The command-line interface is a powerful and common tool that programmers and security professionals alike use every day. Linux has a very powerful command-line interface called Bash, which allows root-level access to all directories and installed tools of the operating system. Windows, on the other hand, has long lagged in this area.
The Windows Command Prompt is an adequate tool for most day-to-day tasks but, when it comes to replacing the host computer’s graphical user interface completely, it seems useless. PowerShell is the latest Windows tool to come to the rescue. Built with the shortcomings of the Command Prompt in mind, PowerShell brings some long-overdue features.
In this article, we will take a look at what PowerShell is, how it improves the Windows command-line experience, and how you can get started learning it.
How to Learn PowerShell
PowerShell is an advanced tool, so it is important to first understand its purpose and features.
What Is PowerShell?
Microsoft, the creator, describes PowerShell as a cross-platform task automation and configuration management solution, consisting of a command-line interface and a scripting language. This means that PowerShell is a tool that helps you interact with your machine faster and with total control.
Most command-line solutions work with strings for input and output. Microsoft has gone a step further and made PowerShell work with .NET objects. .NET is Microsoft’s solution to build cross-platform applications using any language. This enables PowerShell to do things that other command lines can not, such as access additional output directly to simplify access and store and organize logs easily.
Before we dive into resources for learning PowerShell, let’s take a quick look at the features and applications of this tool.
Features of PowerShell
As a solid command-line solution, PowerShell offers multiple features. Here are some of them:
PowerShell helps run background jobs, which can execute scripts and cmdlets asynchronously on remote and local machines behind the scenes.
PowerShell supports creating independent runspaces, or environments, that can help run commands and scripts in an isolated environment. This helps test out scripts in a sandbox environment without trying them out on a real machine.
Desired State Configuration (DSC)
PowerShell comes with a feature called Desired State Configuration. This feature provides a collection of language extensions, resources, and scripts that can be used to configure the command line according to your requirements.
Since PowerShell is built on top of the .NET framework, it gives this framework an error-handling mechanism. Making use of the Try, Catch, and Finally blocks, we can use PowerShell to catch and handle errors easily.
PowerShell supports running commands and scripts on remote machines. This makes PowerShell the perfect tool for working remotely.
With PowerShell, you can schedule your tasks for a later time. This allows you to set up an automated workflow or routine for repetitive tasks.
PowerShell supports examining a script, function, command, or expression while it is running. It also features a debugger that includes scripts that allow setting and viewing breakpoints, as well as viewing the logs associated with any such script or command.
PowerShell allows users to split scripts into small, stepped blocks that constitute a pipeline. Once you convert a script into a pipeline, you can easily control its flow by stopping and starting it when needed.
PowerShell features auto-completion. You can complete any command, property, parameter name, etc, by pressing Tab.
Windows Powershell Web Access
A web-based version of PowerShell was introduced in Windows Server 2012, the Windows operating system for server environments. You can run and execute PowerShell commands and scripts from any web browser, including those available on desktop and mobile devices and tablets.
Windows Powershell Workflow
Workflow abilities have been introduced with PowerShell. Long-running tasks can be carried out on the command line tool on multiple devices at the same time.
What is PowerShell Used For?
PowerShell is growing as the primary command-line interface for Windows. Before we start learning the interface, let’s explore some of its main use cases:
Run Commands to Carry Out Tasks
Just like every other command-line interface, PowerShell can use its in-built system tools and other third-party command-line tools to help you carry out tasks on your computer. From creating and editing a file to running a web server, you can do everything on PowerShell that you can do via the graphical interface.
Automate Time-Consuming Tasks
You can carry out tasks on demand, or you can easily automate them and have your computer carry them out for you. PowerShell supports cmdlets (lightweight PowerShell commands), which can automate almost any task for you.
Gain Visibility Into Information
As a command-line interface, PowerShell provides access to your computer’s file system. It helps you look into the drives with full visibility to find files easily, such as the Windows Registry, digital signatures, etc.
Scale Your Efforts Across Devices
PowerShell supports cross-platform access, which means you can use your shell on any device and also work remotely. This allows you to use your off-time to schedule tasks and complete jobs while you are on the go, using your mobile phone or tablet.
Because PowerShell is an advanced command-line interface and a cross-platform tool, there is plenty to learn. Next, you’ll find a list of resources to help you get started:
The Best PowerShell Resources
PowerShell is a prominent command-line interface, so there is a lot of content out there to help newbies get started. First of all, let’s take a look at free and paid video courses:
Master Microsoft PowerShell by Tom Meservy
- Platform: Udemy
- Duration: 2 hours
- Price: Around $27
- Prerequisites: None
- Start date: On-Demand
This is one of the most beginner-friendly courses on the topic. Available at a very good price on Udemy, it offers succinct and effective content on the subject. Beginning with the basics of cmdlets and data types, the course tackles all features offered by PowerShell. At the end of the course, you’ll find a section on writing your scripts and functions, which is a great way to top off your long learning journey.
