PowerShell tutorial for admins: Part 1: cmdlets and pipeline

This article helps those in the systems administrator camp by explaining in plain English the primary PowerShell vocabulary terms.

Microsoft Windows PowerShell was conceived as the next-generation replacement for the old and reliable cmd.exe command shell environment. What’s especially cool about PowerShell is that it has a lot to offer both Windows systems administrators as well as .NET solution developers.

Trouble is, you have doubtless discovered that the PowerShell documentation, whether published by Microsoft or a third party, rarely differentiates between these two very different audiences. Therefore, administrators get confused and frustrated while trying to wade through PowerShell developer terminology, and .NET developers get befuddled and angry while trying to comprehend PowerShell administrator nomenclature.

To that end, I thought in this piece that I would attempt to help at least those in the systems administrator camp by explaining in plain English the primary PowerShell vocabulary terms. Let’s get started, shall we?

The cmdlet

The cmdlet (pronounced COMMAND-let) is the basic building block of Windows PowerShell. When you install PowerShell 2.0 on a Windows system, you receive by default the core library of PowerShell cmdlets. As you probably know, Microsoft has invested heavily in PowerShell technology. Therefore, most Microsoft server technologies ship with their own custom PowerShell modules. Examples of first-party extension modules include Active Directory, SQL Server 2008, SharePoint Server 2010 and Exchange Server 2010.

Regardless of their source, all cmdlets are designed (1) using a consistent usage rubric; and (2) to accomplish a single, specific task. Take a look at the following exhibit, and we’ll break down the constituent parts and pieces of a typical PowerShell command:

PowerShell Tutorial - cmdlet Components

The PowerShell cmdlet and its components

Cmdlets always consist of a verb-noun compound phrase separated by a hyphen; this is done by design in order to make remembering PowerShell commands easy and intuitive. In the previous example, Get-ChildItem, the Get (verb) part of the command directs the action; in this case, to retrieve data. The ChildItem (noun) part of the command provides the focus for the verb; in the example, to obtain a directory listing.

NOTE: Cmdlets are completely case IN-sensitive. Therefore, the statements get-childitem, Get-ChildItem, and GET-CHILDITEM are all equivalent in practice.


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