A Quick Look At The Get-PnPGroup Cmdlet And Its Operation

Why This Particular Topic?

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you might be saying and asking, “Okay, that’s an odd choice for a post – even for you. Why?”

If you’re one of those people wondering, I would say that the sentiment and question are certainly fair. I’m actually writing this as part of my agreed upon “homework” from last Monday’s broadcast of the Community Office Hours podcast (I think that’s what we’re calling them). If you’re not immediately familiar with this particular podcast and its purpose, I’ll take two seconds out to describe.

I was approached one day by Christian Buckley (so many “interesting experiences” seem to start with Christian Buckley) about a thought he had. He wanted to start doing a series of podcasts each week to address questions, concerns, problems, and other “things” related to Office 365, Microsoft Teams, and all the O365/M365 associated workloads. He wanted to open it up as a panel-style podcast, and although anyone could join, he was interested in rounding-up a handful of Microsoft MVPs to “staff” the podcast in an ongoing capacity. The idea sounded good to me, so I said “Count me in” even before he finished his thoughts and pitch.

I wasn’t sure what to expect initially … but we just finished our 22nd episode this past Monday, and we are still going strong. The cast on the podcast rotates a bit, but there are a few of us that are part of what I’d consider the “core group” of entertainers …

The podcast has actually become something I look forward to every Monday, especially with the pandemic and the general lack of in-person social contact I seem to have (or rather, don’t have). We do two sections of the podcast every Monday: one for EMEA at 11:00am EST and the other for APAC at 9:00pm EST. You can find out more about the podcast in general through the Facebook group that’s maintained. Alternatively, you can send questions and things you’d like to see us address on the podcast to OfficeHours@CollabTalk.com.

If you don’t want (or have the time) to watch the podcast live, an archive of past episodes exists on Christian’s site, I maintain an active playlist of the recorded episodes on YouTube, and I’m sure there are other repositories available.

Ok, Got It. “Your Homework,” You Say?

The broadcasts we do normally have no fixed format or agenda, so we (mostly Christian) tend to pull questions and topics to address from the Facebook group and other places. And since the topics are generally so wide-ranging, it goes without saying that we have viable answers for some topics … but there are plenty of things we’re not good at (like telephony) and freely tell you so.

Whenever we get to a question or topic that should be dealt with outside the scope of the podcast (oftentimes to do some research or contact a resource who knows the domain), we’ll avoid BSing too much … and someone will take the time to research the topic and return back the following week with what they found or put together. We’re trying to tackle a bunch of questions and topics each week, and none of us is well-versed in the entire landscape of M365. Things just change so darn fast these days ….

So, my “homework” from last week was one of these topics. And I’m trying to do one better than just report back to the podcast with an answer. The topic and research may be of interest to plenty of people – not just the person who asked about it originally. Since today is Sunday, I’m racing against the clock to put this together before tomorrow’s podcast episodes …

The Topic

Rather than trying to supply a summary of the topic, I’m simply going to share the post and then address it. The inquiry/post itself was made in the Office 365 Community Facebook group by Bilal Bajwa. Bilal is from Milwaulkee, Wisconsin, and he was seeking some PowerShell-related help:

Being the lone developer in our group of podcast regulars (and having worked a fair bit with the SharePointPnP Cmdlets for PowerShell and PowerShell in general), I offered to take Bilal’s post for homework and come back with something to share. As of today (Sunday, 8/23/2020), the post is still sitting in the Facebook group without comment – something I hope to change once this blog post goes live in a bit.

SharePointPnP Cmdlets And The Get-PnPGroup Cmdlet Specifically

If you’re a SharePoint administrator and you’re unfamiliar with the SharePoint Patterns and Practices group and the PowerShell cmdlets they maintain, I’M giving YOU a piece of homework: read the Microsoft Docs to familiarize yourself with what they offer and how they operate. They will only help make your job easier. That’s right: RTFM. Few people truly enjoy reading documentation, but it’s hard to find a better and more complete reference medium.

If you are already familiar with the PnP cmdlets … awesome! As you undoubtedly know, they add quite a bit of functionality and extend a SharePoint administrator’s range of control and options within just about any SharePoint environment. The PnP group that maintains the cmdlets (and many other tools) are a group of very bright and very giving folks.

Vesa Juvonen is one name I associate with pretty much anything PnP. He’s a Principal Program Manager at Microsoft these days, and he directs many of the PnP efforts in addition to being an exceptionally nice (and resourceful!) guy.

The SharePoint Developer Blog regularly covers PnP topics, and they regularly summarize and update PnP resource material – as well as explain it. Check out this post for additional background and detail.

Cmdlet: Get-PnPGroup

Now that I’ve said all that, let’s get started with looking at the Get-PnPGroup cmdlet that is part of the SharePointPnP PowerShell module. I will assume that you have some skill with PowerShell and have access to a (SharePoint) environment to run the cmdlets successfully. If you’re new to all this, then I would suggest reviewing the Microsoft Docs link I provide in this blog post, as they cover many different topics including how to get setup to use the SharePoint PnP cmdlets.

