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Documenting Problems That Were Difficult To Find The Answer To

Serialising Arrays and Hashes in PowerShell 2.0

So you want to Invoke-Command a scriptblock on another Windows computer but are struggling to communicate results back to the caller because of a lack of serialisation routines in PowerShell 2.0? Yes, PowerShell 3.0 did introduce the ConvertFrom-Json and ConvertTo-Json cmdlets. But if you’re stuck on PowerShell 2.0 then you need another way to send hashes and lists.

Non-Recursive

Why not convert your hash-and-array data structure into a string – one that can be parsed by Invoke-Expression? This is a function that will do exactly that – and it is non-recursive for reasons that will be explained further down (and there’s a simpler recursive function provided later, too):

Function Serialise-Object {
    Param( $Root )

    Function AddAfter-ListNode {
        Param( $LinkedList, $AfterNode, $NewNode )
        if ( $AfterNode -eq $null ) {
            $LinkedList.AddLast( $NewNode )
        } else {
            $LinkedList.AddAfter( $AfterNode, $NewNode )
        }
    }

    Function Escape-SingleQuoted {
        Param( $Source )
        $Source -replace "'", "''"
    }

    # create lists
    $TodoStack = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.Stack[Object]"
    $StringsList = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedList[String]"

    # set up first element
    $TodoStack.Push( @( $Root, $StringsList.Last ) )

    while ( $true ) {
        try {
            $NextTodo = $TodoStack.Pop()
        } catch {
            break
        }

        ( $Item, $Node ) = @( $NextTodo )
        if ( $Item -eq $null ) {
            $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" "`$null"
            AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $Node $NewStringNode
        } elseif ( $Item.getType().FullName -eq "System.Collections.Hashtable" ) {
            $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" "@{"
            AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $Node $NewStringNode
            $LastStringNode = $NewStringNode

            $First = $true
            $Item.Keys |ForEach-Object {
                $keyname = ""
                if ( $First ) {
                    $First = $false
                } else {
                    $keyname += ";"
                }
                $keyname += $( "'" + (Escape-SingleQuoted $_) + "'=" )

                $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" $keyname
                AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $LastStringNode $NewStringNode
                $LastStringNode = $NewStringNode

                $TodoStack.Push( @( $Item[$_], $LastStringNode ) )
            }

            $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" "}"
            AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $LastStringNode $NewStringNode
        } elseif ( $Item.getType().FullName -eq "System.Object[]" ) {
            $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" "@("
            AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $Node $NewStringNode
            $LastStringNode = $NewStringNode

            $First = $true
            $Item |ForEach-Object {
                if ( $First ) {
                    $First = $false
                } else {
                    $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" ","
                    AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $LastStringNode $NewStringNode
                    $LastStringNode = $NewStringNode
                }

                $TodoStack.Push( @( $_, $LastStringNode ) )
            }

            $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" ")"
            AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $LastStringNode $NewStringNode
        } else {
            if ( $Item.GetType().FullName -eq "System.String" ) {
                $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" $( "'" + (Escape-SingleQuoted $Item) + "'" )
                AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $Node $NewStringNode
            } else {
                $NewStringNode = New-Object "System.Collections.Generic.LinkedListNode[String]" $( "[" + $Item.GetType().FullName + "]'" + (Escape-SingleQuoted $Item.ToString()) + "'" )
                AddAfter-ListNode $StringsList $Node $NewStringNode
            }
        }
    }

    @(
        $StringsList.GetEnumerator() |ForEach-Object { $_ }
    ) -join ""
}

Some examples of output:

> Serialise-Object $null
$null

> Serialise-Object 14.25
[System.Double]'14.25'

> Serialise-Object "Four o'clock"
'Four o''clock'

> Serialise-Object @( "First", "Second", @( "Inner1", "Inner2" ) )
@('First','Second',@('Inner1','Inner2'))

> Serialise-Object @{ "ArrayA" = @( 1, 2.5 ); "ArrayB" = @( 'e', 'f', 'g' ) }
@{'ArrayA'=@([System.Int32]'1',[System.Double]'2.5');'ArrayB'=@('e','f','g')}

> Serialise-Object @{ "OuterH" = @{ "InnerH" = @{ "key1" = [long]0xff } } }
@{'OuterH'=@{'InnerH'=@{'key1'=[System.Int64]'255'}}}

The resulting string can be fed directly into Invoke-Expression and the result is going to be very similar if not identical to the serialised object.

