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Windows PowerShell Commands Cheat Sheet – The Ultimate Guide You Need

If you’re a Windows power user, you probably know and understand how performing various operations on your PC can have more than just one approach and that specialized GUI apps are oftentimes more limiting (and less satisfying, let’s be honest) than inputting commands in a command line manually. There’s just that feeling of satisfaction when you see that wall of text unfold in front of you, and if the result is not an error, it makes it all the more worthwhile.

Windows PowerShell Commands Cheat Sheet

On Windows PCs, there are only two ways you can achieve this: through CMD or PowerShell. Although CMD is a tad more popular than PowerShell, it’s also less powerful, given that its counterpart allows you to perform a whole lot more operations, including ones that you can run through the CMD. You could say that PowerShell combines the power of the old CMD with scripting and cmdlet abilities, giving you a plethora of possibilities regarding operations you can perform with it.

However, the sheer number of possible operations you could perform by using PowerShell can be quite intimidating even for seasoned users, not to mention users who never heard of CMD (let alone PowerShell) before. Not to worry, though, we’ll try and teach you a few easy tricks you can pull off with PowerShell and maybe even memorize in the long run. Although this “crash course” of ours won’t serve as a comprehensive manual for PowerShell, it will hopefully help you find your way around PowerShell by giving you a few pointers and explaining a bunch of commands. If you’re ready, let’s begin.

What is PowerShell?

As we’ve briefly mentioned above, PowerShell is a powerful tool that you can use for a huge range of operations. More than that, PowerShell is a task automation solution that comprises several powerful tools under its hood, including but not limited to a command-line shell (such as CMD), a scripting language, as well as a configuration management framework.

As opposed to other shells that can only accept and return text, PowerShell can also accept and return .NET objects thanks to the outstanding amount of features that it encompasses. Some of the most important shell-related features of PowerShell are as follows:

  • Command prediction and tab completion
  • Parameter and command alias support
  • Comprehensive command-line history
  • The ability to chain commands through the pipeline
  • An in-console help system that’s similar to man pages in Unix-based systems

However, that’s only scratching the tip of the iceberg since, as we’ve mentioned before, PowerShell is more than just a shell; you can use it as a powerful scripting language for automating system management operations, but also if you want to build, analyze, test, and deploy solutions in various environments.

Given that PowerShell is based on the .NET CLR (.NET Common Language Runtime), it’s easy to see why all the inputs and outputs PowerShell works with are .NET objects. Additionally, there’s absolutely no need to parse text output just so PowerShell could extract information from it. Among PowerShell’s scripting features you may find the following:

  • A comprehensive formatting system that ensures a clean, easy output
  • Create dynamic types through an extensive type system
  • You can extend PowerShell’s capabilities through classes, functions, modules, and scripts
  • Native support for various data formats, including XML, JSON, and CSV

If you’re more interested to manage and configure your enterprise infrastructure through code, you’ll be glad to learn that PowerShell also offers you this possibility through its Desired State Configuration (DSC) management framework. Among the operations you could easily perform by making use of PowerShell’s DSC, we remind you of:

  • Deploy various configuration schemes by using either push or pull models
  • Design custom scripts and declarative configurations that you can use for repeatable deployments in your environment
  • Enforce various configuration schemes
  • Report on configuration drift

PowerShell has a proprietary command-line that comes with a proprietary programming language that is somewhat similar to Perl. Note that in the beginning, PowerShell was developed to help users manage objects on their computers, but, as you can figure, it has come a long way and is now used for more extensive, complex jobs.

For instance, you can make use of PowerShell’s extensive work environment not only to perform various system management operations but also to automate them so you don’t have to engage in tedious, repetitive tasks every once in a while. It’s also quite important to mention that you can access a plethora of resources through just one program (i.e. PowerShell), including, but not limited to:

  • Windows Management Instrumentation
  • .NET Framework API
  • Command Prompt
  • Windows Component Object Model
  • PowerShell Commands

Nowadays, one of PowerShell’s most popular purposes is to help end-users automate system management tasks, thus helping them avoid engaging in a series of boring, repetitive operations. Eliminating the human factor from repetitive actions has been proven to increase efficiency and reduce human errors due to various reasons, so it’s really a win-win for everyone.

You can use PowerShell to issue simple or more complex commands, but this program can also help you create scripts based on those commands, which will be run automatically by PowerShell. Furthermore, there is an outstanding amount of commands you can customize and issue afterward called cmdlets.

It’s worth mentioning that PowerShell is cross-platform and open-source, meaning that you can also use it on other systems such as Mac or Linux natively, without resorting to tricks and compatibility enhancing tools such as Wine or Boot Camp.

List of Basic PowerShell Commands

We understand that PowerShell may feel a bit intimidating, especially now that you’ve discovered that it’s more than simply another command prompt on your computer, and it actually encompasses CMD features, but also a specific programming language and various scripts you can use to automate system management operations.

