Microsoft PowerShell is a command line environment that is commonly used as a management tool for Windows.
Even so, PowerShell is far more than just a management tool. It can also be used as a scripting environment, with capabilities rivalling those of well-known programming languages.
What Are the Features of PowerShell?
PowerShell has evolved as a command line shell and scripting language since its 2006 debut.
PowerShell vs. Windows Command Prompt
Microsoft’s first operating system (before Windows existed) was called Disk Operating System, or DOS. DOS was a simple command line environment that provided the basic functionality required to provision disks, run applications, and complete other tasks.
When Microsoft created Windows 3.x, Windows was a platform (rather than a true operating system) that ran on top of DOS. Later, the Windows NT operating system replaced DOS with the NT OS kernel. Because nearly all applications of the time were DOS based, Microsoft created the Windows Command Prompt environment for backward compatibility with DOS. The Windows Command Prompt remains a part of Windows even today.
Although PowerShell is a command line environment, it is far more advanced than the Windows Command Prompt environment. While Microsoft has made efforts to modernize the Windows Command Prompt, it can still trace its roots to nearly 40 years ago. PowerShell uses an entirely different command set from the Windows Command Prompt. However, Microsoft has created command aliases that allow some DOS commands to be used in PowerShell. When such commands are entered, PowerShell commands are in fact executing behind the scenes.
The PowerShell command structure
Native PowerShell commands, which are known as cmdlets (pronounced “command-lets”), adhere to well-defined syntax rules. Nearly all cmdlets are made up of two words separated by a dash. The first word is a verb and tells PowerShell what you want to do. The second word is a noun and tells PowerShell what the action should be performed on. For example, the Get-Service cmdlet uses “Get” as the verb and “Service” as the noun, with a dash separating the words. When Get-Service is entered, the cmdlet retrieves a list of system services.
Here is an example of the list of system services retrieved by the Get-Service cmdlet.
Microsoft has attempted to minimize the number of words used in native PowerShell cmdlets. The fact that words are so often reused in many different cmdlets helps to make PowerShell easy to learn. As previously mentioned, the Get-Service cmdlet retrieves a list of system services, but the word “Get” is used in many other cmdlets, such as Get-Process, Get-VM, and Get-User. Similarly, the word Service is used in many different cmdlets – e.g., Stop-Service, Start-Service, and Restart-Service.
Learn more: What Are the Basic PowerShell Commands?
PowerShell has a rich set of cmdlets
The latest version of PowerShell for Windows 10 includes over 12,000 cmdlets. Even so, Microsoft has chosen to make PowerShell extensible, meaning that additional cmdlets can be easily created.
Not only is it possible for PowerShell users to make their own custom cmdlets, but Microsoft and other software vendors also commonly create custom cmdlets. This allows other products to be managed through PowerShell. Microsoft, for example, has created PowerShell modules (collections of custom cmdlets) for Azure Active Directory, Microsoft 365, and System Center, just to name a few.
What Are the Advantages of PowerShell?
PowerShell offers powerful management and scripting abilities.
PowerShell management capabilities
PowerShell is deeply intertwined with the Windows operating system, and nearly every Windows feature and configuration setting can be managed using PowerShell.
Perhaps more importantly, PowerShell supports remoting, which means that a PowerShell session can be directed toward a remote system, thus allowing for remote management.
Additionally, PowerShell was designed from the beginning to support bulk management. Since GUI interfaces tend to scale poorly, PowerShell represents an easier option for performing management tasks in bulk across large numbers of systems.
PowerShell scripting Capabilities
PowerShell cmdlets can be combined into scripts, which are essentially text files with a .PS1 file extension. The scripts can leverage the entire library of PowerShell cmdlets, as well as use external PowerShell modules and the entire .NET framework.
PowerShell scripts can be used to automate tasks, such as the storage provisioning process within Windows Server.
Not only is PowerShell an extremely powerful scripting language, but entire applications have been written in PowerShell.
PowerShell was originally designed to act as a management tool for Windows. Over time, Microsoft has made PowerShell open source and cross platform.
PowerShell is currently available for Windows, Linux, and MacOS, which you can download on Microsoft’s website. There are even PowerShell builds for ARM and Docker.
It is worth noting that because PowerShell was originally designed for use as a Windows management tool, many PowerShell cmdlets are specific to Windows. As such, the cross-platform PowerShell builds support far fewer cmdlets than the PowerShell version that is included with Windows.
