windows powershell

Windows PowerShell: How to Automate Repetitive Tasks?

Spending time on manual tasks means losing precious moments that could be used for creative thinking and problem-solving. PowerShell automation tools help IT professionals streamline their work, reduce mistakes, and maximise their resources. This post discusses how PowerShell automation tools can change how IT jobs are done, focusing on their benefits and how they can simplify operations.

What is Windows PowerShell?

PowerShell is a tool created by Microsoft that helps automate tasks and manage configurations. It’s both a scripting language and an interactive command line, making it easier to handle system management jobs.

It’s widely used in IT areas like system admin, setting up networks, and cybersecurity because it can automate processes, make scripting easier, and manage systems, regardless of whether they are Windows-based or not.

While PowerShell is similar to other scripting languages like Python and Bash, it’s tailor-made for Windows environments, meaning it works well with Windows features and applications.

What is PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE)?

PowerShell ISE is a tool from Microsoft that makes using PowerShell for scripting much easier. Its user interface is a command-line interface that helps you write, test, and fix scripts. It comes with useful features such as colour-coding for syntax, auto-completion, and help that changes depending on the context, making it simpler for newbies to develop scripts. You can open and work on several script tabs simultaneously, making handling complicated tasks easier. This shows how PowerShell has grown into a stronger and more flexible tool for scripting.

What Makes PowerShell Useful?

PowerShell serves two main purposes and can be used in several ways. This versatility is why more and more people are starting to use PowerShell.

1. Enabling task automation

The first reason to use PowerShell in DevOps is for task automation. Although other scripting languages can be used for automation, PowerShell is often chosen because it has a unique way of formatting systems. Plus, it’s a great option because you can add more functions, classes, cmdlets, and modules to make the program do even more.

2. Data accessibility

PowerShell is often used to manage large computer networks where many services run independently but must be overseen by a central IT admin. PowerShell gives this admin a simple way to get the data they need from different network parts, like files or system registries.

3. Managing infrastructure with configuration as a code

PowerShell has a management system called Desired State Configuration (DSC) that lets users control their company’s infrastructure with code. This means managers or IT admins need to know how to use PowerShell to apply or update configuration models easily. They also need these skills to ensure settings are correct, get consistent deployments, and set up configurations that tell the system what to do.

4. Facilitating remote commands

Remote work is becoming very important, and any software or tools that help with this are getting a lot of attention. With PowerShell, people in charge of computer systems can manage several computers from far away. This works because of special technology in Windows that lets them send commands and manage systems over the network.

How Does Microsoft PowerShell Work?

PowerShell acts more like a programming language than a command-line tool because it’s built on the .NET framework. It deals with objects, meaning everything in PowerShell is an object. These objects are attributes (properties) or actions (methods) that can be passed around in the program as input or output. PowerShell uses four main types of commands to handle these objects, making it a powerful tool for managing tasks.

PowerShell functions

Functions are a set of steps that you can run by giving them input through parameters, and they can show results on your screen or send the results to another function or cmdlet. In PowerShell, there are two types of functions: basic and advanced. The basic function is the simplest type, without any extra features. Advanced functions start with the basics but add more features, making them more powerful and useful.

Cmdlets

Cmdlets are the foundation of PowerShell. You can use them on their own to do simple tasks or string them together for more complex jobs. But cmdlets aren’t actually written in PowerShell. They’re crafted in a different programming language and then compiled so you can use them within PowerShell.

Cmdlets are very flexible, and how you use them is really up to your creativity. For developers and DevOps engineers, there’s a neat trick where you can pass the outcome of one cmdlet directly into another, treating it like an object. This makes cmdlets incredibly powerful tools in PowerShell.

Executable commands

Executable commands help run .exe files, which are programs on Microsoft Windows. There are three main ways to do this. The most common method is using the “Invoke-expression” command, which many people prefer.