However, if you’re feeling determined to master PowerShell and all that it has to offer, we strongly suggest you start with its most basic features. That way you won’t have to roll back on months of progress when you’ve discovered that you accidentally used the wrong function and all the work you’ve performed in the meantime is starting to look more like a distant memory.

That’s precisely why we’ve prepared a list of basic commands you can safely use within your PowerShell sessions to test this powerful program’s features and see which one does exactly what. The list below comprises the command names, their aliases, and a brief description of what each command does.

Note that you can use either command names or their aliases, and the result will be precisely the same. The reason why one would prefer using aliases is that they’re a lot faster to type and if you can correctly remember them and associate them with their corresponding command name, it makes more sense if you want to get the job done quickly.

Command name Alias Description
Add-Content ac Lets you append content (e.g. words, or data) to a file
Add-PSSnapIn asnp Helps you add multiple Windows PowerShell snap-ins to the
current session
Clear-Content clc Clears the contents of an item without deleting the actual item
Clear-History clhy Clears any and all entries from the command history
Clear-Host clear Clears the host program’s display
Clear-Host cls Does the same thing as clear
Clear-Item cli Removes the contents of an item without deleting the actual item
Clear-ItemProperty clp Wipes a property’s value without actually deleting the property itself
Clear-Variable clv Deletes a variable’s value
Compare-Object compare Lets you compare two sets of objects
Compare-Object diff Does the same thing as compare
Connect-PSSession cnsn Lets you reconnect to sessions you’ve disconnected from
Convert-Path cvpa Allows you to convert a Windows PowerShell path into a Windows
PowerShell provider path
Copy-Item copy Helps you copy an item from a specific location to another
Copy-Item cp Does the same thing as copy
Copy-Item cpi Does the same thing as copy and cp
Copy-ItemProperty cpp Lets you copy a value and a property from a given location to a
different one
Disable-PSBreakpoint dbp Helps you disable breakpoints in the current console
Disconnect-PSSession dnsn Disconnects you from the current session
Enable-PSBreakpoint ebp Lets you enable breakpoints in the current console
Enter-PSSession etsn Helps you launch an interactive session with a remote device
Exit-PSSession exsn Terminates an interactive session with a remote device
Export-Alias epal Lets you to export information about aliases that are currently defined
to an output file
Export-Csv epcsv Lets you convert objects into multiple comma-separated (CSV)
strings and exports the strings to a CSV document
Export-PSSession epsn Imports commands from a different session and exports them to a
Windows PowerShell module
ForEach-Object % Performs a specific operation against each of the items contained
in a collection of input objects
ForEach-Object foreach Does the same thing as %
Format-Custom fc Helps you use a customized view in order to format the output
Format-List fl Lets you format the output as a properties list where each property
is placed on a new line
Format-Table ft Lets you format the output as a table
Format-Wide fw Helps you format objects as wide tables where only one property of
each object is displayed
Get-Alias gal Fetches you aliases for your current session
Get-ChildItem dir Fetches a list of all the files and folders in a file system drive
Get-ChildItem gci Does the same thing as dir
Get-ChildItem ls Does the same thing as dir and gci
Get-Command gcm Fetches a list of all commands you can use
Get-Content cat Displays the contents of a file
Get-Content gc Does the same thing as cat
Get-History ghy Fetches a list of all the commands you entered during your current session
Get-History h Does the same thing as ghy
Get-History history Does the same thing as ghy and h
Get-Item gi Lets you fetch files and folders
Get-ItemProperty gp Fetches the properties of the item you specified
Get-Job gjb Retrieves a list of all the Windows PowerShell background jobs that are
currently running in your session
Get-Location gl Fetches information about your current location stack or working location
Get-Location pwd Does the same thing as gl
Get-Member gm Fetches all the properties and methods of specified objects
Get-Module gmo Retrieves a list of imported modules or modules that can be imported into the
current session
Get-Process gps Fetches a list of all the processes that are running locally or on a remote
computer
Get-Process ps Does the same thing as gps
Get-PSBreakpoint gbp Retrieves all the breakpoints set in your current session
Get-PSCallStack gcs Displays your current call stack
Get-PSDrive gdr Fetches the drives in your current session
Get-PSSession gsn Retrieves a list of local and remote Windows PowerShell sessions
Get-PSSnapIn gsnp Fetches a list of all the Windows PowerShell snap-ins on the computer
Get-Service gsv Lists all the services on a local or remote computer
Get-Unique gu Retrieves unique items from a sorted list
Get-Variable gv Displays a list of all the variables in the current console
Get-WmiObject gwmi Fetches Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) classes
instances or information about available classes
Group-Object group Lets you group objects that contain the same value for the properties
that you specify
help man Displays more details about Windows PowerShell commands and
concepts
Import-Alias ipal Allows you to import a list of aliases from a file
