Tag Archives: powershell

PowerShell documentation stubs: frustrating for users

I’ve been writing a piece on PowerShell, Microsoft’s generally excellent scripting and automation platform. PowerShell is also largely open source, in its cross-platform, PowerShell Core guise.

Of course I went straight to the official documentation as part of my research. Looks good; but I was puzzled. I would find a promising topic like Object Pipeline, which says:

In this chapter, we will describe how the Windows PowerShell pipeline differs from the pipelines of most popular shells, and then demonstrate some basic tools that you can use to help control pipeline output and also to see how the pipeline operates.

Then I clicked around to read the chapter, and struggled to find the content.

Eventually I figured out the problem, by going to the GitHub repository for the documentation. This content is not yet written. Microsoft’s JuanPablo Jofre has written stubs, either with the intention of completing them later, or perhaps in the hope that the community will step up and help.

Open Source is great, but the user experience of finding stub documents in official documentation, that is not clearly marked as such, is frustrating.

I do not recall this kind of issue in Microsoft documentation written in the old closed-source world, which makes me wonder if the documentation team is under resourced – though the most important part of the documentation, the cmdlet reference, is pretty good in my experience.

My view of PowerShell is that it is now a critically important part of the Microsoft platform. It is not only a tool for managing Windows Server, but also for Microsoft’s online services such as Office 365, Azure Active Directory and other Azure services.

It is worth getting the documentation right.

Mysteries of trapping errors in PowerShell

As everyone in IT knows, sometimes tasks that you think are quick and easy turn out to take longer.

Today I experiences a small example. I have a scheduled PowerShell script that copies a large file. I wanted to enhance the script so that I would receive an email stating whether the copy succeeded and when it completed.

The original script, for the sake of the example (it is actually a little more involved) is this:

Copy-Item somefile somefile.bak
"Clean up"

where “Clean up” represents some code that runs after the copy completes.

Now, by default a PowerShell may continue if it hits an error other than a syntax error. Again for the sake of the example, I will add a line which echoes text to represent the code that send an email. If you run this script:

Copy-Item somefile somefile.bak
"Clean up"
”Send email: File copied successfully”

then the email gets sent whether or not the copy succeeds. Here is what happens if somefile does not exist:

image

Not much use. The solution, I thought, was to use PowerShell’s trap statement. This catches the exception you specify, or all exceptions, and runs some code. You can also use the break or continue keywords to determine whether the block of code in which the exception occurred continues with the next statement, or exits immediately. You can read about trap here. I therefore wrote a script that looks like this:

Function CopyIt {

trap {return "Error copying file: $_"; break;}

Copy-Item somefile somefile.bak
return "Copy successfully completed"
}

$result = CopyIt
"Clean up"
”Send email: $result”

What I could not figure out though was that even when the copy failed, the script still sent me a success message:

image

I assumed I was misunderstanding how trap works. The output shows, in this example, that an ItemNotFoundException is thrown, so the trap should be triggered, right?

Wrong. In the case of non-terminating errors  (PowerShell jargon) you have to specify the ErrorAction. The default ErrorAction is “Continue”. Therefore I had to modify the script like this:

Copy-Item somefile somefile.bak -ErrorAction stop

Now I get an email with a failure message if the copy fails:

image

All very obvious to PowerShell experts; but it seems to me that PowerShell makes it easy for the unwary to write scripts that fail silently. You are unlikely to see the red text when your script is running on a server.