Practical Use: Getting Values from XML Files

A number of applications we use in the organization have XML-based configuration files and occasionally the need arises to validate the settings from the configuration.  For example, we might want to verify that a user is pointed to the right server, or that a particular setting is set to X.  We could treat XML files the same way we would a typical text file, as seen here, but where’s the fun in that?

I’m not a PowerShell or XML guru, but what I’m going to cover below works for me and I can’t think of a reason it wouldn’t work for you.

To keep things simple, we’ll be working with a sample XML file provided by Microsoft.  Copy the XML content & paste into a new file, books.xml, & save it some place convenient.

Ingest An XML File

In order to get started, you need to pull in the XML into a variable for further manipulation as such:

[xml]$XML = Get-Content "C:\Users\Julius\Downloads\books.xml"
# OR
$XML = [xml](Get-Content "C:\Users\Julius\Downloads\books.xml")

Six of one, half a dozen of another; whatever works for you.

If you type $XML you should see something to the effect of:


Browsing the Structure

Once your XML variable is populated, it’s time to walk the XML tree structure to find the key that contains the data you’re looking for; And in order to do that you have to know the tree structure.

Without going too deep into this

  • The first line is the XML prolog containing the version information
  • The second is the <catalog> and that is our root element or node
  • All of the <book> nodes are children of the root
  • Each <book> node has a number of children: author, title, genre, price, publish_date & description.

Keep in mind this is a pretty simple & basic XML example, so the structure doesn’t go too deep.  You may find that your application XML’s are several layers deep.

If I wanted to see all the books, I would use


Which would then list the books:



Locating the Right Data

If I wanted to find all books by written by authors Stefan Knorr and Eva Corets, I would use

$ | ? { $ -like &quot;*stefan&quot; }

$ | ? { $ -like &quot;Corets*&quot; }

That would quickly narrow the scope:


Getting Specific Values

To grab key bits of details from Stefan Knorr’s book I could do

$ | ? { $ -like &quot;*stefan&quot;} | select id,price,publish_date

# OR

$Node = $ | ? { $ -like &quot;*stefan&quot; }





I try to be as specific as possible when searching for data.


Function Get-XMLValue

This function is more of a framework as it depends squarely on the XML you’re working with and what you want to retrieve.  I recently had to verify a setting on a few hundred machines, so I used a modified version of this function to do the heavy lifting.

The function below is geared to return the book description when supplied the ID.

Function Get-XMLValue





        if(!(Test-Path -Path $XMLFile -PathType Leaf)) { return 2 }

                [xml]$XML = Get-Content $XMLFile

                $XMLPath = '$XML.' + $XMLTreePath
                $Return = @()
                Foreach($Node in (Invoke-Expression $XMLPath | ? { $_.$AnchorProperty -ieq &quot;$AnchorValue&quot; })) { $Return += $Node.$Property }

                if(-not $Return.count -gt 0) { Write-host &quot;ERROR: NO PROPERTY [$Property] FOUND BASED ON QUERY: [$AnchorProperty] = [$AnchorValue]&quot;; [int]$Return = 2 }
        Catch { Write-Warning &quot;ERROR RETRIEVING VALUE OR PROPERTY [$Property] BASED ON QUERY: [$AnchorProperty] = [$AnchorValue] FROM [$XMLFile]: $_&quot;; [int]$Return = $_ }
        return $Return

I couldn’t think of an elegant way to retrieve the values I wanted without specifying some qualifiers.  For instance, if I wanted the price of all Eva Corets books

  • The AnchorPrperty would be: author
  • The AnchorValue would be: Corets, Eva
  • The Property would be price

This way I’m certain to get the results I’m looking for.

Is there a better way?  Maybe.  This is what I came up with that met my need.


# These two work
Get-XMLValue -xmlFile &quot;C:\Users\Julius\Downloads\books.xml&quot; -value bk108
Get-XMLValue -xmlFile &quot;C:\Users\Julius\Downloads\books.xml&quot; -value bk107

# This deoesn't
Get-XMLValue -xmlFile &quot;C:\Users\Julius\Downloads\books.xml&quot; -value bk100

It may not be the most elegant solution but I’m hoping it’ll at least point you in the right direction should the need arise to get data from XML files.


Good Providence to you!


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