell

    And this is actually a case where Write-host should be used … why ? Let’s turn that into a function.
    Function Get-psProc {
      "PowerShell Processes:"
      Get-Process -Name"*PowerShell*"

    Looks fine doesn’t it ? But it outputs two different types of object into the pipeline. All is well if we run Get-psProc on its own, but if we run
     Get-psProc | ConvertTo-Csv 
    It returns
    #TYPE System.String

    The next command in the pipeline saw that the first object was a string and that determined its behaviour. “PowerShell processes” is decoration you want the user to see but isn’t part of the output. That earlier post on understandable scripts came from a talk about writing good code and the one of the biggest problems I find in other peoples code is fixation with printing to the screen.  That leads to things like the next example – which is meant to read a file and say how many lines there are and their average length.

    $measurement = cat $path | measure -average Length
    echo ("Lines read    : {0}"    -f $measurement.Count  )
    echo ("Average length: {0:n0}" -f $measurement.Average)

    This runs and it does the job the author intended but I’d suggest they might be new to PowerShell and haven’t yet learnt that Output is not the same as “stuff for a user to read” (as in the previous example) , and they feel their output must be printed for reading. Someone more experienced with PowerShell might just write:
    cat $path| measure -average Length
    If they aren’t bothered about the labels,  or if the labels really matter
    cat $path | measure -average Length | select @{n="Lines Read";e={$_.count}}, @{n="Average Length";e={[math]::Round($_.Average,2)}}

    If this is something we use a lot, we might change the aliases to cmdlet names, specify parameter names and save it for later use. And it is re-usable, for example if we want to do something when there are more than x lines in the file, where the previous version can only return text with the number of lines embedded in it.  Resisting the urge to print everything is beneficial and that gets rid of a lot of uses of Write-output (or echo).

    Mark’s post has 3 beefs with Write-Output.

    1. Performance. It is slower but rarely noticeably so, so I’d discount this.
    2. Security / Predictability – Write-Output can be redefined, and that allows for something malign or just buggy. True, but it also allows you to redefine it for logging debugging and so on. So you could use a proxy Write-output for testing and the standard one in production. So this is not exclusively bad
    3. The false sense of security. He says that explicitly returning stuff is held to be better than implicit return, which implies
      Write-Output $result
            is better than just   $result            
      But no-one says you should write    cat $path | Write-Output it’s obviously redundant, but when you don’t isn’t that implying output ?

    My take on the last point is piping output into write-output (or Out-Default) is a tautology “Here’s some output, take it and output it”. It’s making things longer but not clearer. If using write-output does make things clearer then it is a sign the script is hard to read and at least needs some comments, and possibly some redesign. Joel Bennett sums up the false sense of security part in a sentencewhile some people like it because it highlights the spots where you intentionally output something — other people argue it’s presence distracts you from the fact that other lines could output.”  [Thanks Joel, that would have taken me a paragraph!]

    This is where Thomas’ comment about return comes in. Return tells PowerShell to bail out of a function, and there are many good reasons for doing that, it also has a two in one syntax :  return $result is the same as

    When I linked to Joel above he also asks the question whether, as the last lines of a function, this
    $output = $temp + (Get-Thing $temp)
    return $output

    is better or worse than
    $output = $temp + (Get-Thing $temp)

    Not many people would add return to the second example – it’s redundant.  But if you store the final output in a variable there is some logic to using return (or Write-output) to send it back. But is it making things any clearer to store the result in a variable ? or it just as easy to read the following.  
    $temp + (Get-Thing $temp)

    As with Write-output, sometimes using return $result makes things clearer and sometimes it’s a habit from other programming languages where functions return results in a single  place so multiple parts must be gathered and then returned. Here’s something which combines the results of 3 queries and returns them

    $result =  (Get-SQL $sqlQuery1)
    $result += (Get-SQL $sqlQuery2)
    $result +  (Get-SQL $sqlQuery3)

    So the first line assigns an array of database rows to a variable the second appends more rows and the third returns these rows together with the results of a third query.  You need to look at  the operator in each line to figure out which sends to the pipeline. Arguably this it is clearer to replace the last line with this:

