I recenty had an idea for module that I wanted to implement as a binary module. I have yet to create one using the PowerShell Standard Library so this felt like a good opportunity. I was able to use the Creating a cross-platform binary module guide to create this module without any roadblocks. We are going to walk that same process and I’ll add a little extra commentary along the way.

–Update:– I found an easier way to do a few of the binary module steps and I added them to the end of the article.


What is the PowerShell Standard Library?

The PowerShell Standard Library allows us to create cross platform modules that work in both PowerShell Core and with Windows PowerShell 5.1 (or 3.0).

Planning our module

The plan for this module is to create a src folder for the C# code and structure the rest of the module like I would for a script module. This includes using a build script to compile everything into an output folder. The folder structure will look like this:

│   └───MyModule
│   ├───Data
│   ├───Private
│   └───Public

Getting Started

I normally use a Plaster template but my current template does not have any binary module support yet. Not a big deal, I’ll create this one by hand this time.

First I need to create the folder and create the git repo. I will be using $module as a place holder for the module name. This should make it easier for you to reuse these examples if needed.

    $module = 'MyModule'
    New-Item -Path $module -Type Directory
    Set-Location $module
    git init

Then create the root level folders.

    New-Item -Path 'src' -Type Directory
    New-Item -Path 'Output' -Type Directory
    New-Item -Path 'Tests' -Type Directory
    New-Item -Path $module -Type Directory

Binary module setup

The focus of this will be on the binary module so that is where we will start. This section pulls examples from the Creating a cross-platform binary module guide. Please review that guide if you need more details or have any issues.

First thing we want to do is check the version of the dotnet core SDK that we have installed. I am using 2.1.4, but you should have 2.0.0 or newer before continuing.

PS:> dotnet --version

I will be working out of the src folder for this section.

    Set-Location 'src'

Using the dotnet command, create a new class library.

    dotnet new classlib --name $module

This created the library project in a subfolder but I don’t want that extra level of nesting. I am going to move those files up a level.

    Move-Item -Path .\$module\* -Destination .\
    Remove-Item $module -Recurse

Set the .net core SDK version for the project. I have the 2.1 SDK so I am going to specify 2.1.0. Use 2.0.0 if you are using the 2.0 SDK.

dotnet new globaljson --sdk-version 2.1.0

Add the PowerShell Standard Library package to the project. Make sure you use the most recent version available for the level of compatibility that you need. I would default to version 5.1.0-preview-05 but I don’t think this module will leverage anything newer than what PS 3.0 provides.

dotnet add package PowerShellStandard.Library --version 3.0.0-preview-02

We should have a src folder that looks like this:

PS:> Get-ChildItem
    Directory: \MyModule\src

Mode                LastWriteTime         Length Name
----                -------------         ------ ----
d-----        7/14/2018   9:51 PM                obj
-a----        7/14/2018   9:51 PM             86 Class1.cs
-a----        7/14/2018  10:03 PM            259 MyModule.csproj
-a----        7/14/2018  10:05 PM             45 global.json

We are now ready to add our own code to the project.

Building a binary cmdlet

We need to update the src\Class1.cs to contain this starter cmdlet:

    using System;
    using System.Management.Automation;

    namespace MyModule
        [Cmdlet( VerbsDiagnostic.Resolve , "MyCmdlet")]
        public class ResolveMyCmdletCommand : PSCmdlet
            public Object InputObject { get; set; }

            protected override void EndProcessing()

We will rename the file to match the class name.

    Rename-Item .\Class1.cs .\ResolveMyCmdletCommand.cs

Then we can build our module.

PS:> dotnet build

Microsoft (R) Build Engine version for .NET Core
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Restore completed in 18.19 ms for C:\workspace\MyModule\src\MyModule.csproj.
MyModule -> C:\workspace\MyModule\src\bin\Debug\netstandard2.0\MyModule.dll

Build succeeded.
    0 Warning(s)
    0 Error(s)

Time Elapsed 00:00:02.19

We can call Import-Module on the new dll and it will load our new CMDlet.

PS:> Import-Module .\bin\Debug\netstandard2.0\$module.dll
PS:> Get-Command -Module $module

CommandType Name                    Version Source
----------- ----                    ------- ------
Cmdlet      Resolve-MyCmdlet MyModule

If the import fails on your system, try updating .Net to 4.7.1 or newer. The Creating a cross-platform binary module with the .NET Core command-line interface tools guide goes into more details on .Net support and compatibility for older version of .Net.

Module manifest

It’s cool that we can import the dll and have a working module. I like to keep going with it and create a module manifest. We will need this if we want to publish to the PSGallery later.

From the root of our project, we can run this command to create the module manifest that we need.

    $manifestSplat = @{
        Path              = ".\$module\$module.psd1"
        Author            = 'Kevin Marquette'
        NestedModules     = @('bin\MyModule.dll')
        RootModule        = "$module.psm1"
        FunctionsToExport = @('Resolve-MyCmdlet')
    New-ModuleManifest @manifestSplat

I’m also going to create an empty root module for future PowerShell functions.

