Learn PowerShell Workflow for Azure Automation

Runbooks in Azure Automation are implemented as Windows PowerShell workflows, Windows PowerShell scripts that use Windows Workflow Foundation. A workflow is a sequence of programmed, connected steps that perform long-running tasks or require the coordination of multiple steps across multiple devices or managed nodes.

While a workflow is written with Windows PowerShell syntax and launched by Windows PowerShell, it is processed by Windows Workflow Foundation. The benefits of a workflow over a normal script include simultaneous performance of an action against multiple devices and automatic recovery from failures.

Note

A PowerShell Workflow script is very similar to a Windows PowerShell script but has some significant differences that can be confusing to a new user. Therefore, we recommend that you write your runbooks using PowerShell Workflow only if you need to use checkpoints.

For complete details of the topics in this article, see Getting Started with Windows PowerShell Workflow.

Use Workflow keyword

The first step to converting a PowerShell script to a PowerShell workflow is enclosing it with the Workflow keyword. A workflow starts with the Workflow keyword followed by the body of the script enclosed in braces. The name of the workflow follows the Workflow keyword as shown in the following syntax:

Workflow Test-Workflow
{
    <Commands>
}

The name of the workflow must match the name of the Automation runbook. If the runbook is being imported, then the file name must match the workflow name and must end in .ps1.

To add parameters to the workflow, use the Param keyword just as you would in a script.

Learn differences between PowerShell Workflow code and PowerShell script code

PowerShell Workflow code looks almost identical to PowerShell script code except for a few significant changes. The following sections describe changes that you need to make to a PowerShell script for it to run in a workflow.

Activities

An activity is a specific task in a workflow that is performed in a sequence. Windows PowerShell Workflow automatically converts many of the Windows PowerShell cmdlets to activities when it runs a workflow. When you specify one of these cmdlets in your runbook, the corresponding activity is run by Windows Workflow Foundation.

If a cmdlet has no corresponding activity, Windows PowerShell Workflow automatically runs the cmdlet in an InlineScript activity. Some cmdlets are excluded and can't be used in a workflow unless you explicitly include them in an InlineScript block. For more information, see Using Activities in Script Workflows.

Workflow activities share a set of common parameters to configure their operation. See about_WorkflowCommonParameters.

Positional parameters

You can't use positional parameters with activities and cmdlets in a workflow. Therefore, you must use parameter names. Consider the following code that gets all running services:

Get-Service | Where-Object {$_.Status -eq "Running"}

If you try to run this code in a workflow, you receive a message like Parameter set cannot be resolved using the specified named parameters. To correct for this issue, provide the parameter name, as in the following example:

Workflow Get-RunningServices
{
    Get-Service | Where-Object -FilterScript {$_.Status -eq "Running"}
}

Deserialized objects

Objects in workflows are deserialized, meaning that their properties are still available, but not their methods. For example, consider the following PowerShell code, which stops a service using the Stop method of the Service object.

$Service = Get-Service -Name MyService
$Service.Stop()

If you try to run this in a workflow, you receive an error saying Method invocation is not supported in a Windows PowerShell Workflow.

One option is to wrap these two lines of code in an InlineScript block. In this case, Service represents a service object within the block.

Workflow Stop-Service
{
    InlineScript {
        $Service = Get-Service -Name MyService
        $Service.Stop()
    }
}

Another option is to use another cmdlet that has the same functionality as the method, if one is available. In our example, the Stop-Service cmdlet provides the same functionality as the Stop method, and you might use the following code for a workflow.

Workflow Stop-MyService
{
    $Service = Get-Service -Name MyService
    Stop-Service -Name $Service.Name
}

Use InlineScript

TheInlineScript activity is useful when you need to run one or more commands as traditional PowerShell script instead of PowerShell workflow. While commands in a workflow are sent to Windows Workflow Foundation for processing, commands in an InlineScript block are processed by Windows PowerShell.

InlineScript uses the following syntax shown below.