Another way is the “start-process” cmdlet, which can start multiple processes simultaneously but achieves the same outcome as the first method. The simplest option is to type “.\” before the file name. Although this is the easiest route, all three methods run the .exe file effectively.

PowerShell scripts

PowerShell scripts simplify task automation using cmdlets. In a PowerShell script, you’ll mainly use three kinds of commands. The “get” command helps you pull information from a file system. If you need to change information about Windows components, like changing settings, you use the “set” command. And if you want to delete something completely, go for the “remove” command. These scripts help make coding less complex and automate various tasks.

Advantages of PowerShell

12 Top Advantages of PowerShell

There are other shells and scripting languages, but PowerShell stands out as a great option. Here are the main benefits of using PowerShell for users:

1. Extensible format system

Using PowerShell makes it really simple for users to change how they format their input and output. PowerShell has three different ways to help with this. The first way is called “format-wide.” This lets a user show only one property of an object at a time. It’s useful for making lists or filling up columns in a table.

Then there’s “format-list.” This option lets you list the properties of objects, each on its line. It’s great for when you want to see all the details. Lastly, there’s “format-table.” This is perfect for displaying your output in a table format. It even has handy options like “Autosize,” “wrap,” and “groupby” to help arrange your table columns just right.

2. Extended type system

Extended type system (ETS) is a special feature that script and cmdlet developers can use to work with .NET objects more easily. This is done through something called the PSObject object. You can use the PSObject object to add new features to object types in two ways. First, the PSObject object can present different aspects of specific object types, known as an adapted view. Second, it allows you to add new parts to an existing object. These new parts give the original object more details, which can be very helpful when writing scripts.

3. Built-in data formats

PowerShell supports data formats that help store and transfer data, making it easy for people and computers to understand. These formats include JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), CSV (comma-separated value), and XML (Extensible Markup Language).

JSON is great for quick communication between a web browser and a server. It’s easy to read and follows an open standard. When receiving information in a browser, you can turn it into PowerShell data with commands like “Invoke-RestMethod” or “Invoke-WebRequest”. CSV is a simple format that stores table data in plain text, separating each value with a comma, whereas XML is readable by machines and humans. It’s useful for grabbing data from a website, editing it, and sending it back. It’s also used in PowerShell to set up how applications perform.

4. Self-service development

PowerShell lets each team in Exchange create their cmdlets. This “self-service” approach is important because it lets developers manage their features from the get-go, leading to better management and higher-quality products. Products work best when the teams that made them also manage them. This ensures users get a well-organized feature. It also speeds up development since you can test the feature with real code early on.

5. Secure scripting engine

PowerShell gives users control over their security with its configuration management feature, letting them choose which scripts to run after a visual check. However, since it’s hard to spot harmful scripts just by looking, there are automated security policies to assist.

One security method in PowerShell is the execution policy. This sets the rules for when PowerShell will run certain configuration files and scripts, primarily on Windows. Using group policy settings, you can apply this policy across multiple computers and devices. This policy kicks in only when the user turns it on. Once activated, PowerShell will only run scripts from a trusted source. This approach helps prevent malicious scripts from running on your computer, reducing the risk of cyber threats.

6. Easy automation

PowerShell uses cmdlets for tasks. It starts with over ninety basic cmdlets, and developers can make more as needed. They can also share these custom cmdlets, thanks to PowerShell being open-source, making it easier to create automation for repetitive tasks.

7. Consistent API

Windows uses APIs like Component Object Model (COM) and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), but they often have issues with consistency and completeness. This can make them slow and unreliable for sending requests to and from a web browser.

On the other hand, PowerShell offers a more reliable solution. It has a REST API that third parties can use, which is known for being comprehensive and consistent. You can activate it with the “Invoke-RestMethod” command, which sends a request over the internet using HTTP or HTTPS. This way, you can easily get data from a URL.

powershell access to information

8. Easy access to information

PowerShell can get to data that’s usually hard to reach because it is made using the Microsoft.NET framework. This lets IT professionals set up and manage every Windows PC in a company network from afar. With just one line of command-line code, IT admins can see and manage every file system in their network easily.

