Powershell ErrorAction

In Powershell ErrorAction is very useful. The following are some of my notes on ErrorAction:

Part of Common Parameters

You can only use ErrorAction on cmdlets or functions that support Common Parameters.

You cannot use ErrorAction with if statement or switch statement because they do not support Common Parameters. For example:

$Duration = Measure-command { $e = Get-ChildItem -Path e:\ -Recurse -Force }
“Got $($e.Count) files in $($Duration.Minutes):$($Duration.Seconds) mm:ss”

that will produce error if it cannot read some files like:

Get-ChildItem : Access to the path ‘E:\System Volume Information’ is denied.
At line:1 char:36
+ $Duration = Measure-command { $e = Get-ChildItem -Path e:\ -Recurse -Force }
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
+ CategoryInfo : PermissionDenied: (E:\System Volume Information:String) [Get-ChildItem], UnauthorizedAccessException
+ FullyQualifiedErrorId : DirUnauthorizedAccessError,Microsoft.PowerShell.Commands.GetChildItemCommand



Ignore: can only be used as a cmdlet/function parameter and not as an ErrorAction Preference.

Suspend: applies to workflows only

Inquire: very similar to the -Debug parameter. It offers the options to continue, suspend, or halt the cmdlet/function.

There’s no ErrorAction option to stop without giving an error message.

Applies to one cmdlet/function

You must use the -ErrorAction parameter with the cmdlet/function where the error happens. For example:

$Duration = Measure-command { $e = Get-ChildItem -Path e:\ -Recurse -Force } -ErrorAction Ignore
“Got $($e.Count) files in $($Duration.Minutes):$($Duration.Seconds) mm:ss”

If the intent is to suppress the error message, this won’t work because the error was generated by the Get-ChildItem cmdlet not the Measure-Command cmdlet. However, this example will suppress the error:

$Duration = Measure-command { $e = Get-ChildItem -Path e:\ -Recurse -Force -ErrorAction Ignore }
“Got $($e.Count) files in $($Duration.Minutes):$($Duration.Seconds) mm:ss”

Default ErrorAction

Default ErrorAction is Continue. This is controlled by the $ErrorActionPreference Preference Variable. For example:

$Push_Pop = $ErrorActionPreference
$ErrorActionPreference = “SilentlyContinue”

$Duration = Measure-command { $e = Get-ChildItem -Path e:\ -Recurse -Force }
“Got $($e.Count) files in $($Duration.Minutes):$($Duration.Seconds) mm:ss”

$ErrorActionPreference = $Push_Pop

will suppress the error. .

Terminating versus non-terminating errors

A terminating error stops execution. Specifically, a cmdlet/function calls the ThrowTermiatingError method. It permanently stops the execution of the pipeline.

A non-terminating error writes to the error pipeline. Specifically, a cmdlet/function simply calls the WriteError method which writes the error message to the error pipeline.

In almost all cases, a cmdlet/function produces a non-terminating error to write to the error pipeline before a terminating error to stop execution.

Why does that matter? Because we can use it to handle non-terminating errors in a script.

Take this example:

Get-Item -Path .\iis1.txt,.\not-there1.txt,.\iis2.txt,.\not-there2.txt,.\iis3.txt


The first, third, and fifth files exist, and the Get-Item cmdlet had no problem processing these. The second and forth files do not exist, and the Get-Item cmdlet performed the default ErrorAction by writing a Normal View error to the error pipeline. Note that since these 2 errors were non-terminating errors, Get-Item cmdlet continued to execute. If we add further cmdlets to the pipeline, they will execute as well.

If you want to stop execution if ANY error occurs and not process any subsequent files:

Get-Item -Path .\iis.txt,.\not-there.txt,.\iis.txt,.\not-there.txt,.\iis.txt -ErrorAction Stop


In a sense, “-ErrorAction Stop” here turns a non-terminating error into a terminating error. Note that the first file was processed, the second file was not (file does not exist), and execution stopped. Files 3,4,5 were not processed.

What if we want to process all files that do exist, yet be able to act individually on those that do not. One way to do that is to read data from the Error pipeline:

Get-Item -Path .\iis1.txt,.\not-there1.txt,.\iis2.txt,.\not-there2.txt,.\iis3.txt
$MyErrors = @()
If ($Error) { 
    $Error | % {
        $Props = [ordered]@{
            Name = $_.CategoryInfo.TargetName
            Category = $_.CategoryInfo.Category
            Exception = $_.Exception | Out-String
        $MyErrors += New-Object -TypeName PSObject -Property $Props
$MyErrors | FT -Auto

In this example, I cleared the Error pipeline, ran the Get-Item cmdlet, then read through the Error records, extracted information I need and may want to act on, and saved them to members of $MyErrors array.


Best Practices

In my opinion these are some of the best practices with ErrorAction:

  • Do not change the $ErrorActionPreference. This is because you lose the granularity of identifying where an error happened which makes debugging and troubleshooting harder than it needs to be.
  • Keep in mind that ErrorAction applies to an individual cmdlet/function not an entire script, pipeline, or scriptblock.
  • A try/catch block only catches terminating errors.
    For example:
    try {
        Get-Item -Path .\iis1.txt,.\not-there1.txt,.\iis2.txt,.\not-there2.txt,.\iis3.txt
    } catch {
    Will catch nothing. However, this example:
    try {
        Get-Item -Path .\iis1.txt,.\not-there1.txt,.\iis2.txt,.\not-there2.txt,.\iis3.txt -ErrorAction Stop
    } catch {
    Will stop at the first error and run the “catch” block. Files 3,4,5 will not be processed as explained above.

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