InlineScript
{
    <Script Block>
} <Common Parameters>

You can return output from an InlineScript by assigning the output to a variable. The following example stops a service and then outputs the service name.

Workflow Stop-MyService
{
    $Output = InlineScript {
        $Service = Get-Service -Name MyService
        $Service.Stop()
        $Service
    }

    $Output.Name
}

You can pass values into an InlineScript block, but you must use $Using scope modifier. The following example is identical to the previous example except that the service name is provided by a variable.

Workflow Stop-MyService
{
    $ServiceName = "MyService"

    $Output = InlineScript {
        $Service = Get-Service -Name $Using:ServiceName
        $Service.Stop()
        $Service
    }

    $Output.Name
}

While InlineScript activities might be critical in certain workflows, they do not support workflow constructs. You should use them only when necessary for the following reasons:

  • You can't use checkpoints inside an InlineScript block. If a failure occurs within the block, it must resume from the beginning of the block.
  • You can't use parallel execution inside an InlineScript block.
  • InlineScript affects scalability of the workflow since it holds the Windows PowerShell session for the entire length of the InlineScript block.

For more information on using InlineScript, see Running Windows PowerShell Commands in a Workflow and about_InlineScript.

Use parallel processing

One advantage of Windows PowerShell Workflows is the ability to perform a set of commands in parallel instead of sequentially as with a typical script.

You can use the Parallel keyword to create a script block with multiple commands that run concurrently. This uses the following syntax shown below. In this case, Activity1 and Activity2 starts at the same time. Activity3 starts only after both Activity1 and Activity2 have completed.

Parallel
{
    <Activity1>
    <Activity2>
}
<Activity3>

For example, consider the following PowerShell commands that copy multiple files to a network destination. These commands are run sequentially so that one file must finish copying before the next is started.

Copy-Item -Path C:\LocalPath\File1.txt -Destination \\NetworkPath\File1.txt
Copy-Item -Path C:\LocalPath\File2.txt -Destination \\NetworkPath\File2.txt
Copy-Item -Path C:\LocalPath\File3.txt -Destination \\NetworkPath\File3.txt

The following workflow runs these same commands in parallel so that they all start copying at the same time. Only after they are all copied is the completion message displayed.

Workflow Copy-Files
{
    Parallel
    {
        Copy-Item -Path "C:\LocalPath\File1.txt" -Destination "\\NetworkPath"
        Copy-Item -Path "C:\LocalPath\File2.txt" -Destination "\\NetworkPath"
        Copy-Item -Path "C:\LocalPath\File3.txt" -Destination "\\NetworkPath"
    }

    Write-Output "Files copied."
}

You can use the ForEach -Parallel construct to process commands for each item in a collection concurrently. The items in the collection are processed in parallel while the commands in the script block run sequentially. This process uses the following syntax shown below. In this case, Activity1 starts at the same time for all items in the collection. For each item, Activity2 starts after Activity1 is complete. Activity3 starts only after both Activity1 and Activity2 have completed for all items. We use the ThrottleLimit parameter to limit the parallelism. Too high of a ThrottleLimit can cause problems. The ideal value for the ThrottleLimit parameter depends on many factors in your environment. Start with a low value and try different increasing values until you find one that works for your specific circumstance.

ForEach -Parallel -ThrottleLimit 10 ($<item> in $<collection>)
{
    <Activity1>
    <Activity2>
}
<Activity3>

The following example is similar to the previous example copying files in parallel. In this case, a message is displayed for each file after it copies. Only after they are all copied is the final completion message displayed.

Workflow Copy-Files
{
    $files = @("C:\LocalPath\File1.txt","C:\LocalPath\File2.txt","C:\LocalPath\File3.txt")

    ForEach -Parallel -ThrottleLimit 10 ($File in $Files)
    {
        Copy-Item -Path $File -Destination \\NetworkPath
        Write-Output "$File copied."
    }

    Write-Output "All files copied."
}

Note

We do not recommend running child runbooks in parallel since this has been shown to give unreliable results. The output from the child runbook sometimes does not show up, and settings in one child runbook can affect the other parallel child runbooks. Variables such as VerbosePreference, WarningPreference, and others might not propagate to the child runbooks. And if the child runbook changes these values, they might not be properly restored after invocation.

