Active Directory Week: Get Started with Active Directory PowerShell

Summary: Microsoft premier field engineer (PFE), Ashley McGlone, discusses the Active Directory PowerShell cmdlets.

Microsoft Scripting Guy, Ed Wilson, is here. Today we start a series about Active Directory PowerShell, written by Ashley McGlone…

Ashley is a Microsoft premier field engineer (PFE) and a frequent speaker at events like PowerShell Saturday, Windows PowerShell Summit, and TechMentor. He has been working with Active Directory since the release candidate of Windows 2000. Today he specializes in Active Directory and Windows PowerShell, and he helps Microsoft premier customers reach their full potential through risk assessments and workshops. Ashley’s TechNet blog focuses on real-world solutions for Active Directory using Windows PowerShell.  You can follow Ashley on Twitter, Facebook, or TechNet as GoateePFE.

Since I joined Microsoft, the Scripting Guy and the Scripting Wife have become dear friends. Ed has mentored my career and opened doors for me as I engaged the Windows PowerShell community. It is an honor for me to write this week’s blog series about Active Directory PowerShell as Ed is taking some personal time off. Thank you, Ed.

Active Directory PowerShell

Perhaps your job responsibilities now include Active Directory, or perhaps you are finally moving off of Windows Server 2003. There is no better time than the present to learn how to use Windows PowerShell with Active Directory. You will find that you can quickly bulk load users, update attributes, install domain controllers, and much more by using the modules provided.


The Active Directory PowerShell module was first released with Windows Server 2008 R2. Prior to that, we used the Active Directory Services Interface (ADSI) to script against Active Directory. I did that for years with VBScript, and I was glad to see the Windows PowerShell module. It certainly makes things much easier.

In Windows Server 2012, we added several cmdlets to round out the core functionality. But we also released a companion module called ADDSDeployment. This module replaced the functionality we had in DCPROMO. With Windows Server 2012 R2 we added some cmdlets for the new authentication security features.

Image of flow chart

Now we have a fairly robust set of cmdlets to manage directory services in Windows.

How do I get these cmdlets?

The version of the cmdlets you use depends on the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) that you install, and that depends on the operating system you have. See the following graphic to determine which version of the cmdlets you should use.

Image of flow chart

For example, if you have Windows 7 on your administrative workstation, you can use the first release of the ActiveDirectory module. The cmdlets can target any domain controller that has the AD Web Service.  (Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2003 require the AD Management Gateway Service as a separate installation. For more information, see Step-by-Step: How to Use Active Directory PowerShell Cmdlets against Windows Server 2003 Domain Controllers.)

If you have a Windows 8.1 workstation, you can install the latest version of the RSAT and get all the fun new cmdlets, including the ADDSDeployment module. If you are stuck in Windows 7, and you want to use the latest cmdlets, see How to Use The 2012 Active Directory PowerShell Cmdlets from Windows 7 for a work around.

Alternatively, if you use a Windows Server operating system for your tools box, you can install the AD RSAT like this:

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-AD-PowerShell

The following command will give you all of the graphical administrative tools and the Windows PowerShell modules:

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-AD-Tools -IncludeAllSubFeature

Where do I begin?

I recommend for most people to start with the Active Directory Administrative Center (ADAC). This is the graphical management tool introduced in Windows Server 2012 that uses Windows PowerShell to run all administrative tasks.

The nice part is that you can see the actual Windows PowerShell commands at the bottom of the screen. Find the WINDOWS POWERSHELL HISTORY pane at the bottom of the tool, and click the Up arrow at the far right of the window. Select the Show All box. Then start clicking through the administrative interface. You can see the actual Windows PowerShell commands being used:

Image of menu

Yes. Read the Help.

If you are using Windows PowerShell 4.0 or Windows PowerShell 3.0 or newer, you need to install the Help content. From an elevated Windows PowerShell console type:

Update-Help -Module ActiveDirectory -Verbose

Although it is optional, I usually add the ‑Verbose switch so that I can tell what was updated. This also installs the Active Directory Help topics:

Get-Help about_ActiveDirectory -ShowWindow

Get-Help about_ActiveDirectory_Filter -ShowWindow

Get-Help about_ActiveDirectory_Identity -ShowWindow

Get-Help about_ActiveDirectory_ObjectModel -ShowWindow

Note that you may have to import the Active Directory module before you can discover the about_help topics:

Import-Module ActiveDirectory

You can also find these Help topics on TechNet: Active Directory for Windows PowerShell About Help Topics.

I strongly advise reading through these about_help topics as you get started. They explain a lot about how the cmdlets work, and it will save you much trial and error as you learn about new cmdlets.

Type your first commands

Now that you have the module imported, you can try the following commands from the Windows PowerShell console:



Get-ADGroup “Domain Admins”

Get-ADUser Guest

Congratulations! You are now on your way to scripting Active Directory.

Move to Active Directory PowerShell cmdlets

The next step is to replace the familiar command-line utilities you have used for years with new Windows PowerShell commands. I have published a four page reference chart to help you get started: CMD to PowerShell Guide for Active Directory.

For example, instead of the DSGET or DSQUERY command-line utilities, you can use Get‑ADUser, Get‑ADComputer, or Get‑ADGroup. Instead of CSVDE, you can use Get‑ADUser | Export‑CSV.

With this knowledge, you can find some of your batch files or VBScripts for Active Directory and start converting them to Windows PowerShell. Beginning with a goal is a great way to learn.

Ready, Set, Go!

I hope you have enjoyed this quick start for Active Directory PowerShell. You now have the necessary steps to get started on the journey. Stay tuned this week for more posts about scripting with Active Directory. You can also check out four years of Active Directory scripts over at the GoateePFE blog.

~ Ashley

Thanks for the beginning of a great series, Ashley! Ashley recently recorded a full day of free Active Directory PowerShell training: Microsoft Virtual Academy: Using PowerShell for Active Directory. Watch these videos to learn more insider tips on topics like getting started with Active Directory PowerShell, routine administration, stale accounts, managing replication, disaster recovery, and domain controller deployment.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter and Facebook. If you have any questions, send email to me at, or post your questions on the Official Scripting Guys Forum. See you tomorrow. Until then, peace.

Ed Wilson, Microsoft Scripting Guy 

Comments (2)

  1. NetworkAngel says:

    Thanks for sharing your article. I wrote an article that will compliment yours, with the top Active Directory powershell scripts from the Microsoft Gallery

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