    $result += (Get-SQL $sqlQuery3)
    return $result

    When there are 3 or 4 lines between introducing $result and putting it into the pipeline this is OK. But lets say there are 50 lines of script between storing the results of the first query and appending the results of the second.  Has the script been made clearer by storing a partial result … or would you see something being appended to $result and look further up the script for where it was originally set and anywhere it was changed ? This example does nothing with the combined segments (like sorting them) we’re just following an old habit of only outputting in one place. Not outputting anything until we have everything can mean it takes a lot longer to run the script – we could have processed all the results from the first query while waiting for the second to run. I would dispense with the variable entirely and use

    Get-SQL $sqlQuery1
    Get-SQL $sqlQuery2
    Get-SQL $sqlQuery3

    If there is a lot of script between each I’d then use a #region around the lines which lead up to each query being run
    #region build query and return rows for x
    #etc etc
    Get-SQL $sqlQuery1

    so when I collapse the outlining regions in my editor I see
    #region build query and return rows for x
    #region build query and return rows for y
    #region build query and return rows for z

    Which gives me a very good sense of what the script is doing at a high level and then I can drill into the regions if I need to. If I do need to do something to the combined set of rows (like sorting) then my collapsed code might become
    #region build query for x and keep rows for sorting later
    #region build query for y and keep rows for sorting later
    #region build query for z and keep rows for sorting later
    #region return sorted and de-duplicated results of x,y and Z

    Both outlines give a sense of where there should be output and where any output might be a bug.

    In conclusion. 
    When you see Lots of echo / write-output commands that’s usually a bad sign – it’s usually an indication of too many formatted strings going into the pipeline, but Write-Output is not automatically bad when used sparingly – and used properly return isn’t bad either. But if you find yourself adding either for clarity it should make you ask “Is there a better way”.  

    March 13, 2017

    Improving PowerShell performance with hash tables.

    Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 1:07 pm

    Often the tasks which we do with PowerShell scripts aren’t very sensitive to performance – unless we are sitting drumming our fingers on the desk waiting for it to complete there isn’t a lot of value in making it faster.   When I wrote about start-Parallel, I showed that some things only become viable if they can be run reasonably quickly; but you might assume that scripts which run as scheduled tasks can take an extra minute if they need to . 

    imageThat is not always the case.  I’ve been working with a client who has over 100,000 Active directory users enabled for Lync (and obviously they have a lot more AD objects than that). They want to set Lync’s policies based on membership of groups and users are not just placed directly into the policy groups but nested via other groups. If users have a policy but aren’t in the associated group, the policy needs to be removed. There’s a pretty easy Venn diagram for what we need to do.

    If you’ve worked with LDAP queries against AD, you may know how to find the nested members of the group using(memberOf:1.2.840.113556.1.4.1941:=<<Group DN>>).
    The Lync/Skype for Business cmdlets won’t combine an LDAP filter for AD group membership and non-AD property filter for policy – the user objects returned actually contain more than a dozen different policy properties, but for simplicity I’m just going to use ‘policy’ here – as pseduo-code the natural way to find users and change policy – which someone else had already written – looks like this
    Get-CSuser –ldapfiler "(   memberOf <<nested group>> )" | where-object {$_.policy –ne $PolicyName} | Grant-Policy $PolicyName
    Get-CSuser –ldapfiler "( ! memberOf <<nested group>>) " | where-object {$_.policy –eq $PolicyName} | Grant-Policy $null

    (Very late in the process I found there was a way to check Lync / Skype policies from AD but it wouldn’t have changed what follows). 
    You can see that we are going to get every user, those in the group in the first line and those out of it in the second. These “fan out” queries against AD can be slow – MSDN has a warning “Some such queries on subtrees may be more processor intensive, such as chasing links with a high fan-out; that is, listing all the groups that a user is a member of.”   Getting the two sets of data was taking over an hour.  But so what? This is a script which runs once a week, during quiet hours, provided it can run in the window it is given all will be well.  Unfortunately, because I was changing a production script, I had to show that the correct users are selected, the correct changes made and the right information written to a log. While developing a script which will eventually run as scheduled task, testing requires we run it interactively, step through it, check it, polish it, run it again, and a script with multiple segments which run for over an hour is, effectively, untestable (which is why I came to be changing the script in the first place!).

    I found I could unpack the nested groups with a script a lot more quickly than using the “natural” 1.2.840.113556.1.4.1941 method; though it feels wrong to do so. I couldn’t find any ready-made code to do the unpack operation – any search for expanding groups comes back to using the OID method which reinforces the idea. 

