5 PowerShell Tips Every User Needs to Know

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Look at the power in that shell!
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PowerShell has long been Microsoft’s preferred administrative tool for Windows and provides far more utility and flexibility than using its predecessor, the command prompt. For all PowerShell’s functionality and usefulness, it still has a reputation for being difficult to learn. For this reason, I want to present a few PowerShell tips you should know when you’re just getting started with the tool. 

So I’ve compiled 5 PowerShell tips I wish someone had told me when I was learning PowerShell from the outset; may they serve you well!

5 PowerShell Tips

Let’s dive right into the 5 PowerShell tips that will make your life much easier.

1. PowerShell Mimics Natural Language

The first of the five PowerShell tips you need to know is that the command structure is designed to mimic natural language. That said, it reminds me more of the way that old video games used to work. 

When I was a kid in the ’80s, command-line-driven adventure games were popular. The top half of the screen was a visual depiction of where you were in the game, while the bottom half consisted of a command line interface. You would enter really simple, two-word commands to control your character in the game. Some examples of these commands would be; open door, go left, climb stairs, or pay bartender.

PowerShell commands, or cmdlets, are made up of two words separated by a hyphen. Like the adventure games from halcyon days, the first of these two words is a verb, and the second is a noun. 

Consider, for example, the open door command; “open” is a verb, and “door” is a noun. If this were a PowerShell cmdlet, it would be “Open-Door”.

It’s also worth noting that Microsoft tries to use cmdlet words consistently. For example, you’ll find quite a few PowerShell cmdlets that use the verb Get, including; Get-Service, Get-Process, and Get-PhysicalDisk. In each case, the word Get does the same thing; it retrieves information. 

Microsoft tries to use nouns consistently as well. For example, the word Service always pertains to a system service regardless of the cmdlet like Get-Service, Start-Service, and Stop-Service. 

Even though thousands of PowerShell cmdlets are present, they’re based on a somewhat limited vocabulary. Also, it’s often easy to guess the cmdlet you need to use in a given situation and resolve errors.

Now that you know PowerShell’s core syntax, let’s look at the second pearl of wisdom! 

2. Using Windows PowerShell Isn’t Your Only Option

Next, let’s cover number 2 of our PowerShell tips. Windows PowerShell usually refers to the version of PowerShell built into the Windows operating system. However, this is one of many available versions of PowerShell. 

Windows currently comes bundled with PowerShell 5.x. However, PowerShell 7.x is available for download.

Two main differences exist between PowerShell 5 and PowerShell 7; 

  1. PowerShell 7 is cross-platform compatible; it works on Windows, macOS, and Linux, as well as on ARM and Docker. This gives you the power to unify your approach to administration across platforms. This will reduce errors associated with using different interfaces and code and save you time. 
  2. PowerShell 7 has several new features that don’t exist in PowerShell 5 — and these new features can help you. Notably, you can use new options for some cmdlets that contain logical operators, allowing you to run more intelligent code.

Remembering the differences above can help you when you’re working on cross-platform systems or can’t find the functionality needed to complete a task. Now, let’s move on to the third top tip!  

3. Help Is Always Available

One of the most important PowerShell tips we cover here is that you can always ask for help! For example, if you need help figuring out what cmdlet to use for a particular task, you can use the Get-Command cmdlet. This cmdlet supports wildcards, so if you know what noun or verb you need to use, the Get-Command cmdlet can help you figure out the rest.

Suppose for a moment that you need to start a system service but don’t know the command to use. Let’s also pretend that you’re pretty sure the command will incorporate the word Service. In a situation like this, you might type; 

Get-Command *-Service

Typing in the above command causes PowerShell to show you every cmdlet that includes the word Service. You can see what this looks like below. 

Screenshot of what's returned after executing Get-Command cmdlet in a PowerShell window.
The Get-Command cmdlet can help you to figure out what command to use.

Conversely, typing the following shows you all the cmdlets that use the word “start”’;

Get-Command Start-*

Now, you’ve figured out that Start-Service is the cmdlet that will allow you to start a system service, but you don’t know how to use it. You can acquire the cmdlet’s syntax by using the Get-Help command. Sometimes, Get-Help will even provide you with usage examples using the Get-Help cmdlet. To use Get-Help, type Get-Help followed by the name of the cmdlet you need help with; look at the example below. 

Screenshot of PowerShell window showing what's returned after executing the Get-Help cmdlet.
The Get-Help cmdlet provides assistance with using PowerShell cmdlets.

Remarkable how easy PowerShell is starting to look; now, onto number 4 in our PowerShell tips guide!

4. PowerShell Can Be a Scripting Language, a Management Tool, or Both

When PowerShell was first created, anyone at Microsoft would have described it as a command line-driven management tool for Windows. While that definition still holds today, it needs to be improved, and PowerShell is both a management tool and a scripting language.

PowerShell is an extremely capable scripting language that does almost anything that any other general-purpose programming language can do. Additionally, PowerShell can leverage WMI and the .NET Framework. If you need to do something not supported through native PowerShell, you can do it through WMI or .NET. For example, .NET allows you to build GUI-based applications even though PowerShell is a text-based environment.