In his question/post, Bilal didn’t specify whether he was trying to run the Get-PnPGroup cmdlet against a SharePoint Online (SPO) site or a SharePoint on-premises farm. The operation of the SharePointPnP cmdlets, while being fairly consistent and predictable from cmdlet to cmdlet, sometimes vary a bit depending on the version of SharePoint in-use (on-premises) or whether SPO is being targeted. In my experience, the exposed APIs and development surfaces went through some enhancement after SharePoint 2013 in specific areas. One such area that was affected was data pertaining to site users and their alerts; the data is available in SharePoint 2016 and 2019 (as well as in SPO), but it’s inaccessible in 2013.

Because of this, it is best to review the online documentation for any cmdlet you’re going to use. Barring that, make sure you remember the availability of the documentation if you encounter any issues or behavior that isn’t expected.

If we do this for Get-PnPGroup, we frankly don’t get too much. The online documentation at Microsoft Docs is relatively sparse and just slightly better than auto-generated docs. But we do get a little helpful info:

We can see from the docs that this cmdlet runs against all versions of SharePoint starting with SharePoint 2013. I would therefore expect operations to be generally be consistent across versions (and location) of SharePoint.

A little further down in the documentation for Get-PnPGroup (in Example 1), we find that simply running the cmdlet is said to return all SharePoint groups in a site. Let’s see that in practice.

Running Wild

I fired up a VM-based SharePoint 2019 farm I have to serve as the target for on-prem tests. For SPO, I decided to use my family’s tenant as a test target. Due to time constraints, I didn’t get a chance to run anything against my VM environment, so I’m assuming (dangerous, I know) that on-prem results will match SPO. If they don’t, I’m sure someone will tell me below (in the Comments) …

Going against SPO involves connecting to the tenant and then executing Get-PnPGroup. The initial results:

Running Get-PnPGroup returned something, and it’s initially presented to us in a somewhat condensed table format that includes ID, (group) Title, and LoginName.

But there’s definitely more under the hood than is being shown here, and that “under the hood” part is what I suspect might have been causing Bilal some issues when he looked at his results.

We’ve all probably heard it before at some point: PowerShell is an object-oriented scripting language. This means that PowerShell manipulates and works with Microsoft .NET objects behind-the-scenes for most things. What may appear as a scalar value or simple text data on first inspection could be just the tip of the “object iceberg” when it comes to PowerShell.

Going A Bit Deeper

To learn a bit more about what the function is actually returning upon execution, I ran the Get-PnPGroup cmdlet again and assigned the function return to a variable I called $group (which you can see in the screen capture earlier). Performing this variable assignment would allow me to continue working with the function output (i.e., the SharePoint groups) without the need to keep querying my SharePoint environment.

To display the contents of $group with additional detail, the PowerShell I executed might appear a little cryptic for those who don’t live in PowerShellLand:

$group | fl

There’s some shorthand in play with that last bit of PowerShell, so I’ll spell everything out. First, fl is the shorthand notation for the Format-List cmdlet. I could have just as easily typed …

$group | Format-List

… but that’s more typing! I’m no different than anyone else, and I like to get more done with less whenpossible.

Next, the pipe (“|”) will be familiar to most PowerShell practitioners, and here it’s used to send the contents of the $group variable to the Format-List cmdlet. The Format-List cmdlet then expands the data piped to it (i.e., the SharePoint groups in $group) and shows all the property values that exist for each SharePoint group.

If you’re not familiar with .NET objects or object-oriented development, I should point out that the SharePoint groups returned and assigned to our $group variable are .NET objects. Knowing this might help your understanding – or maybe not. Try not to worry if you’re not a dev and don’t speak dev. I know that to many admins, devs might as well be speaking jive …

For our purposes today, we’re going to limit our discussion and analysis of objects to just their properties – nothing more. The focus still remains PowerShell.

What Are The Actual Properties Available To Us?

If you’re asking the question just posed, then you’re following along and hopefully making some kind of sense of a what I’m sharing.

So, what are the properties that are exposed by each of the SharePoint groups? Looking at the output of the $group variable sent to the Format-List command (shown earlier) gives you an idea, but there’s a much quicker and more reliable way to get the listing of properties.

You may not like what I’m about to say, but it probably won’t surprise you: those properties are documented (for everyone to learn about) in Microsoft Docs. Yes, another documentation reference!

How did I know what to look/search for? If you refer to the end of the reference for the Get-PnPGroup cmdlet, there is a section that describes the “Outputs” from running the cmdlet. That output is only one line of text, and it’s exactly what we need to make the next hop in our hunt for properties details:

List<Microsoft.SharePoint.Client.Group>

A List is a .NET collection class, but that’s not important for our purposes. Simply put, you can think of a .NET List as a “bucket” into which we put other objects – including our SharePoint groups. The class/type that is identified between the “<” and “>” after List specify the type of each object in the List. In our case, each item in the List is of type Microsoft.SharePoint.Client.Group.

If you search for that class type, you’ll get a reference in your search results that points to a Microsoft Docs link serving as a reference for the SharePoint Group type we’re interested in. And if we look at the “Properties” link of that particular reference, each of the properties that appear in our returned groups are spelled out with additional information – in most cases, at least basic usage information is included.