Get Started with PowerShell
These articles provide instructions that will help new users.
- How To Learn PowerShell: Jumpstart your PowerShell education with these tips.
- How To Check Your PowerShell Version: Here’s how to check that you are using the latest version PowerShell and upgrade if necessary.
- How To Run PowerShell Scripts: When you’re ready to run a script, read this article for what to do.
- How To Create Functions in PowerShell Scripts: PowerShell functions can greatly enhance your scripts. This article explains the benefits of functions and the steps for creating one, with examples provided.
- How To Use PowerShell to Navigate the Windows Folder Structure: PowerShell uses several commands to move through the Windows folder structure.
- How To Use the Where-Object Cmdlet: The Where-Object cmdlet will let you narrow down information to find the data you need.
- How To Use Automatic PowerShell Transcription: PowerShell lets you switch on transcription capabilities to record the commands you enter. This can come in handy if you want to review what you did or even create a script from the commands you entered.
- How to Use PowerShell Comments: Embedded comments can help you and your collaborators understand how your scripts works.
- 3 Ways to Download a File in PowerShell: If you use PowerShell to manage Windows, you will inevitably need to download files from the web.
- How To Copy Files in PowerShell: The Copy-Item cmdlet will let you copy individual files, multiple files, and entire file structures.
- How To Write PowerShell Output to a File: Use the Out-File cmdlet to save PowerShell data to a file.
More Scripting Guidance
These articles delve deeper into writing PowerShell scripts.
- How To Add a New Line in a PowerShell String: Here are three methods for inserting a line break in a PowerShell string.
- Create If Else Statements in PowerShell: An If Else statement will make PowerShell perform an action based on whether a specified condition is met.
- How To Use a For Each Loop in PowerShell: For Each Loops will cause a script to perform an action against multiple items.
PowerShell Security Advice
Learn about securing PowerShell, as well as using PowerShell for security-related tasks.
- How To Encrypt PowerShell Scripts: PowerShell scripts can contain sensitive information that you should always safeguard. Find out how to encrypt your scripts.
- How To Manage Credentials in PowerShell: Credentials have always presented a problem for PowerShell scripts, since many scripts require authentication before the script can run. There are three options for credential management, each with its inherent security risks.
- How To Find Failed Logon Attempts in PowerShell: This technique is designed to keep you aware of what is going on within your network.
- How to Sign PowerShell Scripts: Read this three-part guide to learn how to deploy an enterprise certificate authority (CA) on Windows Server, acquire a certificate from that CA, and then use the certificate to sign a PowerShell script.
- Fileless Malware Attacks and PowerShell: A fileless malware attack based on PowerShell uses PowerShell’s native capabilities to attack the victim. This series explains this type of attack and protecting your systems.
PowerShell-based Storage Management
PowerShell can greatly ease storage management. Read these articles about performing key tasks.
- How To Check Disk Health and Identify Unhealthy Disks in Window Server: Spot that unhealthy hard disk before it fails.
- How To Automatically Monitor Storage Health on Windows Server: Windows Server includes a cmdlet called Get-ClusterPerformanceHistory that gives organizations a way to monitor storage health. You can set up PowerShell to automatically run the cmdlet on a scheduled basis.
- How To Assess SSD Health in PowerShell: Find out how PowerShell can provide insight into the state of your solid-state disks.
- How To Simplify PowerShell Storage Capacity Information: While PowerShell can show individual attributes of a machine’s physical disks, you will need to put the data in a more readable format.
- How To Use PowerShell to Identify Corruption in NFTS Volumes: Look for corruption on your NTFS volumes so that you can nip a major data loss event in the bud.
- How To Enable Storage Caching in Windows Server: Windows Server 2022 lets you to enable storage caching for Windows Storage Spaces, even on standalone servers.
- Why Can’t PowerShell Session Access My Network Volumes?: Find out ways around one of PowerShell’s most common storage-related problems.
- Use PowerShell to Initialize a Disk and Create Partitions: This article explains the process of initializing a newly installed disk and creating a partition.
PowerShell Tricks and Tips
Boost your skills with these articles, which look at interesting ways you can use PowerShell.
- Use PowerShell To Find a Password-protected Word Document: Have an elusive file you’re trying to find on your network? This article offers a script for locating password-protected Word documents.
- How To Perform Admin Tasks From a Standard User Account: The chronic switching between standard and privileged user accounts can be a major headache for IT admins. Here are ways to make it easier.