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A Tip for Writing Better Scripts with PowerShell's Read-Host cmdlet

In a previous article I guided you through some variations on using Read-Host to prompt for user input. It’s not too surprising that I couldn’t leave the topic alone. I just had to keep working with it, and I came up with something else that I hope you’ll fine equally helpful. I wanted to take Read-Host to the next level and create a tool that will let you write better scripts.

Let’s say you are using Read-Host in a script or function to prompt for additional information. You might start with something like this:

$name = Read-Host "Enter a user name"

You most likely need to validate it, perhaps to make sure something was entered.
if ($name) {
    #code to continue
    #...
}
else {
    Write-Warning "You didn't enter a user name"
} 

Another option is to use one of the parameter validation checks. They are really variable validation tests, and you can use them anywhere.
[ValidatePattern("\w+")]$name = Read-Host "Enter a user name"

Using a validation test (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)
Using a validation test (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)

I didn’t use ValidateNotNullorEmpty because even if you press Enter, Read-Host writes a 0 length string to the pipeline, which technically passes the NotNullorEmpty test. So I wanted a Read-Host prompt that offered built-in validation. I also wanted to take some of the features of the $host.ui.Prompt() method like a title. And finally, I liked the idea of adding color to the prompt to make it stand out. Here’s my function, where I call Read-HostSpecial, as well as an alias.

Function Read-HostSpecial {
[cmdletbinding(DefaultParameterSetName="_All")]
Param(
[Parameter(Position = 0,Mandatory,HelpMessage = "Enter prompt text.")]
[Alias("message")]
[ValidateNotNullorEmpty()]
[string]$Prompt,
[Alias("foregroundcolor","fg")]
[consolecolor]$PromptColor,
[string]$Title,
[Parameter(ParameterSetName = "SecureString")]
[switch]$AsSecureString,
[Parameter(ParameterSetName = "NotNull")]
[switch]$ValidateNotNull,
[Parameter(ParameterSetName = "Range")]
[ValidateNotNullorEmpty()]
[int[]]$ValidateRange,
[Parameter(ParameterSetName = "Pattern")]
[ValidateNotNullorEmpty()]
[regex]$ValidatePattern,
[Parameter(ParameterSetName = "Set")]
[ValidateNotNullorEmpty()]
[string[]]$ValidateSet
)

Write-Verbose "Starting: $($MyInvocation.Mycommand)"
Write-Verbose "Parameter set = $($PSCmdlet.ParameterSetName)"
Write-Verbose "Bound parameters $($PSBoundParameters | Out-String)"


#combine the Title (if specified) and prompt
$Text = @"
$(if ($Title) {
"$Title`n$("-" * $Title.Length)"
})
$Prompt : 
"@

#create a hashtable of parameters to splat to Write-Host
$paramHash = @{
NoNewLine = $True
Object = $Text
}

if ($PromptColor) {
    $paramHash.Add("Foregroundcolor",$PromptColor)
}

#display the prompt
Write-Host @paramhash
#get the value
if ($AsSecureString) {
    $r = $host.ui.ReadLineAsSecureString()
}
else {
  #read console input
  $r = $host.ui.ReadLine() 
}

#assume the input is valid unless proved otherwise
$Valid = $True

#run validation if necessary
if ($ValidateNotNull) {
    Write-Verbose "Validating for null or empty"
    if($r.length -eq 0 -OR $r -notmatch "\S" -OR $r -eq $Null) {
        $Valid = $False
        Write-Error "Validation test for not null or empty failed."
    }
}
elseif ($ValidatePattern) {
    Write-Verbose "Validating for pattern $($validatepattern.ToString())"
    If ($r -notmatch $ValidatePattern) {
        $Valid = $False
        Write-Error "Validation test for the specified pattern failed."
    }
}
elseif ($ValidateRange) {
    Write-Verbose "Validating for range $($ValidateRange[0])..$($ValidateRange[1]) "
    if ( -NOT ([int]$r -ge $ValidateRange[0] -AND [int]$r -le $ValidateRange[1])) {
        $Valid = $False
        Write-Error "Validation test for the specified range ($($ValidateRange[0])..$($ValidateRange[1])) failed."
    }
    else {
         #convert to an integer
        [int]$r = $r 
    }
}
elseif ($ValidateSet) {
    Write-Verbose "Validating for set $($validateset -join ",")"
    if ($ValidateSet -notcontains $r) {
        $Valid = $False
        Write-Error "Validation test for set $($validateset -join ",") failed."
    }
}
If ($Valid) {
    Write-Verbose "Writing result to the pipeline"
    #any necessary validation passed
    $r
}
Write-Verbose "Ending: $($MyInvocation.Mycommand)"

} #end function
#define an alias
Set-Alias -Name rhs -Value Read-HostSpecial

The function uses several parameter sets for the different validation tasks you might want. At a minimum, all you need to enter is a message prompt. Instead of using Read-Host, I use the Readline() method to get the input.
$r = $host.ui.ReadLine()

I do this because I’m using Write-Host to display the prompt text as well as an optional title.

$Text = @"
$(if ($Title) {
"$Title`n$("-" * $Title.Length)"
})
$Prompt :
"@

In the here string I have inserted some logic in the form of an If statement. If there is a title, then it is inserted along with a string of —- that match the length. By using Write-Host, I can take advantage of its ForegroundColor parameter.
$paramHash = @{
NoNewLine = $True
Object = $Text
}
if ($PromptColor) {
    $paramHash.Add("Foregroundcolor",$PromptColor)
}
#display the prompt
Write-Host @paramhash

Using Read-HostSpecial (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)
Using Read-HostSpecial (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)

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You can also enter text as a secure string.

Entering a secure string (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)
Entering a secure string (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)

But the real part of the function are the validation tests. You can test for null or empty values, and I count a 0 length string as empty as well as anything that is only whitespace.

Validating not null or empty (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)
Validating not null or empty (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)

You can validate on a regular expression pattern:

Validating on a pattern (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)
Validating on a pattern (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)

You can validate on a set:

Validating on a set (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)
Validating on a set (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)

And you can validate on a range. Enter a comma separated list of the low and high values.

Validating a range (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)
Validating a range (Image Credit: Jeff Hicks)

In the function I wrote my own validation tests primarily so that I could write my own error messages should they fail. I suppose you might want to run multiple validation tests on the input, but this version won’t do that. But you are more than welcome to take the code and run with it. In fact, even if you don’t really have a need for the function, I’m hoping you picked up a PowerShell scripting trick or two.

If you find a use for this function, I hope you’ll share your experience in the comments. Enjoy!

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Comments (1)

One response to “A Tip for Writing Better Scripts with PowerShell’s Read-Host cmdlet”

  1. JonnySanjose

    Thank you for sharing this advice with us. Actually, I recently started programming, in particular PHP and JavaScript, to be honest, this is hard enough and I realized that I had to go all the way and learn C++, but it turned out to be even harder. The most interesting thing is that I couldn’t even imagine that it would be able to carry me away so much, because I’m studying for a lawyer, but over time I realized that it’s not mine, it takes a lot of free time which I would rather spend on learning programming, if you have the same situation, I advise to look here. I finally had time and I paid attention to PowerShell, but I was afraid to approach it until I found out how this thing could be useful, in particular, for automating processes. But not only local but also huge server arrays in different places, just for a couple of lines. This is what makes it unique, but at the same time it is a rather complicated programming language.

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