Import-Csv ipcsv Build table-like custom objects using all the items contained within
a CSV file
Import-Module ipmo Import modules to your current session
Import-PSSes sion ipsn Imports commands from a different session into your current session
Invoke-Command icm Lets you execute commands on local and remote computers
Invoke-Expression iex Lets you execute commands or expressions on the local computer
Invoke-History ihy Executes commands from your session history
Invoke-History r Does the same thing as ihy
Invoke-Item ii Performs the default action on a specified item
Invoke-RestMethod irm Sends either an HTTP or an HTTPS request to a RESTful web service
Invoke-WebRequest curl Retrieves content from a webpage on the Internet
Invoke-WebRequest iwr Does the same thing as curl
Invoke-WMIMethod iwmi Allows you to call Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI)
methods
Measure-Object measure Determines numeric properties of objects, as well as words,
lines, and characters in string objects
mkdir md Creates a new item (directory)
Move-Item mi Allows you to move an item from a specific location to a different one
Move-Item move Does the same thing as mi
Move-Item mv Does the same thing as mi and move
Move-ItemProperty mp Allows you to move a property from a specific location to a different one
New-Alias nal Allows you to create a new alias
New-Item ni Lets you create a new item
New-Module nmo Generates a new dynamic module that exists only in memory
New-PSDrive mount Allows you to create temporary and persistent mapped network drives
New-PSDrive ndr Does the same thing as mount
New-PSSession nsn Establishes a persistent connection to a local or remote computer
New-PSSessionConfigurationFile npssc Creates a session configuration file
New-Variable nv Lets you create a new variable
Out-GridView ogv Allows you to send output to an interactive table in a separate window
Out-Host oh Sends the output to the command line (CMD)
Out-Printer lp Lets you send the output to a printer
Pop-Location popd Modifies your current location to the location that was pushed to the
stack most recently. You can use the Push-Locationcmdlet (pushd) to
pop the location either its default stack or from a stack that you create.
powershell_ise.exe ise Displays an explanation on how you can use the PowerShell_ISE.exe
command-line tool
Push-Location pushd Appends the current location to the top of a location stack
Receive-Job rcjb Fetches the results of current session Windows PowerShell background
jobs
Receive-PSSession rcsn Retrieves results of commands from disconnected sessions
Remove-Item del Removes files and folders
Remove-Item erase Does the same thing as del
Remove-Item rd Does the same thing as del and erase
Remove-Item ri Does the same thing as del, erase and rd
Remove-Item rm Does the same thing as del, erase, rd, and ri
Remove-Item rmdir Deletes folders
Remove-ItemProperty rp Allows you to delete a property and its value from a given item
Remove-Job rjb Lets you delete a Windows PowerShell background job
Remove-Module rmo Helps you remove modules from your current session
Remove-PSBreakpoint rbp Lets you remove breakpoints from the current console
Remove-PSDrive rdr Removes temporary Windows PowerShell drives, as well as disconnects
mapped network drives
Remove-PSSession rsn Lets you close one or more Windows PowerShell sessions (PSSessions)
Remove-PSSnapin rsnp Enables you to remove Windows PowerShell snap-ins from your current
session
Remove-Variable rv Clears a variable and its value
Remove-WMIObject rwmi Lets you delete an instance of an existing Windows Management
Instrumentation (WMI) class
Rename-Item ren Helps you rename an item in a Windows PowerShell provider namespace
Rename-Item rni Does the same thing as ren
Rename-ItemProperty rnp Enables you to rename an item’s property
Resolve-Path rvpa Resolves wildcard characters in a path, as well as displays the contents
of the path
Resume-Job rujb Helps you restart a job that was suspended
Select-Object select Lets you select objects as well as their properties
Set-Alias sal Lets you create or change a cmdlet’s or command element’s alias
(alternate name) in the current Windows PowerShell session
Set-Content sc Allows you to replace a file’s contents with contents that you specify.
Set-Item si Changes an item’s value to a value that’s specified in the command
Set-Location cd Lets you set your current working location to a specified location (changes
the active location)
Set-Location chdir Does the same thing as cd
Set-PSBreakpoint sbp Lets you set a breakpoint on a command, variable, or line
Set-Variable set Enables you to set a variable’s value or generates a variable if one with
the requested name does not exist
Show-Command shcm Displays a list of Windows PowerShell commands in a graphical
command window
Start-Job sajb Starts a background job in Windows PowerShell
Start-Process saps Launches one or more local processes
Start-Service sasv Lets you start one or more stopped services
Stop-Process kill Helps you stop one or more running processes
Where-Object ? Enables you to select certain objects from a collection based on their
property values
Write-Output echo Allows you to send an object to the next command in the pipeline. If it
reaches the last command in the pipeline, the command will display
the objects in the console

Don’t let the sheer amount of basic PowerShell commands intimidate you. Although we called them basic, there’s absolutely no need for you to start memorizing them. In fact, that’s the exact reason why we created the table above so that you can go on about your work without worrying about having to remember each and every command we mentioned above.