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Learning Windows PowerShell by Infinite Skills
- Platform: Udemy
- Duration: Around 5 hours
- Price: $45
- Prerequisites: None
- Start date: On-Demand
This is another great beginner-friendly course on PowerShell. It is a great resource to take your first steps into the world of command-line and PowerShell. Unlike many other courses, it features a section on installing and setting up PowerShell for those who do not get the tool pre-installed.
It covers the specifics of PowerShell and provides an overview of the common features and functionalities of a command-line interface. It’s a great resource to take up if you are looking to try out a command-line interface for the first time.
Learning PowerShell for Windows Server Administration by Scott M Burrell
- Platform: LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda)
- Duration: Around 2 hours
- Price: Requires a LinkedIn Learning/Lynda Subscription
- Prerequisites: None
- Start date: On-Demand
While this course is great for beginners, the content it offers is tailored to people looking to take up the role of a server administrator. Its curriculum is similar to that of other beginner-friendly courses out there. What sets it apart is a section on pipelines and the integrated scripting environment. It is a great course to take after you have familiarised yourself with the tool with one of the other courses from the list.
Apart from video courses, many books are available to help you get started with PowerShell. Some of the best ones are:
Windows PowerShell Programming for the Absolute Beginner by Jr. Jerry Lee Ford
Priced at around $75, this book is a great asset for PowerShell beginners. As the name suggests, it is specifically tailored for newbies, focusing on explaining the fundamentals before diving into the more advanced topics.
This book tackles the basics of automation, logs, and handling the Windows registry with updates and changes. The lessons are easy to understand, even with zero programming background, duet to the way the content is delivered. If you’re new to PowerShell, this might be the best way to get familiar with it first and acquire some hands-on practice with the actual framework.
PowerShell: For Beginners! By Alex Artuso
More often than not, people get scared due to an overload of technical jargon in most textbooks. Breaking the mold, PowerShell: For Beginners! is written in a beginner-friendly tone, with as little technical language as possible.
Priced at around $10 on Amazon, the book is designed for absolute beginners who have never worked with a command-line interface previously. The lessons are very easy to understand. If you have some experience with the Windows Command Prompt, you can also give this book a shot; you will see the new command-line interface from the perspective of an absolute beginner.
Windows PowerShell Cookbook by Lee Holms
This book, which you can buy for $35 on Amazon, is a great companion for your first steps into the world of PowerShell. It is written in the popular cookbook format, with numerous ‘recipes’ in the form of tutorials to help you get started.
Holms, the author, holds frequent talks on PowerShell and has published content on new and upcoming PowerShell features on the Microsoft blog. He makes sure to present the recipes in a format that the reader can easily digest. This book is also a precious resource for more experienced folks; the vast library of recipes will serve you well when you encounter a problem with PowerShell.
Apart from video courses and books, there are other resources on the Internet that will help you master PowerShell. Here are some great tutorials to begin your journey:
PowerShell Tutorial for Beginners by Guru99.com
With ample content on basic and advanced features, this course offers the perfect roadmap to mastering PowerShell and scripting. This is a great place to start your learning journey, as it offers helpful and detailed explanations.
This tutorial covers the basics of PowerShell, including important features like cmdlets and scripts. It also compares PowerShell with the traditional Command Prompt to help you understand the purpose and features of both tools. However, if you are looking to apply your knowledge to a work project, you may need a more advanced resource, such some of the other tutorials in this list.
PowerShell Tutorial by TutorialsPoint.com
This is less of a guided tutorial and more of a glossary of PowerShell concepts. That being said, each topic is explored in great depth, so don’t underestimate the usefulness of this resource.
You will find this tutorial particularly handy once you have mastered the basics of the library and are looking for a website you can turn to whenever you need help. There are enough code examples on each operation supported by the command-line interface to help you get started without any issues.
PowerShell Tutorial by JavaTPoint.com
This is a very detailed resource, with individual articles on even the smallest of features in PowerShell, such as conditional statements and loops. This tutorial is structured as one long article, with individual articles grouped together according to the feature being tackled.
This is the perfect resource for somebody who has had some experience with the tool and is looking for a thorough explanation of even the finest details in the interface.
How Long Does it Take to Learn PowerShell?
PowerShell is a powerful command-line interface solution for Windows devices. As such, it usually takes around one to two weeks to get a handle on it. If you continue to study regularly and practice for another week, you’ll come to understand the basics pretty well and will be able to unleash the full potential of this tool.
If you are looking to learn PowerShell well enough to use it professionally, you should be looking forward to a month of regular studying and practice. More training beyond that will serve to hone your PowerShell skills.
Should you Study PowerShell?
We’ve given you a long list of courses and content on PowerShell, but the most important question still remains: should you learn PowerShell?
The answer is simple. If you are interested in the world of system administration, or if you have experience with Windows Command Prompt and are looking for something that allows you to do more, PowerShell is a great tool to learn. It is an efficient, robust solution to automating and scheduling tasks. The fact that it can be used across different platforms makes it the best command-line interface alternative available to Windows users at the moment.
If you are looking to enter a career as a system administrator, PowerShell is a basic skill to have. Solid experience with PowerShell is a must before you continue exploring the complex world of system administration.
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