So, how does it work? It iterates over the object it is given. If it is a simple scalar type ($null, string, or non-list/hash) then it is converted to a string, prepended with its type if not a string, and output. If the object is an array or hash then each element or element-pair is iterated through and that object is recursively processed.

This function would have looked a lot simpler as a recursive function. So why was it implemented using lists and stacks instead of recursion? Because I wanted to send this function as a string through an Invoke-Command cmdlet and have it rebuilt as a scriptblock on the remote side; but one problem – how does one call an anonymous scriptblock recursively? Perhaps there’s a way but I don’t know how.

For example:

$remote_scriptblock = {
    Param( [String]$FnSerialiseStr )

    $FnSerialise = [scriptblock]::create( $FnSerialiseStr )

    $Start = Get-Date
    Start-Sleep -Milliseconds 1500

    & $FnSerialise @{ "time"=((Get-Date) - $Start).TotalSeconds }
}

Invoke-Command $remote_scriptblock -ArgumentList @(${function:Serialise-Object})

This outputs:

@{'time'=[System.Double]'1.5'}

Pretty neat, huh? You can send this function to the other side and run it!

Recursive

Ah.. but what if you want to send several named functions to the other side?

$remote_scriptblock = {
    Param( [String]$PreBlockStr )

    $PreBlock = [scriptblock]::create( $PreBlockStr )
    & $PreBlock

    $Start = Get-Date
    Start-Sleep -Milliseconds 2500

    Serialise-Object @{ "time"=((Get-Date) - $Start).TotalSeconds }
}
Invoke-Command $remote_scriptblock -ArgumentList @("Function Serialise-Object { ${function:Serialise-Object} }")

This outputs:

@{'time'=[System.Double]'2.5'}

Well that solves the problem of a recursive function trying to call itself.

Let’s rewrite the serialisation function as the simpler recursive form:

Function Serialise-Object {
    Param( $Root )

    Function Escape-SingleQuoted {
        Param( $Source )
        $Source -replace "'", "''"
    }

    if ( $Root -eq $null ) {
        "`$null"
    } elseif ( $Root.getType().FullName -eq "System.Collections.Hashtable" ) {
        $out = "@{"

        $First = $true
        $Root.Keys |ForEach-Object {
            if ( $First ) {
                $First = $false
            } else {
                $out += ";"
            }

            $out += $( "'" + (Escape-SingleQuoted $_) + "'=" )
            $out += Serialise-Object $Root[$_]
        }
        $out + "}"
    } elseif ( $Root.getType().FullName -eq "System.Object[]" ) {
        $out = "@("

        $First = $true
        $Root |ForEach-Object {
            if ( $First ) {
                $First = $false
            } else {
                $out += ","
            }

            $out += Serialise-Object $_
        }
        $out + ")"
    } else {
        if ( $Root.GetType().FullName -eq "System.String" ) {
            $( "'" + (Escape-SingleQuoted $Root) + "'" )
        } else {
            $( "[" + $Root.GetType().FullName + "]'" + (Escape-SingleQuoted $Root.ToString()) + "'" )
        }
    }
}

With this simpler code we can use it remotely as follows:

$remote_scriptblock = {
    Param( [String]$PreBlockStr )

    $PreBlock = [scriptblock]::create( $PreBlockStr )
    & $PreBlock

    $Start = Get-Date
    Start-Sleep -Milliseconds 3500

    Serialise-Object @{ "time"=((Get-Date) - $Start).TotalSeconds }
}
Invoke-Command $remote_scriptblock -ArgumentList @("Function Serialise-Object { ${function:Serialise-Object} }")

This outputs:

@{'time'=[System.Double]'3.5'}

… using simpler code.

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