Pillars of PowerShell: SQL server – part 1

Posted in: Microsoft SQL Server, Technical Track


This is the sixth and final post in the series on the Pillars of PowerShell, at least part one of the final post. The previous posts in the series are:

  1. Interacting
  2. Commanding
  3. Debugging
  4. Profiling
  5. Windows OS

PowerShell + SQL Server is just cool! You will see folks talk about the ability to perform a task against multiple servers at a time, automate implementing a configuration or database change, or just obtaining a bit of consistency when doing certain processes. I tend to use it just because I can, and it is fun to see what I can do. There are a some instances where I have used it for a specific purpose where it saved me time, but overall I just chose to use it. I would say that on average there are going to be things you can do in PowerShell that could be done in T-SQL, and in those cases you use the tool that fits your needs.

Interacting with SQL Server PowerShell

There are a three main ways to interact with SQL Server using PowerShell that I have seen:

  1. SQL Server PowerShell (SQLPS)
  2. SQL Server Server Management Object (SMO)
  3. Native .NET coding

I am not going to touch on the third option in this series because it is not something I use enough to discuss. I will say, it is not the first choice for me to use it, but it does serve a purpose at times.

To try and provide enough information to introduce you to working with PowerShell and SQL Server, I broke this into two parts. Part one, we are going to look at SQL Server PowerShell (SQLPS) and using the SQL Server Provider (SQLSERVER:\). In part two we will go over SMO and what can be accomplished.

SQLPS, to me, offers you quick access to do the one-liner type tasks against SQL Server. It is just a preference really on which option you go with, so if it works for you just use it. There are some situations that using the SQL Server Provider actually requires you to mix in using SMO (e.g. creating a schema or database role). It also offers up a few cmdlets that are added onto (and improved upon) with each release of SQL Server.


The first thing to understand is how to get the product module into your PowerShell session. As with most products, some portion of the software has to exist on the machine you are working on, or the machine your script is going to be executed on. SQL Server PowerShell and SMO are installed by default if you install the SQL Server Management Tools (aka SSMS and such) for SQL Server 2008 and higher. I will only mention that they can also be found in the SQL Server Feature Pack if you need a more “standalone” type setup on a remote machine.

One thing you should get in the habit of doing with your scripts is verifying certain things that can cause more errors than are desired, one of those is dealing with modules. If the module is not loaded when the script is run your script is just going to spit out a ton of red text. If the prerequisites are not there to begin with, there is no point in continuing. You can verify that a version of the SQLPS module is installed on your machine by running the following command:

Get-Module -ListAvailable -Name SQL*

If you are running SQL Server 2012 or 2014 you will see something like this:


This works in a similar fashion when you want to verify if the SQL Server 2008 snap-in is loaded:


I generally do not want to have to remember or type out these commands all the time when I am doing things on the fly, so I will add this bit of code to my PowerShell Profile:

Import-Module SQLPS -DisableNameChecking -ErrorAction 'Stop'
#Load SQL Server 2008 by uncommenting next line
#Add-PSSnapin *SQL* -ErrorAction 'Stop'

One cool thing that most cmdlets you use in PowerShell contain is the -ErrorAction parameter. There are a few different values you can use for this parameter, and you can find those by checking the help on about_CommonParamters. If your script is one that is going to be interactive or run manually I would use -ErrorAction ‘Inquire‘ instead, try it out on a machine that does not have the module installed to see what happens. Once you have the module or snap-in loaded you will be able to access the SQL Server PowerShell Provider.

One side note, there actually is a “sqlps.exe” utility that is easily accessible in most cases via the right-click menu in SSMS (e.g. right-click on the “Databases” node in Object Explorer). If you open this, you are thrust into the SQLPS provider and the “directory” of the node you opened from in SSMS. However convenient as that may seem, it is something that was added to the depreciation list with SQL Server 2012, so there’s not much point in talking about it. It has its own little quirks that most folks steer clear of using it anymore.

Being Specific

The code I use in my profile is going to load the most current version of the module found on my system, at least it should. It may not do as you think it will every time. In some circumstances when you are developing scripts on your own system you may need to only import a specific version; especially if you are in a mixed version environment for SQL Server. You can load a specific version of the module by utilizing Get-Module to find your version, and just pass it to Import-Module.