You can use it as a quick refresher or even use your browser’s search feature to locate a specific command, its alias, and what it does if you’re confused. Although we already included this piece of information in the table above, if you’re ever confused while working in PowerShell, using the help command will display a few helpful details on how you can use this program and its commands more efficiently.

You can also pair the help command with another command or alias if you want more details about that specific command. For instance, this is what PowerShell displays when you type help Add-Computer:

PowerShell help

However, you can use help with any other of the commands or their aliases in our table above. Make sure you understand that the same command can have multiple aliases, which means that you can achieve the same result by using various aliases. Although this may sound confusing, it actually gives you plenty of flexibility in case you can’t remember one command alias, but you remember another one that can help you achieve the same goal.

Using PowerShell

Naturally, the first thing you’d want to do is locate PowerShell and launch it. One sure way to launch PowerShell from just about anywhere you are on your PC is to hold down the Shift button on your keyboard, right-click any empty spot on your screen (not a menu, icon, button, or similar object), and select Open PowerShell window here from the context menu.

In addition to giving you quick access to the PowerShell console anywhere on your PC, doing so will automatically switch the default working directory for PowerShell to the one you’re currently located at. If you’re on a Windows 10 PC, you can also launch PowerShell by pressing the Win key on your keyboard, typing PowerShell in the Start menu, and selecting PowerShell when it becomes visible in the list of results.

On older versions of Windows, you’ll need to manually locate the PowerShell executable, which you can either find in the Accessories or System folders in your Start menu. Furthermore, seeing how older systems (such as Windows 7) don’t provide you with PowerShell by default, you’ll also have to install it on your computer, along with all of its dependencies.

Notice how launching PowerShell from the Start menu will set your active working directory to C:\Users\[your username here]. By comparison, using the Shift + Right-click method we’ve presented above will set PowerShell’s active directory to the one you’re currently at when you spawn the console. For instance, if you use Shift + right-click and open PowerShell from your desktop, you’ll notice that the active directory will be C:\Users\[your username here]\Desktop. For obvious reasons, the [your username here] part will be different depending on your username.

Although you can keep PowerShell for home usage just fine, it’s better if you could make use of all that it has to offer. Incidentally, these features make PowerShell awesome for corporate usage, where you need to perform a large number of operations in a short time, and most likely on a huge number of devices.

Thus, instead of running each command manually on every single machine, you could simply create an automation script in PowerShell and receive the information you need automatically, without having to physically interact with the devices in case or even be near them. Just as CMD, PowerShell can be used through command lines. However, unlike its more rudimentary counterpart (i.e. the CMD), PowerShell also lets you summon scripts and cmdlets, which makes it more powerful, but also more complicated to use.

How to use cmdlets

We’ve used the term cmdlets quite a few times in our guide, so you’re probably left wondering whatever they mean. Well, to start at the beginning, it’s worth reminding you that CMD works with commands. A cmdlet, which is pronounced command-let, is also a command, but unlike traditional CMD commands, cmdlets are specific to PowerShell and let you perform single specific operations, such as copying files, moving items from one place to another, changing the active directory, or see the contents of an item.

Simply put, cmdlets are single function commands that you can type directly in PowerShell’s command line. If you have any prior experience with the CMD, you’ll find PowerShell somewhat intuitive to work with. One interesting thing about PowerShell is that it shares plenty of commands with CMD. Therefore, using CD with PowerShell will still change your active directory, DIR will still display the contents of the current folder, and CP will still let you copy an item from one place to another.

It’s quite worth mentioning that PowerShell is not case sensitive, unlike many other shells, which return errors if you miss using the correct case when typing your commands in them. Thus, copy-item will work just as well as Copy-Item, and if you remember neither one of them you can also use Copy, CP, and CPI (but also copy, COPY, cp, or cpi).

Most PowerShell cmdlets are written in C# and are specially built to perform operations that will return a .NET object as their result. At the time being, you could find more than a couple of hundred cmdlets you can use in PowerShell, which, let’s be fair, gives you more than just a little elbow room as far as performing operations goes.

Although it will be difficult to remember all the cmdlets you may have to work with (remember that you can use the table above), there are a few that you’ll use more frequently, which will make them incredibly easy to remember. Not to mention the fact that some of them are intuitive enough that their name actually gives away their purpose (e.g. copy is used to copy items, move can be used to move files, compare helps you compare sets of objects, etc).

However, if you’re not exactly in the mood to bookmark this article to use it later, you could also type in the Get-Command cmdlet in PowerShell, or gcm, if you want to keep things short. Doing so will display a full list of commands that are available to you, and you can use that list to plan ahead on whatever it is you’re trying to do.

Unlocking custom cmdlets

On the downside, Microsoft doesn’t just give you full access to the whole array of cmdlets that you can use in PowerShell by default, so you’ll have to jump through a bunch of extra hoops to unlock this feature and use it at your leisure. The good news is that the unlocking process doesn’t take long, and then there’s the fact that it can also be done through the PowerShell, which will make great practice for you. Without any further ado, let’s see how you can unlock custom cmdlets privileges in PowerShell.

