Debugging using PowerShell ISE 101

I have always found the origin of words to be fascinating.  Apparently, the terms bug and debugging in regards to computers are attributed to Admiral Grace Hopper in the 1940’s.

While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University, her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay and thereby impeding operation, whereupon she remarked that they were "debugging" the system.

When I first started scripting and writing a little code, the concept of debugging something seemed really hard. However, I have found that with a few simple steps I can debug most of my scripts pretty quickly.

Ninety nine percent of the time, debugging scripts requires being able to watch a variable at some point in a script or a function. Have you ever written a function and thought, “If only I knew what x was before y started messing with it?”

The PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment makes this pretty easy. You can set a breakpoint on any line in the ISE using the Debug Menu and choosing “Toggle Breakpoint.” or by using the F9 shortcut key.


When you toggle a breakpoint on and then run the script, the script will stop at that point. You should note that at this point, the highlighted line has not been executed yet.

Here’s what it looks like when you hit a breakpoint. You get thrown into a nested prompt where you can poke around and look at any variables you want to. Notice the >>> prompt and notice $b has not yet been set, but $a has.


Now that you are paused right around the line of code you want to check out, you can use the “Step Into” Feature.

This will execute the next line of code in the script (the highlighted line) and then stop.


Now you can see that $b has been set but $c doesn’t have a value yet.


You can continue to step through as much as many lines as you need to until you see something that is not quite right.

This is just the beginning of what we can do in regards to debugging scripts and functions. In the next couple weeks I plan to share more as I learn about debugging and the ISE. Just to whet your appetite, you can run the command get-command –noun psbreakpoint to see what kinds of goodies await!

Comments (2) -

I don't get the PS-nested commands showing what's assigned to the variable.  Am I missing something?

You need to type the variable that you want to check. If you were looking for the value of $a at the time, you would type $a and see what the value is.

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