Copy text to clipboard using Powershell

In day-to-day life as an administrator, it is very common to copy and paste text between files, editors, etc.  There are a few features built into Windows and Powershell that can help make the copy pasta process easier.

The “clip” utility is a tool that has been built into Windows for a while now (I think since Windows 7), which allows you to redirect command output to the Windows system clipboard.  Pairing the clip tool with the capabilities of Powershell piping and you have a very nice way of getting text out of the shell and into a text editor, or wherever else you may want.

The following commands are simple and quick examples of how to pipe output text of a Powershell command to the clipboard.  You can use this method to output text from a file or from another Powershell command.

cat <file> | clip
Get-NetAdapater | clip

Then just hit CTRL+V in notepad (or your favorite text tool) and you will have the output of the previously clipped command.  In the above example, cat is just an alias for Get-Content in Powershell, carried over from the Linux and Unix shells.  Use the Get-Alias command to find at all of the various shortcuts for Powershell commands.

I tend to grab text out of files quite often, so writing out text to the clipboard and pasting elsewhere has saved me countless hours over the years of clicking around in GUI’s with a few keystrokes.  Shortcuts like this are often missed or over looked by admins that are used to point and clicking, so make sure you try it out if you haven’t discovered this trick.

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Monitoring email flow with MFM

This is a sponsored post by the folks over at EveryCloud.  They have recently developed and released a new tool to help manage and troubleshoot email issues, which is starting to get some traction, especially among Exchange environments.  As a mail admin in a previous life, I can sympathize with desire for better monitor tools.  Here’s their post.


Managing mail flow is a challenge for every systems administrator, and the price of a mistake is very high. Any interruption in mail flow can spell disaster for a company, disrupting daily operations and leaving the management team, the IT team and the systems administrator scrambling for solutions.

While there are a number of mail flow solutions on the market, they tend to be quite pricey, making it difficult for systems administrators, especially those who work for small businesses and start-ups, to justify the cost.

For those who do not already know, the makers behind the EveryCloud mail flow monitor have recently launched a free service – Mail Flow Monitor (MFM). EveryCloud MFM tool is the only free round-trip mail flow monitor on the market, giving systems administrators the ability to observe their organizations’ email systems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, all without spending a penny.

mfm dashboard

Some of the features of Mail Flow Monitor include:

  • A full-featured round trip monitor, with start-to-finish email tracking and monitoring
  • Systems administrators can receive real-time text and email alerts whenever a delay or rejection occurs – to your cell phone as well an email or to your alternative email address.
  • Timely monitoring means issues can be addressed quickly, before they spiral out of control
  • The system sends a test email every few minutes to a monitoring mailbox on your server. You set up a forward to send the emails back and the Everycloud team does the rest.
  • MFM is cloud based, which means there is nothing to update or manage.
  • MSP’s and IT Resellers can create an account and manage as many customers as they wish via the EveryCloud Partner Area, all completely free!

When you consider that competing mail filtering solutions generally cost about $30 a month, it is easy to see the saving potential. That $360 annual cost savings may not seem like much, but since it is assessed on a domain level, the charges can add up quickly. In addition, the per-domain charges can make managing a complex IT operation difficult, an extra level of hard work that systems administrators do not need.

From the smallest startups to the largest multinational corporations, modern businesses live and die on their email. An unexpected email breakdown, significant bottleneck or major failure could make the firm’s email inaccessible and unreliable for hours or even days, and every minute of downtime is costing the company money.

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Curl on Windows using a Docker wrapper

Does the Windows built-in version of “curl” confuse or intimidate you?  Maybe you come from a Linux or Unix background, and yearn for some of your favorite go-to tools?  Newer versions of Powershell include a cmdlet for interacting with the web called Invoke-WebRequest, which is useful, but is not a great drop in replacement for those with experience in non Windows environments.  The Powershell cmdlets are a move in the right direction to unifying CLI experiences but there are still many folks that have become attached to curl over the years, including myself.  It is worth noting that a Windows compatible version of curl has existed for a long time, however it has always been a nuisance dealing with the zip file, just as using SSH has always been a hassle on Windows.  It has always been possible to use the *nix equivalent tools, it is just clunky.