    I can also get all 100,000 Lync users – it takes a few minutes, but provided it is only done once per session it is workable, (I stored the users in a global variable if it was present I didn’t re-fetch them) 

    So: I had a variable $users with users and a variable $members which contains all the members of the group; I just had to work out who is each one but not in both. But I had a new problem. Some of the groups contain tens of thousands of users. Lets assume half the users have the policy and half don’t. If I run
    $users.where{$_.policy -ne $PolicyName -and $members -contains $_.DistinguishedName}
    $users.where{$_.policy -eq $PolicyName -and $members -notcontains $_.DistinguishedName}
    the -contains operation is going to have a LOT of work to do: if everybody has been given the right policy none of the 50,000 users without it are in the group but we have to look at all 50,000 group-members to be sure – 2,500,000,000 string comparisons. For the 50,000 users who do have the policy, on average [Not]contains has to look at half the group  members before finding a match so that’s 1,250,000,000 comparisons. 3.75 Billion comparisons for each policy  means it is still too slow for testing. Then I had a flash of inspiration, something which might work.

    I learnt about Hash tables as a computer science undergraduate, and – as the on-line help puts it  – they are “very efficient for finding and retrieving data”. This can be read as they lead to neat code (which has been their attraction for me in the past) or as they minimize CPU use, which is what I need here.  Microsoft also call hash tables  “associative arrays” and often the boundary between a set of key-value pairs (a dictionary) and a “true” hash table is blurred – with a “true” hash tables the location of data in memory is based on the key value – so an item can be found without scanning the whole list. Some ways to do fast finds make tables slow to build. Things I’d never considered with PowerShell hash tables might turn out to be important at this scale. So I built a hash table to return a user’s policy given their DN:
    $users | ForEach-Object -Begin {$hash=@{}} -Process {$hash[$_.distinguishedName] = "" + $_.policy}

    About 100,000 users were processed in under 4 seconds, which was a relief; and the right policy came back for $hash[“cn=bob…”] – it looked instant compared with a couple of seconds with $users.where({$_.distinguishedName –eq “cn=bob…”}).policy

    This hash table will return one of 3 things. If Bob isn’t set-up for Lync/Skype for Business I will get NULL; if Bob has no policy I will get an empty string (that’s why I add the policy to an empty string – it also forces the policy object to be a string), and if he has a policy I get the policy name. So it was time to see how many users have the right policy (that’s the magenta bit in the middle of the Venn diagram above)
    $members.where({$hash[$_] -like $policyname}).count

    I’d found ~10,000 members in one of the policy groups, and reckoned if I could get the “find time” down from 20 minutes to 20 seconds that would be OK and … fanfare … it took 0.34 seconds. If we can check can look up 10,000 items in a 100,000 item table in under a second, these must be proper hash tables. I can have the .where() method evaluate
    {$hash[$_] –eq $Null} for the AD users who aren’t Lync users or
    {$hash[$_] –notin @($null,$policyName) } for users who need the policy to be set. 
    It works just as well the other way around for setting up the hash table to return “True” for all members of the AD group; non-members will return null, so we can use that to quickly find users with the policy set but who are not members of the group. 

    $members | ForEach-Object -Begin {$MemberHash=@{}} -Process {$MemberHash[$_] = "" + $true}
    $users.where({$_.policy -like $policyname -and -not $memberhash[$_.distinguishedName]}).count

    Applying this to all the different policies slashed the time to do everything in the script from several hours down to a a handful of minutes.  So I could test thoroughly before the ahead of putting the script into production.

    January 29, 2017

    Sharing GetSQL

    Filed under: Databases / SQL,Powershell — jamesone111 @ 8:03 pm

    I’ve uploaded a tool named “GetSQL” to the PowerShell Gallery
    Three of my last four posts (and one upcoming one) are about sharing stuff which I have been using for a long time and GetSQL goes back several years – every now and then I add something to it, so it seems like it might never be finished, but eventually I decided that it was fit to be shared.

    When I talk about good PowerShell habits, one of the themes is avoiding massive “do-everything” functions; it’s also good minimize the number of dependencies on the wider system state – for example by avoiding global variables. Sometimes it is necessary to put these guidelines to one side –  the module exposes a single command, Get-SQL which uses argument completers (extra script to fill in parameter values). There was a time when you needed to get Jason Shirks TabExpansion Plus Plus to do anything with argument completers but, if you’re running a current version of PowerShell, Register-ArgumentCompleter is now a built in cmdlet. PowerShell itself helps complete parameter names – and Get-SQL is the only place I’ve made heavy use of parameter sets to strip out parameters which don’t apply (and had to overcome some strange behaviour along the way); having completers to fill in the values for the names of connections, databases, tables and column names dramatically speeds up composing commands – not least by removing some silly typos.