  1. Log in to an Administrator account (it won’t work without Admin rights)
  2. Launch PowerShell with Administrator rights (Run as administrator)
  3. Type the following command in PowerShell and press Enter:
    • Set-ExecutionPolicy
  4. If done right, PowerShell will prompt you with a dialog, asking you for the new ExecutionPolicy value
  5. Type RemoteSigned in the PowerShell command prompt and press Enter
  6. PowerShell will give you a heads up on the risks of modifying the value of the ExecutionPolicy
  7. Type Y and press the Enter keyHow to unlock custom cmdlets in PowerShell
  8. If you need to turn custom cmdlets off, just follow steps 1-4, and when PowerShell asks you to type the value, type Restricted and confirm your choice as you did at step 7

If you want to streamline the whole process and not waste time typing everything down in PowerShell’s command prompt, you’ll be glad to learn that there’s an even simpler way to achieve the same result. Launch PowerShell with Administrator rights as you did at step one, and instead of typing each command and waiting for the prompt, you’re gonna pipeline everything up until the confirmation by typing this:

  • Set-ExecutionPolicy -ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned

Naturally, you will still need to confirm your choice by typing Y and hitting Enter on your keyboard, but you just skipped a step and performed a series of operations at the same time. This is exactly why advanced PowerShell users create automation scripts to perform various management operations automatically: to save time and hassle. If you want, you can use the same command above to disable custom cmdlets on your system, but you’ll have to replace RemoteSigned with Restricted and also confirm your choice at the end.

You can also use AllSigned and Unrestricted to grant yourself even more privileges when it comes to running potentially unsafe scripts on your Windows PowerShell. The AllSigned option will let you run all scripts that were created by trusted publishers, whereas the Unrestricted option will enable PowerShell to run any script, regardless of its provenience and trustworthiness. Naturally, the Unrestricted option is also the most dangerous, so try to avoid it as best as you can, if possible, especially if you are a PC novice.

See? PowerShell is already starting to look a lot more accessible than it did just a few minutes back.

How to create and use scripts in PowerShell

As we’ve mentioned before and we’re positively sure you remember, you can use PowerShell to run automation scripts. However, you can’t just yell at PowerShell “Hey you, create this script for me!” and expect it to magically work, so you’ll have to put in some elbow grease and get it done yourself. However inconvenient this may sound right now, trust us, you’ll be thankful in the long run, considering all the work you won’t need to do anymore.

Although most of us rely on specialized software such as IDEs to create scripts or programs in a specific programming language, truth be told you can use any text editor as long as it can save files to the right extension. And even if it can’t, you can just navigate to the file you created and modify its extension manually by renaming it, but let’s get back to our sheep.

If you’re interested in creating a script that can work in PowerShell, you’ll be thrilled to learn that this script you’ve probably heard a lot of, is merely a text document with an extension that makes it compatible with PowerShell, PS1. Therefore, it’s easy to see why creating these scripts can be actually handled from within virtually any text editor, as long as you save it with the right (PS1) extension.

Write-host "Please enter your name:"

$Name = read-host

"Hello $Name! Visit AddictiveTips.com for more awesome tutorials and guides!"

Now for the actual creation part:

  1. Launch Notepad (or any other text editor for that matter)
  2. Copy the code above (the script you’ll be creating and running)
  3. Paste it into your new Notepad document
  4. Use CTRL + S to save the document
  5. Type script.ps1 as the file name
  6. Save the file somewhere accessible
  7. Open a PowerShell instance with administrator rights (very important)
  8. Make sure you’ve enabled custom scripts on your system (check sections above)
  9. Navigate to the location where you saved the script
  10. Type the full path of the script to run it
    • For instance, if your script is in a Scripts folder on your C drive, your command will be C:\Scripts\script.ps1
    • Alternatively, you could simply navigate to the location of your script and use this command to run it: .\script.ps1

If you can’t run the script and PowerShell returns an error, make sure you’ve enabled PowerShell to run custom scripts on your system, and that you’re running PowerShell as an administrator. Not doing any or both things that we’ve specified in our instructions will most likely result in an error and you won’t be able to run your script.

Remember that this is merely a basic script that is somewhat similar to the classic “Hello, world!” one. It puts a spin on it by interacting with you (i.e. asking what your name is) and letting you interact with it (i.e. typing your name which will be used to print a message for you). However, PowerShell is capable of running far more complex scripts, ranging from collecting data from an array of machines to intricate data management, advanced system configuration operations, and even creating backups of SQL databases in a blink of an eye.

How can I backup SQL databases with PowerShell?

We’re glad you asked. As we’ve mentioned countless times in our guide, there are almost endless possibilities when it comes to operations that PowerShell can help you perform. One of the most popular ones is backing up an SQL database without having to go great lengths or possess extraordinary database management capabilities. All you have to do is fire up an elevated instance of PowerShell (with Administrator privileges) and use the Backup-SqlDatabase command. However, things are a bit more complicated than that, but we’ll get to that in a few.