I found a low effort solution for adding curl to my Windows CLI flow, that acts as a nice middle ground between learning Invoke-WebRequest and installing curl binaries directly, which I’d like to share.  This alias trick is a simple way to use curl for working with API’s and other various web testing in Windows environments without getting tangled in managing versions, and dealing with vulnerabilities.  Just download the latest Docker image to update curl to the newest version, and don’t worry about its implementation across different systems.

Prerequisites are light.  First, make sure to have the Docker for Windows app installed (stable or beta are both fine) as well as a semi-recent version of Powershell.

Next step.  If you haven’t set up a Powershell profile, there are also lots of links and resources about how to do it.   I even wrote about it recently, so I am skipping that step as well.  Start by adding the following snippet to your Powershell profile (by default located in C:\Users\<user>\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\Microsoft.PowerShell_profile.ps1) and saving.

# Curl alias using docker
function Docker-Curl {
   docker run --rm byrnedo/alpine-curl $args
}

# Aliases
New-Alias dcurl Docker-Curl

Then source you terminal and run the curl command that was just created.

dcurl -h

One issue you might notice from the snippet above is that the Docker image is not an “official” image.  If this bothers you (security concerns, etc.), it is really easy to create your own, secure image.  There are lots of examples of how to create minimal images with Curl pre-installed.  Just be aware that your custom image will need to be maintained and occasionally rebuilt/published to guard against future vulnerabilities.  For brevity, I have skipped this process, but here’s an example of creating a custom image.

Optional

To update curl, just run the docker pull command.

docker pull apline-curl

Now you have the best of both worlds.  The built-in Invoke-WebRequest cmdlet provided by Powershell is available, as well as the venerable curl command.

My number one case for using curl in a container is that it has been in existence for such a long time (less bugs and edge cases) and it can be used for nearly any web related task.  It is also much handier to use curl for those with a background using *nix systems, rather than digging around in unfamiliar Powershell docs for similar functionality.  Having the ability to run some of my favorite tools in an easy, reproducible way on Windows has been a refreshing experience while sliding back into the Windows world.

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Hide file extensions in PowerShell tab completion

One thing I have quickly discovered as I get acclimated to my new Windows machine is that by default the Windows Powershell CLI appends the executable file extension to the command that gets run, which is not the case on Linux or OSX.  That got me wondering if it is possible to modify this default behavior and remove the extension.  I’m going to ruin the surprise and let everybody know that it is definitely possible change this behavior, thanks to the flexibility of Powershell and friends.  Now that the surprise is ruined, read on to find out how this solution works.

To check which file types Windows considers to be executable you can type $Env:PathExt.

PS > $Env:PathExt
.COM;.EXE;.BAT;.CMD;.VBS;.VBE;.JS;.JSE;.WSF;.WSH;.MSC;.PY;.PYW;.CPL

Similarly, you can type $Env:Path to get a list of places that Windows will look for files to execute by default.

PS > $Env:PATH
C:\Program Files\Docker\Docker\Resources\bin;C:\Python35\Scripts\;C:\Python35\;C:\Windows\system32;C:\Windows;C:\Windows\System32\Wbem;C:\Windows\System32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\;C:\Program Files (x86)\NVIDIA Co
ram Files\nodejs\;C:\Program Files\Git\cmd;C:\Program Files (x86)\Skype\Phone\;C:\Users\jmreicha\AppData\Local\Microsoft\WindowsApps;C:\Users\jmreicha\AppData\Local\atom\bin;C:\Users\jmreicha\AppData\Roaming\npm

The problem though, is that when you start typing in an extension that is part of this path, say python, and tab complete it, Windows will automatically append the file extension to the executable.  Since I am more comfortable using a *nix style shell it is an annoyance having to deal with the file extensions.

