Manipulating items directly

The elements that you see in PowerShell drives, such as the files and folders or registry keys, are called Items in PowerShell. The cmdlets for working with them item have the noun Item in their names.

The output of the Get-Command -Noun Item command shows that there are nine PowerShell item cmdlets.

Get-Command -Noun Item
CommandType     Name                            Definition
-----------     ----                            ----------
Cmdlet          Clear-Item                      Clear-Item [-Path] <String[]...
Cmdlet          Copy-Item                       Copy-Item [-Path] <String[]>...
Cmdlet          Get-Item                        Get-Item [-Path] <String[]> ...
Cmdlet          Invoke-Item                     Invoke-Item [-Path] <String[...
Cmdlet          Move-Item                       Move-Item [-Path] <String[]>...
Cmdlet          New-Item                        New-Item [-Path] <String[]> ...
Cmdlet          Remove-Item                     Remove-Item [-Path] <String[...
Cmdlet          Rename-Item                     Rename-Item [-Path] <String>...
Cmdlet          Set-Item                        Set-Item [-Path] <String[]> ...

Creating new items

To create a new item in the filesystem, use the New-Item cmdlet. Include the Path parameter with path to the item, and the ItemType parameter with a value of file or directory.

For example, to create a new directory named New.Directory in the C:\Temp directory, type:

New-Item -Path c:\temp\New.Directory -ItemType Directory
    Directory: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\FileSystem::C:\temp

Mode                LastWriteTime     Length Name
----                -------------     ------ ----
d----        2006-05-18  11:29 AM            New.Directory

To create a file, change the value of the ItemType parameter to file. For example, to create a file named file1.txt in the New.Directory directory, type:

New-Item -Path C:\temp\New.Directory\file1.txt -ItemType file
    Directory: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\FileSystem::C:\temp\New.Directory

Mode                LastWriteTime     Length Name
----                -------------     ------ ----
-a---        2006-05-18  11:44 AM          0 file1

You can use the same technique to create a new registry key. In fact, a registry key is easier to create because the only item type in the Windows registry is a key. (Registry entries are item properties.) For example, to create a key named _Test in the CurrentVersion subkey, type:

New-Item -Path HKLM:\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\_Test
   Hive: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion

SKC  VC Name                           Property
---  -- ----                           --------
  0   0 _Test                          {}

When typing a registry path, be sure to include the colon (:) in the PowerShell drive names, HKLM: and HKCU:. Without the colon, PowerShell doesn't recognize the drive name in the path.

Why registry values aren't items

When you use the Get-ChildItem cmdlet to find the items in a registry key, you will never see actual registry entries or their values.

For example, the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run usually contains several registry entries that represent applications that run when the system starts.

However, when you use Get-ChildItem to look for child items in the key, all you will see is the OptionalComponents subkey of the key:

Get-ChildItem HKLM:\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
   Hive: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\Registry::HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
SKC  VC Name                           Property
---  -- ----                           --------
  3   0 OptionalComponents             {}

Although it would be convenient to treat registry entries as items, you can't specify a path to a registry entry in a way that ensures that it's unique. The path notation doesn't distinguish between the registry subkey named Run and the (Default) registry entry in the Run subkey. Furthermore, because registry entry names can contain the backslash character (\), if registry entries were items, then you couldn't use the path notation to distinguish a registry entry named Windows\CurrentVersion\Run from the subkey that's located in that path.

Renaming existing items

To change the name of a file or folder, use the Rename-Item cmdlet. The following command changes the name of the file1.txt file to fileOne.txt.

Rename-Item -Path C:\temp\New.Directory\file1.txt fileOne.txt

The Rename-Item cmdlet can change the name of a file or a folder, but it can't move an item. The following command fails because it attempts to move the file from the New.Directory directory to the Temp directory.

Rename-Item -Path C:\temp\New.Directory\fileOne.txt c:\temp\fileOne.txt
Rename-Item : can't rename because the target specified isn't a path.
At line:1 char:12
+ Rename-Item  <<<< -Path C:\temp\New.Directory\fileOne c:\temp\fileOne.txt

Moving items

To move a file or folder, use the Move-Item cmdlet.

For example, the following command moves the New.Directory directory from the C:\temp directory to the root of the C: drive. To verify that the item was moved, include the PassThru parameter of the Move-Item cmdlet. Without PassThru, the Move-Item cmdlet doesn't display any results.

Move-Item -Path C:\temp\New.Directory -Destination C:\ -PassThru
    Directory: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\FileSystem::C:\

Mode                LastWriteTime     Length Name
----                -------------     ------ ----
d----        2006-05-18  12:14 PM            New.Directory

Copying items

If you are familiar with the copy operations in other shells, you might find the behavior of the Copy-Item cmdlet in PowerShell to be unusual. When you copy an item from one location to another, Copy-Item doesn't copy its contents by default.

For example, if you copy the New.Directory directory from the C: drive to the C:\temp directory, the command succeeds, but the files in the New.Directory directory aren't copied.

Copy-Item -Path C:\New.Directory -Destination C:\temp

If you display the contents of C:\temp\New.Directory, you will find that it contains no files:

PS> Get-ChildItem -Path C:\temp\New.Directory

Why doesn't the Copy-Item cmdlet copy the contents to the new location?

The Copy-Item cmdlet was designed to be generic; it isn't just for copying files and folders. Also, even when copying files and folders, you might want to copy only the container and not the items within it.

To copy all of the contents of a folder, include the Recurse parameter of the Copy-Item cmdlet in the command. If you have already copied the directory without its contents, add the Force parameter, which allows you to overwrite the empty folder.

Copy-Item -Path C:\New.Directory -Destination C:\temp -Recurse -Force -Passthru
    Directory: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\FileSystem::C:\temp

Mode                LastWriteTime     Length Name
----                -------------     ------ ----
d----        2006-05-18   1:53 PM            New.Directory

    Directory: Microsoft.PowerShell.Core\FileSystem::C:\temp\New.Directory

Mode                LastWriteTime     Length Name
----                -------------     ------ ----
-a---        2006-05-18  11:44 AM          0 file1

Deleting items

To delete files and folders, use the Remove-Item cmdlet. PowerShell cmdlets, such as Remove-Item, that can make significant, irreversible changes will often prompt for confirmation when you enter its commands. For example, if you try to remove the New.Directory folder, you will be prompted to confirm the command, because the folder contains files:

Remove-Item C:\temp\New.Directory
The item at C:\temp\New.Directory has children and the -recurse parameter was not
specified. If you continue, all children will be removed with the item. Are you
 sure you want to continue?
[Y] Yes  [A] Yes to All  [N] No  [L] No to All  [S] Suspend  [?] Help
(default is "Y"):

Because Yes is the default response, to delete the folder and its files, press the Enter key. To remove the folder without confirming, use the Recurse parameter.

Remove-Item C:\temp\New.Directory -Recurse

Executing items

PowerShell uses the Invoke-Item cmdlet to perform a default action for a file or folder. This default action is determined by the default application handler in the registry; the effect is the same as if you double-click the item in File Explorer.

For example, suppose you run the following command:

Invoke-Item C:\WINDOWS

An Explorer window that's located in C:\Windows appears, just as if you had double-clicked the C:\Windows folder.

If you invoke the Boot.ini file on a system prior to Windows Vista:

Invoke-Item C:\boot.ini

If the .ini file type is associated with Notepad, the boot.ini file opens in Notepad.