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Using powershell to do useful things with XML lists from Tridion

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Dec 30, 2010 08:55 PM |
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For a while now I've been trying to persuade anyone that would listen that Windows Powershell is great for interacting with the Tridion object model (TOM). What I mean by this is that you can easily use the powershell to instantiate and use COM objects, and more specifically, TOM objects. In this post, I'm going to take it a bit further, and show how you can use the powershell's XML processing facilities to easily process the lists that are available from the TOM as XML Documents. The example I'm going to use is a script to forcibly finish all the workflow process instances in a Tridion CMS. (This is quite useful if you are doing workflow development, as you can't upload a new version of a workflow while there are process instances that still need to be finished.)

Although useful, the example itself isn't so important. I'm simply using it to demonstrate how to process lists. Tridion offers several API calls that will return a list, and in general, the XML looks very similar. I'm going to aim to finish all my process instances as a "one-liner", although I'm immediately going to cheat by setting up the necessary utility objects as shell variables:

> $tdse = new-object -com TDS.TDSE
> $wfe = $tdse.GetWFE()

As you can see, I'm using the new-object cmdlet to get a TDSE object, specifying that it is a COM object (by default new-object assumes you want a .NET object). Then I'm using $tdse to get the WFE object which offers methods that list workflow items. With these two variables in place, I can attempt my one liner. Here goes:

> ([xml]$wfe.GetListProcessInstances()).ListWFProcessInstances.Item | % {$tdse.GetObject($_.ID,2)} | % {$_.FinishProcess()}

Well, suffice it to say that this works, and once you've run it (assuming you are an admin), you won't have any process instances, but perhaps we need to break it down a bit....

If you start off with just $wfe.GetListProcessInstances(), the powershell will invoke the method for you, and return the XML as a string, which is what GetListProcessInstances returns. Just like this:

> $wfe.GetListProcessInstances()
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<tcm:ListWFProcessInstances xmlns:tcm="" xmlns:xlink="
link"><tcm:Item ID="tcm:24-269-131076" PublicationTitle="300 Global Content (NL)" TCMItem="tcm:24-363" Title="Test 1" T
CMItemType="16" ProcessDefinitionTitle="Application Content Approval" ApprovalStatus="Unapproved" ActivityDefinitionTyp
e="1" WorkItem="tcm:24-537-131200" CreationDate="2010-12-30T19:35:33" State="Started" Icon="T16L1P0" Allow="41955328" D
eny="16777216"/><tcm:Item ID="tcm:24-270-131076" PublicationTitle="300 Global Content (NL)" TCMItem="tcm:24-570" Title=
"Test 2" TCMItemType="16" ProcessDefinitionTitle="Application Content Approval" ApprovalStatus="Unapproved" ActivityDef
initionType="1" WorkItem="tcm:24-538-131200" CreationDate="2010-12-30T19:36:04" State="Started" Icon="T16L1P0" Allow="4
1955328" Deny="16777216"/></tcm:ListWFProcessInstances>

OK - that's great - if you dig into it, you'll see that there is a containing element called ListWFProcessInstances, and that what it contains are some Item elements. All of this is in the tcm namespace, and each Item has various attributes. Unfortunately, the XML in this form is ugly and not particularly useful. Fortunately, the powershell has some built-in features that help quite a lot with this. The first is that if you use the [xml] cast operator, the string is transformed into a System.Xml.XmlDocument. To test this, just assign the result of the cast to a variable and use the get-member cmdlet to display it's type and methods:

> $xml = [xml]$wfe.GetListProcessInstances()
> $xml | gm

(Of course, you don't type "get-member". "gm" is sufficient - most standard powershell cmdlets have consistent and memorable short aliases.)

I won't show the output here, as it fills the screen, but at the top, the type is listed, and then you see the API of System.Xml.XmlDocument. (Actually you don't need a variable here, but it's nice to have a go and use some of the API methods.)

All this would be pretty useful even if it stopped there, but it gets better. Because the powershell is intended as a scripting environment, the creators have wrapped an extra layer of goodness around XmlDocument. The assumption is that you probably want to extract some values without having to write XPaths, instantiate Node objects and all that other nonsense, so they let you access Elements and Attributes by magicking up collections of properties. Using the example above, I can simply type the names of the Elements and Attributes I want in a "dot-chain". For example:

> ([xml]$wfe.GetListProcessInstances()).ListWFProcessInstances.Item[0].ID

Here you can also see that I'm referencing the first Item element in the collection and getting its ID attribute. The tcm ID is returned. All this is great for exploring the data interactively, but be warned, there is a fly in the ointment. Behind the scenes, the powershell uses its own variable called Item to represent the members of the collections it creates. This means that whereas you ought to be able to type


and get some meaningful output, instead, you'll get an error saying:

format-default : The member "Item" is already present.
    + CategoryInfo          : NotSpecified: (:) [format-default], ExtendedTypeSystemException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : AlreadyPresentPSMemberInfoInternalCollectionAdd,Microsoft.PowerShell.Commands.FormatDefaultCommand

This is because Tridion's list XML uses "Item" for the element name, and it conflicts with powershell's own use of the name. It's an ugly bug in powershell, but fortunately it doesn't affect us much. Instead of saying "ListWFProcessInstances", just keep on typing and say "ListWFProcessInstances.Item" and you are back in the land of sanity.

Apart from this small annoyance, the powershell offers superb discoverability, so for example, it will give you tab completion so that you don't even have to know the name of ListWFProcessInstances. If at any point you are in doubt as to what to type next, just stop where you are and pipe the result into get-member - all will be revealed.

OK - back to the main plot. If you're with me this far, you have probably realised that


will get you a collection of objects representing the Item elements in the XML. As you probably know, an important feature of powershell is that you can pipeline collections of objects, and that there is syntax built in for processing them. The % character is used as shorthand for foreach, and within the foreach block (delimited by braces), the symbol $_ represents the current item in the iteration. For example, we could write:

> ([xml]$wfe.GetListProcessInstances()).ListWFProcessInstances.Item | % {$_.ID}

and get the output:


I'm sure you can see where this is going. We need to transform the collection of XML attributes: the IDs of the process instances, into a collection of TOM objects, so with a small alteration in the body of the foreach block, we have

% {$tdse.GetObject($_.ID,2)}

and then we can pipe the resulting collection of TOM objects into a foreach block which invokes the FinishProcess() method:


% {$_.FinishProcess()}

Of course, if you like really terse one-liners, you could amalgamate the last two pipeline elements so that instead of:

> ([xml]$wfe.GetListProcessInstances()).ListWFProcessInstances.Item | % {$tdse.GetObject($_.ID,2)} | % {$_.FinishProcess()}

we get:

> ([xml]$wfe.GetListProcessInstances()).ListWFProcessInstances.Item | % {$tdse.GetObject($_.ID,2).FinishProcess()} 

but in practice, you develop these one-liners by exploration, and if you want something really terse, you are more likely to write a more long-hand version, put it in your $profile, and give it an alias.

As I said at the top - this is just an example. All the TOM functions that return XML lists can be treated in a similar manner. Generally all that changes is the name of the root element of the XML document, and as I have pointed out, this is easily discoverable.

I hope this approach proves useful to you. If you have any examples of good applications, please let me know in the comments.

A Happy New Year to you all.


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