Below I will show you a hack for hiding these from you Powershell prompt.  It is actually much more work than I thought to add this behavior but with some help from some folks over at stackoverflow, we can add it.  Basically, we need to overwrite the functionality of the default Powershell tab completion with our own, and then have that override get loaded into the Powershell prompt when it gets loaded, via a custom Profile.ps1 file.

To get this working, the first step is to look at what the default tab completion does.

(Get-Command 'TabExpansion2').ScriptBlock

This will spit out the code that handles the tab completion behavior.  To get our custom behavior we need to override the original code with our own logic, which I have below (I wish I came up with this myself but alas).  This is note the full code, just the custom logic.  The full script is posted below.

$field = [System.Management.Automation.CompletionResult].GetField('completionText', 'Instance, NonPublic')
$source.CompletionMatches | % {
        If ($_.ResultType -eq 'Command' -and [io.file]::Exists($_.ToolTip)) {
            $field.SetValue($_, [io.path]::GetFileNameWithoutExtension($_.CompletionText))
        }
    }
Return $source

The code looks a little bit intimidating but is basically just looking to see if the command is executable and on our system path, and if it is just strips out the extension.

So to get this all working, we need to create a file with the logic, and have Powershell read it at load time.  Go ahead and paste the following code into a file like no_ext_tabs.ps1.  I place this in the Powershell path (~/Documents/WindowsPowerShell), but you can put it anywhere.

Function TabExpansion2 {
    [CmdletBinding(DefaultParameterSetName = 'ScriptInputSet')]
    Param(
        [Parameter(ParameterSetName = 'ScriptInputSet', Mandatory = $true, Position = 0)]
        [string] $inputScript,

        [Parameter(ParameterSetName = 'ScriptInputSet', Mandatory = $true, Position = 1)]
        [int] $cursorColumn,

        [Parameter(ParameterSetName = 'AstInputSet', Mandatory = $true, Position = 0)]
        [System.Management.Automation.Language.Ast] $ast,

        [Parameter(ParameterSetName = 'AstInputSet', Mandatory = $true, Position = 1)]
        [System.Management.Automation.Language.Token[]] $tokens,

        [Parameter(ParameterSetName = 'AstInputSet', Mandatory = $true, Position = 2)]
        [System.Management.Automation.Language.IScriptPosition] $positionOfCursor,

        [Parameter(ParameterSetName = 'ScriptInputSet', Position = 2)]
        [Parameter(ParameterSetName = 'AstInputSet', Position = 3)]
        [Hashtable] $options = $null
    )

    End
    {
        $source = $null
        if ($psCmdlet.ParameterSetName -eq 'ScriptInputSet')
        {
            $source = [System.Management.Automation.CommandCompletion]::CompleteInput(
                <#inputScript#>  $inputScript,
                <#cursorColumn#> $cursorColumn,
                <#options#>      $options)
        }
        else
        {
            $source = [System.Management.Automation.CommandCompletion]::CompleteInput(
                <#ast#>              $ast,
                <#tokens#>           $tokens,
                <#positionOfCursor#> $positionOfCursor,
                <#options#>          $options)
        }
        $field = [System.Management.Automation.CompletionResult].GetField('completionText', 'Instance, NonPublic')
        $source.CompletionMatches | % {
            If ($_.ResultType -eq 'Command' -and [io.file]::Exists($_.ToolTip)) {
                $field.SetValue($_, [io.path]::GetFileNameWithoutExtension($_.CompletionText))
            }
        }
        Return $source
    }    
}

To start using this tab completion override file right away, just source the file as below and it should start working right away.

. .\no_ext_tabs.ps1

If you want the extensions to be hidden every time you start a new Powershell session we just need to create a new Powershell profile (more reading on creating Powershell profiles here if you’re interested) and have it load our script. If you already have a custom profile you can skip this step.

New-Item -path $profile -type file -force

After you create the profile go ahead and edit it by adding the following configuration.