A quick look at those properties and a review of one of the groups in the $group variable (shown below) should convince you that you’re looking at the right reference.

What Do We Do Now?

You might recall that we’re going through this exercise of learning about the output from the Get-PnPGroup cmdlet because Bilal asked the question, “Any idea how to filter?”

Hopefully the output that’s returned from the cmdlet makes some amount of sense, and I’ve convinced you (and Bilal) that it’s not “garbage” but a List collection of .NET objects that are all of the Microsoft.SharePoint.Client.Group type.

At this point, we can leave our discussion of .NET objects behind (for the most part) and transition back to PowerShell proper to talk about filtering. We could do our filtering without leaving .NET, but that wouldn’t be considered the “PowerShell way” of doing it. Just remember, though: there’s almost always more than one way to get the results you need from PowerShell …

Filtering The Results

In the case of my family’s SPO tenant, there are a total of seven (7) SharePoint groups in the main site collection:

Looking at a test case for filtering, I’m going to try to get any group that has “McDonough” in its name.

A SharePoint group’s name is the value of the Title property, and a very straightforward way to filter a collection of objects (which we have identified exists within our $group variable) is through the use of the Where-Object cmdlet.

Let’s setup some PowerShell that should return only the subset of groups that I’m interested in (i.e., those with “McDonough” in the Title). Reviewing the seven groups in my site collection, I note that only three (3) of them contain my last name. So, after filtering, we should have precisely three groups listed.

Preparing the PowerShell …

$group | where-object {$_.Title -like "*McDonough*"}

… and executing this, we get back the filtered results predicted and expected; i.e., three SharePoint groups:

For those that could use a little extra clarification, I will summarize what transpired when I executed that last line of PowerShell.

  1. From our previous Get-PnPGroup operation, we knew that the $group variable contained the seven groups that exist in my site collection.
  2. We piped (“|”) that unfiltered collection of groups to the Where-Object cmdlet. It’s worth pointing out that the cmdlets and most of the other strings/text in PowerShell are case-insensitive (Where-Object, where-object, and WhErE-oBjEcT are all the same from a PowerShell processing perspective).
  3. The curly braces after the where-object cmdlet define the logic that will be processed for each object (i.e., SharePoint group) that is passed to the where-object cmdlet.
  4. Within the curly braces, we indicated that we wanted to filter and keep each group that had a Title which was like “*McDonough*” This was accomplished with the -like operator (PowerShell has many other operators, too). The asterisks before and after “McDonough” are simply wildcards that will match against anything with “McDonough” in the Title – regardless of any text or characters appearing before and/or after “McDonough”
  5. Also worth nothing within the curly braces is the “$_.” notation. When iterating through the collection of SharePoint groups, the “$_.” denotes the current object/group we’re evaluating – each one in turn.

Round Two

Let’s try another one before pulling the plug (figuratively and literally – it’s close to my bed time …)

Let’s filter and keep only the groups where the members of the group can also edit the group membership. This is an uncommon scenario, and we might wish to know this information for some potential security tightening.

Looking at the properties available on the Group type, I see the one I’m interested in: AllowMembersEditMembership. It’s a boolean value, and I want back the groups that have a value of true (which is represented as $true in PowerShell) for this property.

$group | where-object {$_.AllowMembersEditMembership -eq $true}

Running the PowerShell just presented, we get only one matching group back:

Frankly, that’s one more group than I originally expected, so I should probably take a closer look in the ol’ family site collection …

Summary

I hope this helped you (and Bilal) understand that there is a method to PowerShell’s madness. We just need to lean on .NET and objected oriented concepts a bit to help us get what we want.

The filtering I demonstrated was pretty basic, and there are numerous ways to take it further and get more specific in your filtering logic/expressions. If you weren’t already comfortable with filtering, I hope you now know that it isn’t really that hard.

If I happened to skip or gloss over something important, please leave me a note in the Comments section below. My goal was to provide a complete-enough picture to build some confidence – so that the next time you need to work with objects and filter them in PowerShell, you’ll feel comfortable doing so.

Have fun PowerShelling!

References And Resources

  1. LinkedIn: Christian Buckley
  2. Podcast History: Microsoft Community Office Hours from 8/18/2020
  3. BuckleyPLANET: Community category and activities
  4. Facebook Group: Office 365 Community
  5. Email Group: OfficeHours@CollabTalk.com
  6. YouTube: Microsoft Community Office Hours playlist
  7. Microsoft Docs: PnP PowerShell Overview
  8. LinkedIn: Vesa Juvonen
  9. Blog: SharePoint Developer Blog
  10. Blog Post: Microsoft 365 & SharePoint Ecosystem (PnP) – July 2020 Update
  11. Microsoft Docs: Get-PnPGroup
  12. Microsoft: What Is .NET Framework?
  13. Microsoft Docs: Format-List
  14. Microsoft Docs: List<T> Class
  15. Microsoft Docs: Group Class
  16. Microsoft Docs: Group Properties
  17. Microsoft Docs: Where-Object
  18. Microsoft Docs: About Comparison Operators