9. Cross-product composability

PowerShell is a cross-platform (Windows, Linux, and macOS) PowerShell that works with many different products and services, meaning that a single IT admin can use PowerShell for multiple services. It’s especially useful in networks where services are linked or work separately, like in a company’s network.

10. Discoverability

PowerShell’s Get-command cmdlets let users and developers discover all the commands and features they can use in PowerShell. When you use the Get-command, it shows you a list of all the cmdlets and functions available on that computer at that moment. You can also use short names or aliases for these cmdlets, making them easier to find and use. Understanding PowerShell’s syntax improves the ability to leverage the Get-command cmdlets effectively.

11. Corporate network management

Even though the Office 365 Administration web portal is the main place to manage corporate Microsoft Office 365, there are some handy admin commands in PowerShell that you won’t find there. For example, when setting passwords, the admin portal only lets you choose between making everyone change their passwords regularly or nobody at all.

With PowerShell, an IT admin can set up a two-factor authentication (2FA) system, making it unnecessary for users to constantly change their passwords. PowerShell can efficiently manage user roles and automate routine tasks on Windows workstations and Windows Server environments.

12. Insight into Microsoft certification exams

Microsoft has recently included PowerShell questions in their certification tests. They don’t expect you to memorise every command, but you should know how to use them in different situations. So, if you plan to take a Microsoft Azure DevOps certification test, choosing PowerShell over other software could be smarter.

The Future of PowerShell

The future of PowerShell looks very promising for those in the tech industry. It continues to evolve as a powerful scripting tool, making it easier for professionals to automate tasks and manage systems efficiently.

Its integration with cloud services and other technologies means its usefulness and relevance will only grow. For businesses, investing time in learning PowerShell can lead to more streamlined operations and cost savings.

Its user-friendly nature and strong community support ensure that even beginners can quickly learn to use it effectively. As technology progresses, PowerShell’s ability to adapt will make it an indispensable tool for anyone in IT or software development.

PowerShell integrates with graphical user interfaces (GUI), which makes it even more flexible and accessible for users of all skill levels.

FAQs

Is PowerShell good or bad for Windows?

Yes, PowerShell is good for Windows. It makes it easier for users to automate tasks and manage systems. With its advanced features, PowerShell can save IT professionals a lot of time by simplifying complex tasks.

Plus, it’s integrated into Windows, which works seamlessly with other Windows features and services. This helps in improving the efficiency of managing Windows systems. Also, its ability to work with scripts and automate routine tasks reduces the chances of errors, making system management more reliable.

Do I need Windows PowerShell?

Having Windows PowerShell at your disposal is very helpful if you manage Windows systems or work in IT.  It allows you to automate many of your day-to-day tasks, saving you time and reducing the chances of mistakes. For example, if you’re setting up new user accounts or updating many computers at once, PowerShell makes these jobs much easier. It’s also built into Windows, so you can use it immediately to manage your system more efficiently.

How do I run Windows PowerShell?

Running Windows PowerShell is quite simple. If you’re using a Windows computer, PowerShell should already be installed. Go to your Start menu to open it. Type “PowerShell” into the search bar, and “Windows PowerShell” will appear as a search result. Click on it, and you’re in. You’ll see a blue window that’s ready for you to type commands into. If you want to do something specific, you might need a certain PowerShell command. There are plenty of tutorials and guides online to help with specific tasks.

Is PowerShell the same as Command Prompt?

No, PowerShell and Command Prompt are not the same. Command Prompt is an older, more traditional tool for typing commands directly into your computer. On the other hand, PowerShell is like the newer, more powerful version of Command Prompt. It can do everything Command Prompt can, plus a lot more.

For example, PowerShell allows you to manage and automate tasks across Microsoft products and services more efficiently, thanks to its ability to handle complex scripts and access a wide range of commands. PowerShell offers more functions and flexibility for managing Windows systems.

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