    Set-Content -Value '' -Path ".\$module\$module.psm1"

This allows me to mix both normal PowerShell functions and binary Cmdlets in the same project.

Building the full module

I compile everything together into an output folder. We need to create a build script to do that. I would normally add this to an Invoke-Build script, but we can keep it simple for this example. Add this to a build.ps1 at the root of the project.

    $module = 'MyModule'
    Push-Location $PSScriptroot

    dotnet build $PSScriptRoot\src -o $PSScriptRoot\output\$module\bin
    Copy-Item "$PSScriptRoot\$module\*" "$PSScriptRoot\output\$module" -Recurse -Force

    Import-Module "$PSScriptRoot\Output\$module\$module.psd1"
    Invoke-Pester "$PSScriptRoot\Tests"

This will build our DLL and place it into our output\$module\bin folder. It will then copy the other module files into place.

    │   MyModule.psd1
    │   MyModule.psm1

At this point, we are able to import our module with the psd1 file.

    Import-Module ".\Output\$module\$module.psd1"

From here, we can drop the .\Output\$module folder into our $env:PSModulePath directory and it will auto-load our command whenever we need it.

Important details

Before we end this article, here are a few other details worth mentioning.

Unloading DLL’s

Once a binary module is loaded, you can’t really unload it. The DLL file will be locked until you unload it. This can be annoying when developing because every time you make a change and want to build it, the file will often be locked. The only reliable way to resolve this is to close the PowerShell session that loaded the DLL.

VSCode reload window action

I do most of my PowerShell dev work in VSCode. When I am working on a binary module (or a module with classes), I have gotten myself into the habit of reloading VSCode every time I build. Ctrl + Shift + P will pop the command window and Reload Window is always at the top of my list.

Nested PowerShell sessions

One other option is to have good Pester test coverage. Then you can adjust the build.ps1 script to start a new PowerShell session, perform the build, run the tests, then close the session.

Updating installed modules

This locking can be annoying when trying to update your locally installed module. If any session has it loaded, you have to go hunt it down and close it. This is less of an issue when installing from a PSGallery because module versioning places the new one in a different folder.

You can set up a local PSGallery and publish to that as part of your build. Then do your local install from that PSGallery. This sounds like a lot of work, but this can be as simple as starting a docker container. I cover a way to do that in my post on Using a NuGet server for a PSRepository.

Why binary modules?

I jumped right into how to make a binary module and didn’t mention why you would want to make one. In reality, you are writing C# and give up easy access to PowerShell Cmdlets and functions. That is a big reason why I have not shifted to binary modules sooner.

But if you are creating a module that does not depend on a lot of other PowerShell commands, the performance benefit can be quite large. By dropping into C#, you get to shed the overhead added by PowerShell. PowerShell was optimized for the administrator, not the computer and that adds a little overhead.

At work, we have a critical process that does a lot of work with JSON and Hashtables. We optimized the PowerShell as much as we could but this process was still running for 12 minutes. The module already contained a lot of C# style PowerShell. This made the conversion to a binary module very clean and easy to do. Our conversion cut that process down from over 12 minutes to under 4 minutes. That opened my eyes a little bit.

Hybrid modules

You can mix binary Cmdlets with PowerShell advanced functions. That is exactly what I am doing in this guide. You can take everything you know about script modules and it all applies the same way. The empty psm1 file that I created today is there just so you can drop in other PowerShell functions later.

Almost all of the compiled cmdlets that we created started out as a PowerShell function first. All of our binary modules are really hybrid modules.

Build scripts

I kept the build script simple here. I generally use a large Invoke-Build script as part of my CI/CD pipeline. It does more magic like running Pester tests, running PSSciptAnalyzer, managing versioning, and publishing to the PSGallery. Once I started using a build script for my modules, I was able to find lots of things to add to it.

Final thoughts

Binary modules are very easy to create. I didn’t touch on the C# syntax for creating a Cmdlet, but there is plenty of documentation on it. Windows PowerShell Cmdlet Concepts. It is definitely something worth experimenting with as a stepping stone into more serious C#.

Update: dotnet new PSModule

I learned that there is a PSModule dotnet new template.

All the steps that I outlined above are still valid, but this template cuts a lot of them out. It is still a fairly new template that is still getting some polish placed on it. Expect it to keep getting better from here.

This is how you use install and use the PSModule template.

    dotnet new -i Microsoft.PowerShell.Standard.Module.Template
    dotnet new psmodule
    dotnet build
    Import-Module "bin\Debug\netstandard2.0\$module.dll"
    Get-Module $module

This minimal viable template takes care of adding the .Net SDK, PowerShell Standard Library, and creates an example class in the project. You can build it and run it right away.