    One thing about Get- commands in PowerShell is that if the PowerShell parser sees a name which doesn’t match a command where a command-name should be it tries putting Get- in front of the name so History runs Get-History, and SQL runs Get-SQL. That’s one of the reasons why the command didn’t begin life as “Invoke-SQL” and instead became a single command. I also wanted to be able to run lots of commands against the same database without having to reconnect each time. So the connection objects that are used are global variables, which survive from one call to the next – I can run
    SQL “select id, name from customers where name like ‘%smith’ ”
    SQL “Select * from orders where customerID = 1234”

    without needing to make and break connections each time – note, these are shortened versions of the command which could be written out in full as: 
    Get-SQL –SQL “Select * from orders where customerID = 1234”
    The first time Get-SQL runs it needs to make a connection, so as well as –SQL it has a –Connection parameter (and extra switches to simplify connections to SQL server, Access and Excel). Once I realized that I needed to talk to multiple databases, I started naming the sessions and creating aliases from which the session  can be inferred (I described how here) so after running
    Get-SQL -Session f1 -Excel  -Connection C:\Users\James\OneDrive\Public\F1\f1Results.xlsx
    (which creates a session named F1 with an Excel file containing results of formula one races) I can dump the contents of a table with
    f1 –Table “[races]”

    Initially, I wanted to either run a chunk of SQL –like the first example (and I added a –Paste switch to bring in SQL from the Windows Clipboard), or to get the whole of a table (like the example above with a –Table parameter), or see what tables had be defined and their structure so I added –ShowTables and –Describe.  The first argument completer I wrote used the “show tables” functionality to get a list of tables and fill in the name for the –Table or –Describe parameters. Sticking to the one function per command rule one would mean writing “Connect-SQL”, “Invoke-RawSQL” “Invoke-SQLSelect”, and “Get-SQLTable” as separate commands, but it just felt right to be able to allow
    Get-SQL -Session f1 -Excel  -Connection C:\Users\James\OneDrive\Public\F1\f1Results.xlsx –showtables

    It also just felt right to allow the end of a SQL statement to be appended to what the command line had built giving a command like the following one – the output of a query can, obviously, be passed through a PowerShell Where-Object command but makes much more sense to filter before sending the data back.
    f1 –Table “[races]” “where season = 1977”

    “where season = 1977” is the –SQL parameter and –Table “[races]” builds “Select * from [Races]” and the two get concatenated to
    “Select * from [Races] where season = 1977”.
    With argument completers for the table name, it makes sense to fill column names in as well, so there is a –Where parameter with a completer which sees the table name and fills in the possible columns. So the same query results from this:
    f1 –Table “[races]”   -where “season”   “= 1977”  
    I took it a stage further and made the comparison operators work like they do in where-object, allowing
    f1 –Table “[races]” -where “season” -eq 1977

    The script will sort out wrapping things in quotes, changing the normal * into SQL’s % for wildcards and so on. With select working nicely (I added –Select to choose columns, –OrderBy, –Distinct and –GroupBy ) I moved on to insert, update (set) and Delete functionality. You can see what I meant when I said I keep adding bits and it might never be “finished”.

    Sometimes I just use the module as a quick way to add a SQL query to something I’m working on: need to query a Lync/Skype backend database ? There’s Get-SQL. Line-of-business database ? There’s Get-SQL. Need to poke round in Adobe Lightroom’s SQL-Lite database? I do that with with Get-SQL -  though in both cases its simple query building is left behind, it just goes back to its roots of running a lump of SQL which was created in some other tool.  The easiest way to get data into Excel is usually the EXPORT part of Doug Finke’s excellent import-excel and sometimes it is easier to do it with insert or update queries using Get-SQL. The list goes on … when your hammer seems like a good one, you find an awful lot of nails.