PowerShell scripts are nothing more than text files containing PowerShell commands. You can create or edit PowerShell scripts using any text editor, so long as it saves text files using ANSI encoding. However, most people new to PowerShell prefer to write scripts using PowerShell ISE. PowerShell ISE offers syntax highlighting, making it easier to locate syntax errors, and offers predictive suggestions, simplifying the coding process. The figure below shows an example of a PowerShell script within PowerShell ISE.

Screenshot of the PowerShell ISE uses syntax.
PowerShell ISE uses syntax highlighting as a way of making code easier to write and debug.

To run a PowerShell script, enter a dot and a slash (./) followed by the name of the script you want to run. Keep in mind that a script will only be able to run if PowerShell’s execution policies allow the use of scripts. You can check to see what execution policy is currently in use by entering the Get-ExecutionPolicy command.

Onwards and upwards to the last on our list of PowerShell tips you need to know!

5. PowerShell Can Be Used Remotely

In this last of our PowerShell tips, you should know that one of the advantages of PowerShell over GUI-based management tools is that it’s scalable. In other words, you can direct PowerShell commands, or even entire scripts, to run on as many systems as you need. As such, PowerShell can run commands locally, or it can direct those commands to a remote system.

Many PowerShell cmdlets support the use of the -ComputerName parameter. This parameter allows the cmdlet to be run against a remote machine, and you need only to enter the machine’s name or IP address after the word ComputerName.

Not all cmdlets allow the use of the Computer parameter, but you can use other methods of establishing remote connectivity. One popular method involves using the Invoke-Command cmdlet. The Invoke-Command cmdlet also requires the use of the ComputerName parameter. Still, it allows you to run an entire script block against one or more remote machines rather than being limited to a single command. It can also be directed at multiple remote machines. If, for example, you wanted to run the Get-Service cmdlet against a remote machine using the Invoke-Command cmdlet, you would use this command: 

Invoke-Command -ComputerName <remote machine name> -ScriptBlock {Get-Service}

The third option is to establish a session with the remote machine. A session allows you to work as though you were accessing the remote machine locally. Once the session is established, you don’t have to worry about using ComputerName or Invoke-Command. The command you can use to launch a remote session is:

New-PSSession -ComputerName <remote machine name>

You may have to provide credentials when accessing remote machines, depending on your security configuration.

Let’s wrap up our PowerShell tips guide!

Final Thoughts

When getting started with PowerShell, you need to know a few crucial PowerShell tips to make the learning process easier.

Firstly, PowerShell is a natural language command line environment that you can use as both a scripting language and a management tool. Additionally, PowerShell cmdlets and scripts can be directed to run on a remote system just as easily as they can be used on a local system. PowerShell has been created to give you the power and flexibility you need to administer your system and surpass the shortcomings of the humble command prompt.

When using PowerShell, always remember that later versions of PowerShell can be used cross-platform and allows you to streamline your management tasks in cross-platform environments. In addition, later versions of PowerShell often provide new options, allowing you to manage your system more effectively. To this end, check new releases for features that can help you when a task appears impossible.

Always remember help is always available in PowerShell; simply add the service tag after the cmdlet you’re using to get a definition of all the options available. In addition, remember you can always use wildcards with the Get-cmdlet when you can’t remember the name of what you’re looking for. 

Learn more about PowerShell tips and related topics in the FAQ and Resources sections below!


Does Microsoft ever make changes to PowerShell?

The basic PowerShell cmdlets tend not to change because if Microsoft were to change the command syntax suddenly, it would likely break any script that incorporates the changed cmdlet. But Microsoft does occasionally introduce new cmdlets and new functionality.

How can I change my PowerShell execution policy?

The easiest way to change a PowerShell execution policy is to use the Set-ExecutionPolicy cmdlet. If you want to disable the execution policy completely, you can type Set-ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted. Similarly, if you wanted to require scripts downloaded from the Internet to be signed, you could type Set-ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned.

Where is the best place to get help with a specific PowerShell cmdlet?

While you can use the Get-Help cmdlet to get assistance with any other PowerShell cmdlet, Microsoft also provides online help for every native PowerShell cmdlet. 

What is the best place to get PowerShell content?

Numerous modules exist natively in Windows but are not loaded by default. You can use the Get-Module cmdlet to find the available modules. You can also download modules and scripts from GitHub or the PowerShell Gallery.

Does PowerShell ISE have any benefit over other text editors aside from its syntax highlighting feature?

Every text editor is designed to cater to different needs; you can’t make an effective comparison between PowerShell ISE and all other text editors. Noteworthy features include a live PowerShell window that can be used to test a script without having to leave the editor. It also has a built-in debugger, a list of PowerShell cmdlets, and line numbers.


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TechGenix: Article on Improving PowerShell Reliability

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Microsoft: Article on PowerShell Functionality

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Microsoft: Article on Installing PowerShell on Different Platforms

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