Use checkpoints in a workflow

A checkpoint is a snapshot of the current state of the workflow that includes the current values for variables and any output generated to that point. If a workflow ends in error or is suspended, it starts from its last checkpoint the next time it runs, instead of starting at the beginning.

You can set a checkpoint in a workflow with the Checkpoint-Workflow activity. Azure Automation has a feature called fair share, for which any runbook that runs for three hours is unloaded to allow other runbooks to run. Eventually, the unloaded runbook is reloaded. When it is, it resumes execution from the last checkpoint taken in the runbook.

To guarantee that the runbook eventually completes, you must add checkpoints at intervals that run for less than three hours. If during each run a new checkpoint is added, and if the runbook is evicted after three hours due to an error, the runbook is resumed indefinitely.

In the following example, an exception occurs after Activity2, causing the workflow to end. When the workflow is run again, it starts by running Activity2, since this activity was just after the last checkpoint set.

<Activity1>
Checkpoint-Workflow
<Activity2>
<Exception>
<Activity3>

Set checkpoints in a workflow after activities that might be prone to exception and should not be repeated if the workflow is resumed. For example, your workflow might create a virtual machine. You can set a checkpoint both before and after the commands to create the virtual machine. If the creation fails, then the commands are repeated if the workflow is started again. If the workflow fails after the creation succeeds, the virtual machine is not created again when the workflow is resumed.

The following example copies multiple files to a network location and sets a checkpoint after each file. If the network location is lost, then the workflow ends in error. When it is started again, it resumes at the last checkpoint. Only the files that have already been copied are skipped.

Workflow Copy-Files
{
    $files = @("C:\LocalPath\File1.txt","C:\LocalPath\File2.txt","C:\LocalPath\File3.txt")

    ForEach ($File in $Files)
    {
        Copy-Item -Path $File -Destination \\NetworkPath
        Write-Output "$File copied."
        Checkpoint-Workflow
    }

    Write-Output "All files copied."
}

Because user name credentials are not persisted after you call the Suspend-Workflow activity or after the last checkpoint, you need to set the credentials to null and then retrieve them again from the asset store after Suspend-Workflow or checkpoint is called. Otherwise, you might receive the following error message: The workflow job cannot be resumed, either because persistence data could not be saved completely, or saved persistence data has been corrupted. You must restart the workflow.

The following same code demonstrates how to handle this situation in your PowerShell Workflow runbooks.

workflow CreateTestVms
{
    $Cred = Get-AzAutomationCredential -Name "MyCredential"
    $null = Connect-AzAccount -Credential $Cred

    $VmsToCreate = Get-AzAutomationVariable -Name "VmsToCreate"

    foreach ($VmName in $VmsToCreate)
        {
        # Do work first to create the VM (code not shown)

        # Now add the VM
        New-AzVM -VM $Vm -Location "WestUs" -ResourceGroupName "ResourceGroup01"

        # Checkpoint so that VM creation is not repeated if workflow suspends
        $Cred = $null
        Checkpoint-Workflow
        $Cred = Get-AzAutomationCredential -Name "MyCredential"
        $null = Connect-AzAccount -Credential $Cred
        }
}

Note

For non-graphical PowerShell runbooks, Add-AzAccount and Add-AzureRMAccount are aliases for Connect-AzAccount. You can use these cmdlets or you can update your modules in your Automation account to the latest versions. You might need to update your modules even if you have just created a new Automation account. Use of these cmdlets is not required if you are authenticating using a Run As account configured with a service principal.

For more information about checkpoints, see Adding Checkpoints to a Script Workflow.

Next steps