    December 6, 2016

    Do the job 100 times faster with Parallel Processing in PowerShell

    Filed under: Powershell — jamesone111 @ 11:12 pm
    Tags: ,

    It’s a slightly click-baity title, but I explain below where the 100 times number comes from below. The module is on the PowerShell gallery and you can install it with  Install-Module -Name Start-parallel

    Some of the tasks we need to do in PowerShell involve firing off many similar requests and waiting for their answers – for example getting status from lots computers on a network. It might take several seconds to do each one – maybe longer if the machines don’t respond. Doing them one after the other could take ages. If I want to ping all 255 addresses on on my home subnet, most machines will be missing and it will take 3 seconds to time out for each of the 200+ inactive addresses. Even if I try only one ping for each address it’s going to take 10-12 minutes, and for >99% of that time my computer will be waiting for a response. Running them in parallel could speed things up massively.
    Incidentally the data which comes back from ping isn’t ideal, and I prefer this to the Test-Connection cmdlet.
    Function QuickPing {
        param ($LastByte)
        $P = New-Object -TypeName "System.Net.NetworkInformation.Ping"
        $P.Send("192.168.0.$LastByte") | where status -eq success | select address, roundTripTime

    PowerShell allows you to start multiple processes using Jobs and there are places where Jobs work well. But it only takes a moment to see the flaw in jobs: if you run
    Get-Process *powershell*
    Start-Job -ScriptBlock {1..5 | foreach {start-sleep -Seconds 1 ; $_ } }
    Get-Process *powershell*

    You see that the job creates a new instance of PowerShell … doing that for a single ping is horribly inefficient – jobs are better suited to tasks where run time is much longer than the set up time AND where we don’t want run lots concurrently. In fact I’ve found creating large numbers of jobs tends to crash the PowerShell ISE; so my first attempts at parallelism involved tracking the number of jobs running and keeping to a maximum – starting new jobs only as others finished. It worked but in the process I read this by Boe Prox and this by Ryan Witschger which led me to a better way: RunSpaces and the RunSpace factory.
    MSDN defines a RunSpace as “the operating environment where the command pipeline of the PowerShell object is invoked”; and says that the PowerShell object allows applications that programmatically use Windows PowerShell to create pipelines of commands, invoke them and access the results. The factory can create single RunSpaces, or a pool of RunSpaces. So a program (or script) can get a PowerShell object which says “Run this, with these named parameters and these unnamed arguments. Run it asynchronously (i.e. start it and don’t wait for it complete, give me some signal when it is done), and in an a space from this pool.” If there are more things wanting to run than there are RunSpaces, the pool handles queuing for us. 

    Thus the idea for Start-Parallel was born.  I wanted to be able to do this
    Get-ListOfComputers | Start-Parallel Get-ComputerSettings.ps1
    or this  
    1..255 | Start-Parallel -Command QuickPing -MaxThreads 500
    or even pipe PS objects or hash tables in to provide multiple parameters a same command

    -MaxThreads in the second example says create a pool where 500 pings can be in progress, so every QuickPing can be running at the same time (performance monitor shows a spike of threads). So how long does it take to do 255 pings now? 240 inactive addresses taking 3 seconds each gave me ~720 seconds and the version above runs in a little under 7, so a that’s 100 fold speed increase!  This is pretty consistent with what I’ve found with polling servers over the couple of years I’ve been playing with Start-Parallel – things that would take a morning or an afternoon run in a couple of minutes. 

    You can install it from the PowerShell Gallery. Some tips

    • Get-ListOfComputers | Start-Parallel Get-ComputerSettings.ps1 
      works better than
      $x = Get-ListOfComputers ; Start-Parallel -InputObject $x -Command Get-ComputerSettings.ps1
      if Get-ListOfComputers is slow, we will probably have the results for the first computer(s) before we have been told the last one on the list to check.    
    • Don’t hit the same same service with many requests in parallel – unless you want to mount a denial of service attack.   
    • Remember that RunSpaces don’t share anything – the parallel RunSpaces won’t load your profile, or inherit anything from the session which launches them. And there is no guarantee that every module out there always behaves as expected if run in multiple RunSpaces simultaneously. In particular if, “QuickPing” is defined in a the same PS1 file which runs Start-Parallel, then Start-Parallel is defined in the global scope and can’t see QuickPing in the script scope. The work round for this is to use  
      Start-Parallel –scriptblock ${Function:\QuickPing}
    • Some commands by their nature specify a computer. For others it is easier to define a script block inside another script block (or a function) which takes a computer name as a parameter and runs
      Invoke-Command –ComputerName $computer –scriptblock $InnerScriptBlock
    • I don’t recommend running Start-Parallel inside itself, but based on very limited testing it does appear to work.

    You can install it by running Install-Module -Name Start-parallel


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