Getting Up to Speed with PowerShell: How to Check Version and Update on Windows Server

For any IT pro or developer working on Windows, learning PowerShell is a highly valuable investment of your time. As automation and agility continue to transform technology, PowerShell skills are becoming ubiquitous and foundational.

But like any technology, new PowerShell versions with useful improvements and fixes roll out periodically. So understanding how to check and update PowerShell smoothly is key for riding the automation wave both now and into the future!

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover all the key details around PowerShell updating, also providing some 101-style background for complete beginners along the way. Time to level up those PS mastery skills!

What Exactly is PowerShell And Why Does it Matter?

For those totally new to PowerShell, let’s first cover some quick background on what this tool actually is and why it’s grown so popular among systems administrators and engineers.

At a basic level, PowerShell is Microsoft’s advanced scripting language shell and task automation platform built directly into Windows machines. It allows you to control virtually every aspect of Windows through code, solving intricate challenges easily.

Some examples of what you can leverage PowerShell for:

  • Automating repetitive sysadmin tasks to save vast time
  • Building/managing complex infrastructure as code
  • Streamlining deployment workflows and application installs
  • Querying, manipulating, and reporting on system data
  • Integrating with APIs to manage cloud platforms like Azure
  • Containerizing workloads using Docker

And much more – the sky‘s really the limit!

PowerShell achieves all this through its robust framework of "cmdlets". These are essentially lightweight commands and functions tailored towards administration. Chaining them together creates seamless automation flows.

Beyond saving time and effort though, PowerShell also introduces stability, consistency and precision compared to manual clicking in GUIs. Infrastructure built through code is far easier to replicate, tweak and scale too.

With Microsoft expanding PowerShell support across Windows Server, desktop, cloud and more, skills in this area are becoming indispensable for unlocking efficiency.

Why Keeping PowerShell Updated Matters

Now that you understand the immense value of PowerShell for taming Windows environments, let‘s talk about why keeping your installation up-to-date is so important.

There are a few key reasons:

Access New Features

New major PowerShell releases introduce handy additional functionality like new cmdlets tailored towards automation tasks. Upgrading ensures you can leverage the latest tools.

Improve Reliability & Performance

From optimizations under the hood through to critical bug fixes, PowerShell updates vastly improve stability and speed. Outdated versions may suffer bottlenecks or issues.

Maintain Compatibility

As Microsoft products continue evolving, older PowerShell releases may lose backwards-compatibility. Upgrading prevents unexpected problems down the road.

Enhanced Security

New versions often contain vital security enhancements to guard against emerging threats. Running unsupported PowerShell leaves you vulnerable.

Simply put – sticking to an old PS version indefinitely is like driving a rusted old car. It might still work OK today, but roadblocks, slowness and safety issues are lurking right around the corner.

Taking a few minutes to check and upgrade PowerShell periodically is well worth avoiding those headaches!

Now let‘s explore how to do exactly that…

Checking Your Currently Installed PowerShell Version

When it comes to checking the specific PowerShell version running on your Windows Server or other host, the most reliable method is using the automatic $PSVersionTable variable.

Here is how to use in a glance:

  1. Launch a PowerShell console/terminal
  2. Type $PSVersionTable and press Enter
  3. Check the "PSVersion" value for the version number

For example, you may see output similar to:

Name                           Value
----                           ----- 
PSVersion                      5.1.14409.1018
PSEdition                      Desktop
PSCompatibleVersions           {1.0, 2.0, 3.0...}
BuildVersion                   10.0.14409.1018
CLRVersion                     4.0.30319.42000
WSManStackVersion              3.0
PSRemotingProtocolVersion      2.3
SerializationVersion           1.1.0.1

This makes clear we are running PowerShell version 5.1 on this system.

The key perk of using $PSVersionTable is reliability – it shows the exact PowerShell engine version, unlike some other popular techniques that may be inconsistent.

Now that you can easily check the installed version, let‘s look at actually updating it on Windows Server…

Upgrading Your PowerShell Version Painlessly

When you‘re ready to upgrade PowerShell to gain access to the latest capabilities, there are a couple straightforward options:

Downloading Manually from Microsoft

Your first choice is to manually download the newest PowerShell version‘s installer package from the official Microsoft website.

They provide easy step-by-step directions tailored to your Windows machine‘s environment. Generally it just involves:

  1. Grabbing the latest PowerShell MSI installer
  2. Running the installer, following prompts
  3. Testing functionality in a new PS terminal

One huge benefit of using the Microsoft packages is that they allow installing major PowerShell versions side-by-side.

For example, you could have PowerShell 7.5, PowerShell 5.9 and PowerShell 3 all usable simultaneously, without any conflicts. This gives flexibility.

Upgrading Via PowerShellGet Install Script

An alternative approach is to use the PowerShellGet install script to grab and deploy the latest version automatically.

You‘d run:

Install-Script -Name Install-PowerShell -Force
Install-PowerShell.ps1 [-UseMSI]

This downloads and kicks off execution of Install-PowerShell.ps1 from GitHub, handling the end-to-end upgrade process through prompts.

The script also supports installing multiple side-by-side versions cleanly. And you can easily tweak target channels like Release, Preview or LTS with parameters.

Overall, PowerShellGet provides an OS-tailored upgrading experience with just couple lines!

A Note About Compatibility Across Windows Editions

As a quick compatibility side note when upgrading PowerShell versions on older Windows editions:

Some legacy operating systems have restrictions…

Windows Version Highest PS Version Supported
Windows 7 SP1 5.1
Windows 8.1 5.1
Windows 10 Latest
Windows Server Latest

So for instance, trying to install PowerShell 7 or later inherently won‘t work properly on Windows 7.

Plan to upgrade the actual OS itself first in those cases. Up-to-date Windows 10 and Windows Server editions are aligned closely with recent PowerShell releases.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully this guide has given both new PowerShell newcomers and savvy veterans a helpful 101-style primer related to checking installed PS versions and upgrading them smoothly on Windows systems.

Keeping your copy updated periodically is vital for continued stability, security and access to the rich new automation capabilities constantly being added across Microsoft‘s stacks.

PowerShell skills truly pay dividends across a IT career regardless of specialty – don‘t leave them stagnant!

Let us know if you have any other questions. And happy scripting!

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