Fun With PowerShell Providers


Providers are an interesting concept in PowerShell. A provider allows us to use a standard method to communicate with different areas of your computer using the same set of commands. For example, the file system is accessed using a provider. When you use Get-ChildItem it goes through the file system provider to return a list of the files on your computer.

We’ll take a deeper look in a moment, but first let me mention that for all of the examples we’ll display the code, then under it the result of our code. In this article I’ll be using PowerShell Core, 7.1.5, and VSCode. The examples should work in PowerShell 5.1 in the PowerShell IDE, although they’ve not been tested there.

To run a snippet of code highlight the lines you want to execute, then in VSCode press F8 or in the IDE F5. You can display the contents of any variable by highlighting it and using F8/F5.

Listing the Providers

To start with, let’s get a list of the available providers. To do that, PowerShell has the Get-PSProvider cmdlet.



Name         Capabilities                        Drives
----         ------------                        ------
Registry     ShouldProcess                       {HKLM, HKCU}
Alias        ShouldProcess                       {Alias}
Environment  ShouldProcess                       {Env}
FileSystem   Filter, ShouldProcess, Credentials  {C, D, E, H…}
Function     ShouldProcess                       {Function}
Variable     ShouldProcess                       {Variable}
Certificate  ShouldProcess                       {Cert}

As you can see, there are a variety of providers available out of the box. The default provider is the FileSystem. As stated in the introduction, when you use Get-ChildItem it goes through the FileSystem provider to get a list of files, or more specifically file system objects.

In the right most column of the output, you can see a list of drives. Using the drives we can navigate the provider. To see a detailed list of drives, you can use the Get-PSDrive cmdlet.



Name           Used (GB)     Free (GB) Provider      Root                 CurrentLocation
----           ---------     --------- --------      ----                 ---------------
Alias                                  Alias
C                 898.79         53.83 FileSystem    C:\                  \Demo\PSCore-QuickStart
Cert                                   Certificate   \
D                 953.72          0.02 FileSystem    D:\
E                 875.38         56.00 FileSystem    E:\
Env                                    Environment
Function                               Function
HKCU                                   Registry      HKEY_CURRENT_USER
HKLM                                   Registry      HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
Variable                               Variable
WSMan                                  WSMan

The Name column shows the name we will use when we want to change our location. First look at the column Provider, then at the rows with FileSystem. It shows three drives, C, D, and E. These are the three hard drives on my computer.

The CurrentLocation shows where we are in the provider tree. In the FileSystem provider, these locations are folders. For the C drive, I happen to be in the \Demo\PSCore-QuickStart folder.

Let’s look at how to use some of the other providers.

The Environment Provider

To change to a different provider, you simply use Set-Location followed by the name to move to, just as you would to change to a different hard drive.

Set-Location env


Name                           Value
----                           -----
__COMPAT_LAYER                 DetectorsAppHealth
ALLUSERSPROFILE                C:\ProgramData
APPDATA                        C:\Users\arcan\AppData\Roaming
COLORTERM                      truecolor
CommonProgramFiles             C:\Program Files\Common Files
CommonProgramFiles(x86)        C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files
CommonProgramW6432             C:\Program Files\Common Files
...list truncated for brevity...

This time Get-ChildItem recognized it was operating in the context of the Environment provider, and returned a list of environment variables and their values. (Note I’ve shortened the output for brevity.)

We can access these like any other collection.

$envVars = Get-ChildItem



Let’s look at another provider.

The Variable Provider

Another useful provider is the Variable provider. It gives access to a list of all variables and their values currently in memory. This includes both user defined variables and built in PowerShell variables. In this example I’ll create a new variable, $aVariable. I’ll then move to the variable provider and list them.

$aVariable = 'Some Value'
Set-Location variable


Name                           Value
----                           -----
?                              True
^                              Set-Location
$                              Get-ChildItem
args                           {}
aVariable                      Some Value
ConfirmPreference              High
DebugPreference                SilentlyContinue
...list truncated for brevity...

This returns both the names and values for all of the variables. This can be an excellent debugging tool, for example logging all values when an error occurs.

Other Providers

In addition to the built in list of providers you have seen, many modules will add their own providers that you can navigate. On of my favorites is the SQL Server module.

I’ll go over it more in a future post, but know that through it you can use Get-ChildItem to navigate your list of servers, instances, databases, tables, and columns all as if they were your file system.

You will find many modules supply providers you’ll find useful.


In this post we took a brief look at providers, and how to navigate them. In addition, you are now aware there is a big world of providers outside the few default ones you saw in this post.

The demos in this series of blog posts came from my Pluralsight course PowerShell 7 Quick Start for Developers on Linux, macOS and Windows, one of many PowerShell courses I have on Pluralsight. All of my courses are linked on my About Me page.

If you don’t have a Pluralsight subscription, just go to my list of courses on Pluralsight . At the top is a Try For Free button you can use to get a free 10 day subscription to Pluralsight, with which you can watch my courses, or any other course on the site.


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