Backing up an SQL database isn’t as easy as simply copying files from your PC to a safe location and hope they stay safe for whenever you may need them to perform data restoration operations, but on the bright side, using PowerShell can make it look like a walk in the park. Although there are several ways to achieve this, using the command we’ve mentioned above is the fastest, simplest way to backup an SQL database.

Among the capabilities of the Backup-SqlDatabase command, it’s possible to find full database backups, database file backups, as well as transaction log backups, so you got the full package within a single command-line tool. By default, using this command will perform a full database backup, so you will need to specify if you want it to follow a certain set of rules by using the BackupFile parameter.

Note that some versions of PowerShell won’t feature this command by default, so you’ll either have to import it or install it. The good news is that installing the SQL module isn’t exactly rocket science and can be accomplished even by novices. Here’s what you’ll have to do if you can’t use the Backup-SqlDatabase command in your PowerShell session:

  1. Launch PowerShell with administrator rights
  2. Type the following command:
    • install-module sqlserver
  3. When asked to confirm your actions, type Y and hit Enter on your keyboard
  4. Confirm the untrusted repository once more by typing Y and EnterHow to install sqlserver in PowerShell
  5. Once the installation is complete, type the following command:
    • import-module sqlserver
  6. Try running the Backup-SqlDatabase command by typing it in the PowerShell command-line
    • If it works, you should see that PowerShell is asking you to supply values for some parameters
    • If it doesn’t work, make sure that you’ve set PowerShell’s permission to allow it to run custom scripts

1. Complete SQL database backup

  • Backup-SqlDatabase -ServerInstance "Computer\Instance" -Database "AddictiveTips"

The command we’ve exemplified above will generate a full database backup of a database called AddictiveTips and save it to the default backup location of the “Computer\Instance” server instance as ‘AddictiveTips.bak’.

2. Perform a location-based database backup

  • Set-Location "SQLSERVER:\SQL\Computer\Instance"
  • PS SQLSERVER:\SQL\Computer\Instance> Backup-SqlDatabase -Database "AddictiveTips"

The first command above will change your location to the active directory within the server instance on which the backup will occur. Essentially, this technique works almost like the full database backup we’ve exemplified above, but in this example, you get to change the working directory in order to locate the server instance where the backup occurs.

This operation will also create a full backup of a database called AddictiveTips and export it as an ‘AddictiveTips.bak’ file in the default location of the server instance you’re connected to.

3. Perform a transaction log backup

  • Backup-SqlDatabase -ServerInstance "Computer\Instance" -Database "AddictiveTips" -BackupAction Log

If you only need to backup the transaction log of a specific database, PowerShell can also help you do that through a single command you can input straight in its command-line interface. The command above will generate a backup copy of the ‘AddictiveTips’ database’s transaction log and export it to the default location of the ‘Computer\Instance’ server instance as a file named ‘AddictiveTips.trn’.

4. Create an encrypted SQL database backup

  • $EncryptionOption = New-SqlBackupEncryptionOption -Algorithm Aes256 -EncryptorType ServerCertificate -EncryptorName "BackupCert"
  • Backup-SqlDatabase -ServerInstance "." -Database "AddictiveTips" -BackupFile "AddictiveTips.bak" -CompressionOption On -EncryptionOption $EncryptionOption

If you’re worried that your database backup may fall in the wrong hands, PowerShell can also help you create ready-encrypted backup files. Naturally, you’ll have to specify some parameters such as the encryption algorithm, the encryption type (i.e. certificate), server instance, database name, backup file, and whether or not you want the output to be compressed.

The example above will create a backup of a certain ‘AddictiveTips’ database, encrypt it with AES-256 encryption and a server certificate, compress it, and save the resulting ‘AddictiveTips.bak’ file on the server instance’s default backup location. This is quite important if you plan a migration and have no surefire way to transport all backup files without risking estranging any single one of them.

5. Perform a backup on all databases in a server instance

  • Get-ChildItem "SQLSERVER:\SQL\Computer\Instance\Databases" | Backup-SqlDatabase

Another tool that may come in handy is PowerShell’s ability to backup all the databases on a server instance at the same time. Regardless of their number, you just fire up PowerShell, type an adaptation of the command above, and wait for the backup process to come to an end. Note that since this will backup all the databases within the server instance, you may have to wait for a while, so be patient.

The command above will back up all the databases located on the ‘Computer\Instance’ server instance and export the resulting files to the default backup location on the same server instance. The names of the backup files will be generated automatically according to each one’s corresponding database followed by the BAK extension (i.e. <database name>.bak).

Although there are several more methods to perform SQL backup with PowerShell in various ways, we’ve only presented a few that we felt were more important. Note that the commands we used in our examples above are not likely to work on your environment in their current form, so you will have to adapt them to your current situation.