Get-Module -ListAvailable -Name SQLPS | select name, path
#110 = SQL Server 2012, 120 = SQL Server 2014, 130 = SQL Server 2016
Get-Module -ListAvailable -Name SQLPS |
     where {$_.path -match "110"} | Import-Module
# To show that it was indeed loaded
Get-Module -Name SQLPS | select name, path
#If you want to switch to another one, you need to remove it
Remove-Module SQLPS


By default when you browse the SQLPS provider (or most providers actually), it is going to utilize the account that is running the PowerShell session, Windows Authentication. If you find yourself working with an instance that you require SQL Login authentication, don’t lose hope. You can connect to an instance via the SQL Server Provider with a SQL Login. There is an MSDN article that provides a complete function that you can use to create a connection for such a purpose. It does not show a version of the article for SQL Server 2008 but I tested this with SQL Server 2008 R2 and it worked fine.


One important note I will make that you can learn from the function in that article: the password is secure and not stored or processed in plain text.

SQLPS Cmdlets

SQLPS as noted previously offers a handful of cmdlets for performing a few administrative tasks against SQL Server instances. The majority of the ones you will find with SQL Server 2012 for example revolve around Availability Groups (e.g. disabling, creating, removing, etc.). The other unmentionables include Backup-SqlDatabase and Restore-SqlDatabase, these do exactly what you think but with a few limitations. The backup cmdlet can actually only perform a FULL, LOG, or FILE level backup (not sure why they did not offer support of a differential backup). Anyway, they could be useful for automating backups of production databases to “refresh” development or testing environments as the backup cmdlet does support doing a copy only backup. Another way is if you deal with Express Edition you can utilize this cmdlet and a scheduled task to backup those databases.

Update 7/13/2015: One correction, where I should have checked previously, but the Backup cmdlet for 2012 and above does include an “-Incremental” parameter for performing differential backups.

The other main cmdlet you get with SQLPS is what most people consider the replacement to the sqlcmd utility, Invoke-Sqlcmd. The main thing you get from the cmdlet is a smarter output in the sense that PowerShell will more appropriately detect the data type coming out, compared to the utility that just had everything as a string.

SQLPS One-liners

Working with the SQL Server Provider you will traverse this provider as you would a drive on your computer. So you can use the cmdlet Get-ChildItem or do as most folks and use the alias dir. The main thing to understand is the first few “directories” to access a given SQL Server instance. There are actually multiple root directories under the provider that you can see just by doing “dir SQLSERVER:\“. You can see by the description what each one is for, the one we are interested in is the “Database Engine”


Once you get beyond the root directory it can require a bit of patience as the provider is slow to respond or return information. If we want to dig into an instance of SQL Server you just need to understand the structure of the provider, it will generally follow this syntax: <Provider>:\<root>\<hostname>\<instance name>\. The instance name will be “DEFAULT” if you are dealing with a SQL Server default instance. If you have a named instance you just add the name of the instance (minus the server name).

To provide a real-world example, Avail Monitoring is the custom tool Pythian developed to monitor the SQL Server environments of our customers (or Oracle or MySQL…you get the point). One of the features it includes, among many, is monitoring for failed jobs. We customize the monitoring around the customer’s requirements so some job failures will page us immediately when it occurs, while others may allow a few extra failures before we are notified to investigate. This is all done without any intervention required by the customer and I know from that notification what job failed. Well right off you are going to want to check the job history for that job to see what information shows up, and I can use SQLPS Provider to do just that:

# To see the job history
dir SQLSERVER:\SQL\MANATARMS\SQL12\JobServer\Jobs | where {$_.name -eq "Test_MyFailedJob"} | foreach {$_.EnumHistory()} | select message, rundate -first 5 | format-list


# if I needed to start the job again
$jobs = dir SQLSERVER:\SQL\MANATARMS\SQL12\JobServer\Jobs
$jobs | where {$_.name -eq "Test_MyFailedJob"} | foreach {$_.Start()}

You might think that is a good bit to typing, but consider how long it can take for me to do the same thing through SSMS…I can type much faster than I can click with a mouse.

Anyway to close things out, I thought I would show one cool thing SQLPS can be used for the most: scripting out stuff. Just about every “directory” you go into with the provider is going to offer a method named “Script()”.

$jobs | where {$_.name -eq "Test_MyFailedJob"} | foreach {$_.Script()}

I will get the T-SQL equivalent of the job just like SSMS provides, this can be used to document your jobs or used when refreshing a development server.


I hope you got the idea of what SQLPS can do from the information above, one-liners are always fun to discover. The SQL Server Provider is not the most used tool out there by DBAs, but it can be a life-saver at times. In the next post we will dig into using SMO and the awesome power it offers.


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About the Author

Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter Management MVP, Shawn has a knack for automating mundane task where IT staff can focus on more business critical issues and task. He has been recognized for his skills in PowerShell and has a broad knowledge of technology around Microsoft's Data Platform and various Cloud providers.

1 Comment. Leave new

Looking for something like this I could use to trigger restarts on jobs failing due to memory bottlenecks. Thanks!


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