Reading the Event Log with Windows PowerShell

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Whether it’s an error report, a warning, or just an informational log, one of the most common places for Windows to write logging information is to the event logs. There are tons of reasons to open up Event Viewer and peruse the event logs. Some of the things I’ve had to do recently include:

  • Checking why a service failed to start at boot time.
  • Finding the last time a user logged into the computer and who it was.
  • Checking for errors after an unexpected restart.

Although Event Viewer is a handy tool, given today’s IT landscape, we should always be looking for more efficient ways to consume data sources like the event logs. That’s why we’re going to take a look at the Get-WinEvent cmdlet in PowerShell. This cmdlet is a powerful and flexible way of pulling data out of the event logs, both in interactive sessions and in scripts.

Get-WinEvent: The Basics

Before we get started, don’t forget to launch your PowerShell session as Administrator, since some of the logs (like Security) won’t be accessible otherwise.

Like any good PowerShell cmdlet, Get-WinEvent has excellent help, including fourteen different examples. We’re going to review a lot of the important points, but you can always use Get-Help Get-WinEvent -Online to bring the full help up in a browser window.

Without any parameters, Get-WinEvent returns information about every single event in the every single event log. To get to the specific events you want, you need to pass one or more parameters to filter the output. Here are the most common parameters of Get-WinEvent and what they do:

  • -LogName – Filters events in the specified log (think Application, Security, System, etc.).
  • -ProviderName – Filters events created by the specified provider (this is the Source column in Event Viewer).
  • -MaxEvents – Limits the number of events returned.
  • -Oldest – Sorts the events returned so that the oldest ones are first. By default, the newest, most recent events are first.

So, by using these basic parameters, we can build commands that do things like:

Get the last 10 events from the Application log.

Get-WinEvent -LogName Application -MaxEvents 10

Get the last 5 events logged by Outlook.

Get-WinEvent -ProviderName Outlook -MaxEvents 5

Get the oldest 50 events from the Application log.

Get-WinEvent -LogName Application -MaxEvents 50 -Oldest

Discovering

The event logs have grown up quite a bit since the days when Application, Security, and System were the only logs to look through. Now there are folders full of logs. How are you going to know how to reference those logs when you’re using Get-WinEvent? You use the -ListLog and -ListProvider parameters.

For example, consider the log that PowerShell Desired State Configuration (DSC) uses. In Event Viewer, that log is located under:

Applications and Services Logs\Microsoft\Windows\Desired State Configuration\Operational

If I pass that name to the LogName parameter of Get-WinEvent, I get an error. To find the name I need to use, I run the command:

Get-WinEvent -ListLog *PowerShell*

EventLog002

and see that there are a couple of options. Although there is one that mentions Desired State Configuration, it doesn’t sound like what I’m looking for. Let’s see if the name uses the abbreviation DSC.

Get-WinEvent -ListLog *DSC*
EventLog003

That looks like a much better fit. To be sure, you can always check the properties of a log in Event Viewer and look at the file name.

EventLog004

Bingo.

You can pass * to the -ListLog or -ListProvider parameters to get all logs or all providers.

Filtering

The commonly used parameters are great for doing basic filtering, but if you’re doing anything more complicated than a basic health, check you’re going to need a more powerful search. That’s where the -FilterHashtable parameter comes in.

First, a quick review of hash table syntax. A hash table can be specified on one line or on multiple lines. Both statements below produce the same hash table.

$Hashtable1 = @{Key = "Value"; Foo = "bar"; Bat = "baz"}

$Hashtable2 = @{
    Key = "Value"
    Foo = "bar"
    Bat = "baz"
}

When passing a hash table to the FilterHashtable parameter, here are some of the keys you may find useful.