# Dot source not_ext_tabs to remove file extensions from executables in path
. C:\Users\jmreicha\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\no_ext_tabs.ps1

Close your shell and open it again and you should no longer see the file extensions.

There is one last little, unrelated tidbit that I discovered through this process but thought was pretty handy and worth sharing with other Powershell N00bs.

Powershell 3 and above provides some nice key bindings for jumping around the CLI, similar to a bash based shell if you are familiar or have a background using *nix systems.

Powershell key shortcuts

You can check the full list of these key bindings by typing ctrl+alt+shift+? in your Powershell prompt (thanks Keith Hill for this trick).

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Quickly get Node.js up and running on Windows

Installing software on Windows in an automatable, repeatable and easy way in Windows has always been painful in the past.  Luckily, in recent years there have been some really nice additions to Windows and its ecosystem that have improved the process significantly.  The main tools that ease this process are Powershell and Chocolatey and these tools have significantly improved the developer  and administrative experiences in Windows.

In the past, in order to install something like a programming language and its environment you would have to manually download the zip or tar file, extract it, put it in the correct place, set up environment variables and system paths manually, etc.  Things would also break pretty easily and it was just painful in general to work with.

Hopefully you are already familiar with Powershell at least because I won’t be covering it much in this post.  If you have any recent version of Windows you should have Powershell.  Below I describe Chocolately a little bit and why it is useful so you can find out more in the post or you can check out the Chocolately website, which does a much better job of explaining its benefits, how it is used and why package managers are good.

Update Windows execution policy

This process is pretty straight forward.  Make sure you open up a Powershell prompt with admin privileges, otherwise you will run into problems.  The first step is to change the default system execution policy (if you haven’t already).  On a fresh install of Windows, you will need to loosen up the security in order to install Chocolatey, which will be used to install and mange Node.js.  Luckily there are just a few Powershell commands that need to run.  To check the status of the execution policy, run the following.

Get-ExecutionPolicy
Restricted

This should tell you what your execution policy is currently set to.  To loosen the policy for Choco, run the following command.

Set-ExecutionPolicy -ExecutionPolicy RemoteSigned

Follow the prompt and choose [Y] to update the policy.  Now, if you run Get-ExecutionPolicy you should see RemoteSigned.

Get-ExecutionPolicy
RemoteSigned

If you don’t have your execution policy opened up to at least RemoteSigned, you will have trouble installing things from the internet, including Chocoloatey.  You can find more information about Execution Policies here if you don’t trust me or just want a better idea of how they work.

Install Chocolatey

If you aren’t familiar, Chocolately is a package manager for Windows, similar to apt-get on Debian Linux systems or yum on Redhat based systems.  It allows users to quickly and easily install and manage software packages on Windows platforms through Powershell.

The steps to installing are Chocolatey are listed below.

iwr https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1 -UseBasicParsing | iex

This command will take care of pretty much all of the setup so just watch it do its thing.  Again, make sure you are inside of an elevated admin shell, otherwise you will likely have problems with the installation.

Install Node.js

The last step (finally) is to install Node.js.  Luckily this is the easiest part.  Just run the following command.

choco install nodejs.install

Choose [Y] to accept that you want to run the install script and let it run.  There should be some colored output and when it is done Node should be installed on your system.  You will need to make sure you close and re-open you Powershell prompt to get the Node binaries to be picked up on your PATH, or just source the shell by running “RefreshEnv” to pick up the new path.  If you are in an admin shell I would recommend dropping out of it by simply closing the current session and opening up a new, non privileged session.

install node

Once you have a fresh shell you can test that Node installed properly.

node -v
v6.6.0

Now you are ready to go.  It only took a few minutes with the Choco package manger.  If you are new to Node in general and are looking for a good resource, the learn you the node project on github is pretty decent.

Let me know if you have any caveats to add to this method, it is the easiest and fastest way I have found to installing Node as well as other pieces of software in Windows without any hassle.

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