For instance, you will have to change the ‘Computer\Instance’ parameter to match your own server instance and modify the name of your database to reflect the name of your own database. Remember that you can always turn to the help command in PowerShell if you ever feel that the command you’re trying to run is confusing or doesn’t work as it should.

Must-know PowerShell commands

1. Get-Help

We can’t stress this enough, but the Get-Help command should be the first one you ever learn, as it can seriously get you out of numerous sticky situations where you’re not exactly sure if you’re using the correct command, or exactly what you can achieve with the command that you’re trying to deploy.

Now that you’ve installed the sqlserver module on your system, you can try the Get-Help command now and see how Backup-SqlDatabase works. Just type Get-Help Backup-SqlDatabase in the command-line of PowerShell and brush up your PowerShell SQL database backup skills.

PowerShell Get-Help command

Note that if you just recently installed the sqlserver module on your system, the Help database may still be outdated, and you may need to run an update on it so that it can catch up on any new scripts. By default, PowerShell will detect that the content you’re trying to reach is available online, but you can’t access it locally, and even offer to update the database for you. In this case, all you need to do is type Y when prompted and hit the Enter key on your keyboard.

However, if PowerShell just prompts you with an error stating that there’s no help manual available for the command you’re interested in, you can update it manually by typing Update-Help and hitting the Enter key on your keyboard. After the update process comes to an end, you should be able to check available help documentation for the command you’re interested in.

2. Get-Process

Get-Process is paramount if you want to discover more about the system you’re currently working on. To be more specific, although you might’ve guessed what this command does already by merely looking at it, Get-Process will provide you with a list of all the processes that are currently running on the system you’re working on.

By default, Get-Process will retrieve a list of every process running on the current system you’re working on, so you may need to append some extra parameters to this command if you want more specific information and narrow the list of results. Check out in the screenshots below what you get when you run the Get-Process command by itself versus how it looks if you’re more specific and format the results.

  • Get-Process

PowerShell Get-Process

  • Get-Process explorer | Format-List *

 

Formatted Get-Process command in PowerShell

The second command can be customized to display additional details about any active process on your system. You can replace explorer with svchost or Chrome or any other active process on your system that you’re interested in. As we’ve mentioned above, using Get-Processes by itself can help you with that (i.e. finding a list of all running processes).

3. Stop-Process

This command is pretty much self-explanatory,  as you may already have figured out that it can help you stop processes that are currently running on your system. The most common reason for doing that from PowerShell and not by using the Windows Task Manager is that sometimes processes can freeze and make GUI apps barely usable.

PowerShell users can easily identify a troublesome process using the Get-Process command we’ve previously explained, then using Stop-Process to terminate it, thus unclogging the system. Running Stop-Process by itself (without any additional parameter) in your PowerShell command-line interface will prompt you to input the ID of the process you’re trying to terminate.

However, you can also terminate a process by its name (if you know it) by appending the -Name parameter to the cmdlet, like in the example below:

  • Stop-Process -Name "explorer"

The command above will terminate the Explorer process, which can be useful especially if it freezes or crashes on you and refuses to load properly. Note that you’ll need to use quotes when specifying the name of the process you’re trying to terminate. If a process is stubborn and refuses to terminate (usually higher clearance processes do that), you can “convince” it by appending a -Force parameter to your command. Say, for instance, that you can’t terminate your Explorer process. In this case, you can simply type the command below:

  • Stop-Process -Force -Name "explorer"

Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that using the -Force parameter in your Stop-Process command won’t ask for confirmation, as opposed to running the command without this option. If you want to find out more about this cmdlet, make sure to use the Get-Help command.

4. Get-Service

This command is among the essential command list for a good reason: it can provide you with a list of all the services that are currently installed on the system you’re working on, regardless of whether they’re running or not. As with many other cmdlets, you can customize Get-Service to provide you with more specific information, either regarding a certain service or even displaying a list of all running (or stopped) services on your machine.

You can go ahead and type Get-Service in your PowerShell command line. Doing so should provide you with a list of all the services available on your computer, as well as their display names and statuses. If you append an additional command to the original cmdlet, you can change the output, making it display only results that you’re interested in.

  • Get-Service "W*"

For instance, typing the command above should return a list of all services available on your computer that start with the letter ‘W’. However, you can go even further and customize your command in order to narrow the list of results even more.

  • Get-Service | Where-Object {$_.Status -eq “Running”}

The command above will let you see a list of all the available services on your computer that are also running at the time you’re running the cmdlet. Appending the “W*” as we did in the previous example will display a list of all the running services on your computer that start with the letter ‘W’, and the command should look like this:

  • Get-Service "W*" | Where-Object {$_.Status -eq "Running"}

Get-Service PowerShell command

5. Get-EventLog

Every responsible system administrator should know its way around working with event logs, seeing that these documents can provide you with useful knowledge about what happened on your system, at what time did it occur, and sometimes even what triggered that specific event.

