How to use Online Help in Windows PowerShell

How to use Online Help in Windows PowerShell

This video is part of a full training course called PS300: PowerShell for Administrators online Video Training Learn how to use Online Help in PowerShell.

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Instructor: Don Jones, Microsoft MVP
Video Style: Screencast
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Video transcript:
How to use Online Help in PowerShell

Think about something for a second. When I run Help Dir all this text comes up.

Where did it come from? Obviously, Microsoft. More specifically, it came from a human being at Microsoft, and that means that the Help files can contain errors. Sometimes, it’s just typos. Sometimes, you’ll actually run across an example that doesn’t work.

The problem in PowerShell Version 2 is that this was all distributed as a core part of the operating system. And how do we fix core parts of the operating system? Patches and service packs. But as an administrator, wouldn’t you be a little annoyed if on Patch Tuesday you got a 30 MB fix to Help files? It’s kind of a waste of our maintenance cycles. So Microsoft really doesn’t ship fixes to these Help files, and that means the bugs in them tend to persist.

Fortunately, there’s the Internet.

Microsoft is able to update the online version of this Help file whenever they want to. So that’s got the latest information.

But you do not have to copy and paste that URL out of PowerShell in order to use it. Instead, use the same Help command and just follow it with minus Online, Help Dir –Online.

That’s going to pop up your default web browser, and it’s going to take you directly to technet.microsoft.com, where you will find the online version.

It will tell me that this has been updated sometime after PowerShell v2 shipped. So they probably found a problem and decided to update this.

You’re getting the entire Help file here. It’s nicely formatted, too You get the syntax. You’ve got the parameters broken down.

We can get down to the examples, and those are nicely formatted.

At the very bottom, you can also find community content.

This is where something got changed. The documentation on this page for the minus filter parameter is incorrect. Minus filter does accept wildcards, it says. So, you’ve got useful, up-to-date information here.

You can even contribute your own. All you have to do is sign in with your Microsoft.net Live Hotmail Passport ID, and you can add examples of your own or make notes about things you found that were incorrect. So, Microsoft can always update this.

I find that there’s another really useful trick for this thing. One, if you look off to the side, you will find every single PowerShell command is there.

You can explore PowerShell commands right in this web browser and find what’s built in.

If you’ve got two screens that work or rearrange a little, you can have the shell up on one side of your screen, the Help up on the other side.

So that you can read the Help while you’re typing the commands, which is a really convenient thing to do. You can refer to the syntax as you’re using the syntax.

I find that I almost always have the web browser up with some of this information scrolling off to the side so that I can read the Help and get the examples.

You can even, when you come down to the examples, highlight something, copy it.

Hop over into the shell, and the right-mouse button will paste that and then the command will run.

And, now, I’m bored of it running. So, Control C will always break out of a command as well.

You can hit the up-arrow, to recall that command if it scrolled by a little too quickly for you.

It’s a great way to bring examples into the shell from that online version of the Help.

Again, because Microsoft has the ability to update this whenever they want to, it’s always a good idea, if you’ve got a command that’s not quite working the way you think it does, or you think it should, check the Help here. See if maybe there’s an updated version. Maybe Microsoft has corrected a bug, or even added some more examples for you.       

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