  • LogName – Same as the -LogName parameter
  • ProviderName – Same as the ProviderName parameter
  • ID – Allows you to filter on the Event ID
  • Level – Allows you to filter on the severity of the entry (You have to pass a number: 4 = Informational, 3 = Warning, 2 = Error)
  • StartTime – Allows you to filter out events before a certain Date/Time
  • EndTime – Allows you to filter out events after a certain Date/Time (You can use StartTime and EndTime together)
  • UserID – Allows you to filter on the user that created the event

If this does not provide the level of granularity that you need, don’t forget that you can always pipe the results through Where-Object to further refine your results:

Get-WinEvent -FilterHashTable @{LogName = "Application"} -MaxEntries 50 | Where-Object -Property Message -Like "*success*"

Extracting Meaning

Running one of the commands above might produce output that looks like this:

EventLog001

but what Get-WinEvent actually returns are objects of type

[System.Diagnostics.Eventing.Reader.EventLogRecord]. PowerShell is being nice and picking just four common properties to show us, but there are more properties that we can access by storing the results to a variable or using a cmdlet like Select-Object, Format-Table, Format-List, or even Out-GridView.

Here are some of the properties you might find useful:

  • Id – Event ID
  • Level – Numeric representation of the event level
  • LevelDisplayName – Event level (Information, Error, Warning, etc.)
  • LogName – Log name (Application, Security, System, etc.)
  • MachineName – Name of the computer the event is from
  • Message – Full message of the event
  • ProviderName – Name of the provider (source) that wrote the event

You can also dig into the message data attached to the event. Event log messages are defined by the Event ID, so all events with the same Event ID have the same basic message. Messages can also have placeholders that get filled in with specific values for each instance of that Event ID. These fill-in-the-blank values are called “insertion strings,” and they can be very useful.

For example, let’s say I grabbed an event out of the Application log and stored it in a variable $x. If I just examine $x, I can see the full message of the event is “The session ‘183c457c-733c-445d-b5d6-f04fc9623c8b’ was disconnected”.

EventLog005

This is where things get interesting. Since Windows Vista, event logs have been stored in XML format. If you run (Get-WinEvent -ListLog Application).LogFilePath you’ll see the .evtx extension on the file. The EventLogRecord objects that Get-WinEvent returns have a ToXml method that I can use to get to the XML underneath the object; this is where the insertion string data is stored.

By converting the event to XML and looking at the insertion strings, I can get direct access to the value that was inserted into the message without having to parse the full message and extract it. Here is the code to do that:

($x.ToXml()).Event.EventData.Data

The ToXml method returns a string containing the XML, and putting the accelerator in front of it tells PowerShell to read that string and create an XML object from it. From there, I navigate the XML hierarchy to the place where the insertion string data is stored.

EventLog006

The messages for different Event IDs can have different numbers of insertion strings, and you may need to explore a little to figure out exactly how to pull the specific piece of data you’re looking for, but all events for a given Event ID will be consistent. The example above uses a simple event on purpose, but one example of how I’ve used this in my automation is when pulling logon events from the Security log. Event 4624, which records a successful logon, contains insertion strings for which user is logging on, what domain they belong to, what kind of authentication they used, and more.

Remote Computers

All the cool stuff we just covered above? You can do all of that on remote targets as well. There are two parameters you can use to have Get-WinEvent get values from a remote computer:

  • ComputerName – Lets you specify which computer to connect to remotely
  • Credential – Lets you specify a credential to use when connecting, in case your current session is not running under an account with the appropriate permissions.

Get-WinEvent does not use PSRemoting to get remote data; just the Event Log Service. This requires TCP port 135 and a dynamically chosen port above 1024 to be open in the firewall.

Putting It All Together

There is more to discover in using the Get-WinEvent cmdlet and the data that it returns but, hopefully, this introduction serves as a thorough foundation for accessing the event logs from PowerShell. These techniques for discovering, filtering, and extracting meaning from the event logs can be applied in an interactive PowerShell session or an automated script. They can also be used to read the event logs on your local machine or a remote target. It’s hard to know what data you will be searching for to meet your requirements until you are faced with them, but one thing is for sure: the event logs probably have at least some of the data you need, and now you know how to get it!

References

By | 2017-02-21T13:59:23+00:00 December 3rd, 2015|Programming|2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. thom schumacher December 3, 2015 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    I got asked a question how to collate between multiple machines for same type of stuff while I know you can put in a for each loop. what would be the downside of using get-eventlog?

    Get-EventLog -LogName Application -ComputerName
    server1,server2 -Newest 10 | select machinename, message

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