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

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')]
        [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

        $source = $null
        if ($psCmdlet.ParameterSetName -eq 'ScriptInputSet')
            $source = [System.Management.Automation.CommandCompletion]::CompleteInput(
                <#inputScript#>  $inputScript,
                <#cursorColumn#> $cursorColumn,
                <#options#>      $options)
            $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).

Josh Reichardt

Josh is the creator of this blog, a system administrator and a contributor to other technology communities such as /r/sysadmin and Ops School. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.