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Using Variables to Store Objects

Updated: October 17, 2013

Applies To: Windows PowerShell 2.0, Windows PowerShell 3.0, Windows PowerShell 4.0

Windows PowerShell works with objects. Windows PowerShell lets you create variables - essentially named objects - to preserve output to use later. If you are used to working with variables in other shells, remember that Windows PowerShell variables are objects, not text.

Variables are always specified with the initial character $, and can include any alphanumeric characters or the underscore in their names.

Creating a Variable

You can create a variable by typing a valid variable name:

PS> $loc
PS>

This returns no result because $loc does not have a value. You can create a variable and assign it a value in the same step. Windows PowerShell only creates the variable if it does not exist; otherwise, it assigns the specified value to the existing variable. To store your current location in the variable $loc, type:

$loc = Get-Location

There is no output displayed when you type this command because the output is sent to $loc. In Windows PowerShell, displayed output is a side effect of the fact that data which is not otherwise directed always gets sent to the screen. Typing $loc will show your current location:

PS> $loc

Path
----
C:\temp

You can use Get-Member to display information about the contents of variables. Piping $loc to Get-Member will show you that it is a PathInfo object, just like the output from Get-Location:

PS> $loc | Get-Member -MemberType Property


   TypeName: System.Management.Automation.PathInfo

Name         MemberType Definition
----         ---------- ----------
Drive        Property   System.Management.Automation.PSDriveInfo Drive {get;}
Path         Property   System.String Path {get;}
Provider     Property   System.Management.Automation.ProviderInfo Provider {...
ProviderPath Property   System.String ProviderPath {get;}

Manipulating Variables

Windows PowerShell provides several commands to manipulate variables. You can see a complete listing in a readable form by typing:

Get-Command -Noun Variable | Format-Table -Property Name,Definition -AutoSize -Wrap

In addition to the variables you create in your current Windows PowerShell session, there are several system-defined variables. You can use the Remove-Variable cmdlet to clear out all of the variables which are not controlled by Windows PowerShell. Type the following command to clear all variables:

Remove-Variable -Name * -Force -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue

This will produce the confirmation prompt you see below.

Confirm
Are you sure you want to perform this action?
Performing operation "Remove Variable" on Target "Name: Error".
[Y] Yes  [A] Yes to All  [N] No  [L] No to All  [S] Suspend  [?] Help
(default is "Y"):A

If you then run the Get-Variable cmdlet, you will see the remaining Windows PowerShell variables. Since there is also a variable Windows PowerShell drive, you can also display all Windows PowerShell variables by typing:

Get-ChildItem variable:

Using Cmd.exe Variables

Although Windows PowerShell is not Cmd.exe, it runs in a command shell environment and can use the same variables available in any environment in Windows. These variables are exposed through a drive named env:. You can view these variables by typing:

Get-ChildItem env:

Although the standard variable cmdlets are not designed to work with env: variables, you can still use them by specifying the env: prefix. For example, to see the operating system root directory, you can use the command-shell %SystemRoot% variable from within Windows PowerShell by typing:

PS> $env:SystemRoot
C:\WINDOWS

You can also create and modify environment variables from within Windows PowerShell. Environment variables accessed from Windows PowerShell conform to the normal rules for environment variables elsewhere in Windows.



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