Converting a string to an array in PowerShell (why it works)

Edit 2016-01-18: If you’re interested in a few different ways of converting a string to an array, see this newer post. The post you’re looking at focuses a little more on how and why the .split() method works

Blue_fish posted a question over on The source of the question was a mysterious blank entry. This anomaly appeared when he tried to convert a string into an array of individual words. Without his actual code on hand I tried to guess what could cause that. Along the way I typed up the following… thinking out loud with my fingers. Afterwards I realized that this was the kind of information I was looking for when I started out. With that in mind enjoy…

Why did that work?  Powershell’s access to the .NET framework doesn’t require one to be a .NET dev.  Far from it instead it brings an incredible amount of power to a usable surface. So how did .split() come to be and why does where work. I think I can explain it… let’s see…

In PowerShell "" refers to a string, obviously, but it’s more than that.  A string in PowerShell is a .NET object with a type of string,  99.99% of the time that doesn’t matter, but in this case it’s quite pertinent.  As a first class object string carries with it many powerful methods free of charge.

Parenthesis () have several responsibilities within POSH, but mainly it’s just execution order i.e. (THIRD((FIRST)SECOND(FIRST))).  Part of that execution is PowerShell normalizing your data. For example 15 will be cast as an int, asdf as a string, and @(1,2,3,4,5) is an array of integers. As that cast operation is to objects, this is where all the free posh goodness comes from.  Therefore we need to enclose our string in () to perform the cast and have those methods available.

Believe it or not that’s the hard part…

And that’s how:

Transforms into:

Now that you have an array of words all that is left is to remove the false positives.  Enter Where-Object, think of where-object (a.k.a. where, and ?) as an extremely streamlined if, then, else filter.  {} in PowerShell represent a script block.

A script block is a chunk of code that is executed to its completion before the engine moves on.  In other words {} will overrule ().  Where-Object is a bool operator, if the script block evaluates to true then pass the object down the pipeline, else drop the object.

Before where {$_ -ne " "}

After where {$_ -ne " "}

*Only objects that evaluate to $TRUE in the where-object script block are passed down the pipeline. As you can see their really aren’t any “smoke and mirrors” in PowerShell. Instead the team provided a kick ass engine that does 90% of the work for us in a predictable and comprehensible fashion!


I started to post all of this in my response to blue_fish’s post over on, but it occurred to me that I went way to in depth.  Sometimes I like to talk myself through the Nth degree to prove I know it 😉

Don’t be shy if I screwed something up please let me know.  That’s the other part of laying it out to the nth degree if I’m mistaken, you’ll correct me, and we all improve from that exercise!

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