Therefore, we can safely assume that PowerShell’s Get-EventLog command is not something you want to be missing from your toolbelt, especially if you plan on honing your system administration skills. If you know everything there is to know about event logs and their names, you can go ahead and type Get-EventLog directly in your PowerShell’s command line. Note that PowerShell will prompt you to input the name of the log you’re trying to view.

If you type the name of an empty event log (one with no entries), PowerShell will prompt you with an error and return you to the command-line interface. Therefore, it would be easier if you just used the command below, which will provide you with a list of Event Logs on your system, along with additional details about each one, such as the default overflow action, and the number of entries.

  • Get-EventLog -List

One of the most popular use cases for event logs is checking for errors, especially if they occurred silently, were shortly followed by a system crash, or lead to a BSOD, which we all know how cryptic can be. However, you will need to be more specific with the Get-EventLog cmdlet if you want to narrow down the list of results, which oftentimes can be huge.

  • Get-EventLog -LogName Security -EntryType Error

Typing the command above in your PowerShell’s command-line interface should provide you with a list of all the errors registered in your Security event log. Note that you can use the -List parameter to see all the log types in your system and replace Security in the command above with any other log type that you find on your list, just as long as it has more than zero entries.

If you want to learn more about using the Get-EventLog command in PowerShell, feel free to use the Get-Help command we’ve talked about in the first section of this subchapter. 

6. ConvertTo-HTML

Sometimes when you’re using PowerShell, you may stumble upon certain information that you want to extract and keep for future reference, create reports, or simply import it from a different application. One of the most frequently-used ways to extract this data from PowerShell and export it to an external file on your computer is the ConvertTo-HTML command.

Using this command will help you build comprehensive reports that can help you analyze extracted information and insights in a more effective manner by providing you with HTML tables that you can customize later by adding custom styles and color-coded data. As with many other PowerShell commands, ConvertTo-HTML doesn’t work by itself, and you’ll need to pair it up with an additional command which it will use as an input (or a source of data).

For instance, if you’re trying to print a report consisting of every service that starts with the letter ‘W’ and is currently running on your computer, you can type the command below:

  • Get-Service "W*" | Where-Object {$_.Status -eq "Running"} | ConvertTo-HTML

This will provide you with an HTML code of the data you fed to the ConvertTo-HTML function, which you can simply copy directly from the PowerShell’s command-line interface, paste it in your favorite text editor and save it as an HTML file, which you can use to view the result in any web browser.

You can use ConvertTo-HTML with virtually any PowerShell command, as long as the command you’re using as a data source will generate output. You can try it with other cmdlets, such as Get-Process, Get-EventLog, or Get-Help. Note that aside from HTML conversions, the ConvertTo cmdlet can also be used to generate JSON, CSV, and XML files. You just have to replace HTML in the command syntax with the format you’re interested in.

7. Export-CSV

If you’re working with various objects that you feel may fit way better in a table, you can use PowerShell to convert the items you’re currently handling into a series of CSV (comma-separated value) strings and export the strings to a file in one swift motion through the Export-CSV cmdlet.

As with ConvertTo-HTML, Export-CSV needs an input that it can convert to CSV strings, as it can’t just work on its own. Thus, you will need to pair it with a command that can be used to generate data, such as the Get-Service or Get-Process ones we’ve explained earlier.

Essentially, Export-CSV does almost the same thing as the ConvertTo-HTML cmdlet we’ve discussed above, aside from one important aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked: this cmdlet actually generates a file and saves it on your computer, as opposed to the ConvertTo command, which only gives you the output and lets you create the file on your own.

Let’s assume, for instance, that you’d like to turn the list of services running on your computer into a CSV file so that you can process the file further with third-party software, or put it in a spreadsheet for further reference. All you’d have to do is type the Get-Service command followed by the Export-CSV one, and mention a location where you’d like the CSV file to be generated, like in the example below:

  • Get-Service | Export-CSV c:\AddictiveTips.csv

The command above will fetch a list of all the services that are available on your computer, running or not, convert them into a series of CSV strings, and save the result as a CSV file named ‘AddictiveTips’ in the root of your C drive. You can then open the file in a third-party software solution, convert it into a fully-fledged table, or just store it for future usage.

PowerShell cheatsheet – CONCLUSION

Although there’s still a lot of people advocating for CMD, truth be told PowerShell is more versatile, way more powerful, but at the same time more complicated to work with than its traditional CMD counterpart. The sheer amount of features, combined with the fact that you can create automation scripts in PowerShell and perform complicated system management operations just leaves CMD in a cone of shadow.

If you’re just starting to discover PowerShell and you’re struggling to figure out what each command does, how to pipeline several commands, or how to create and run simple PowerShell scripts on your own, our guide is a great starting point. We’ve taken our time to explain some of the most important commands you should know about in PowerShell, created a few short tutorials, and also included a list of basic PowerShell commands, their aliases, and short descriptions for each item, just to simplify your PowerShell discovery journey.

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