Executing individual PowerShell 2 commands using .NET 4

One of the many great things about PowerShell is that it can utilise the .NET framework directly and third party .NET libraries whenever PowerShell doesn’t offer a native solution. However, the PowerShell console, the Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) and PS-Remoting in PowerShell 2.0 are all built for use with .NET 2.0 through to .NET 3.5. With the release of version 4 of the .NET Framework though, there is an increasing amount of core functionality and third-party assemblies that are not accessible from PowerShell — the new Is64BitOperatingSystem property on the System.Environment class is a simple example.

So, given that .NET 4 has excellent support for being able to run most .NET 2 assemblies but PowerShell doesn’t have officially support for .NET 4 yet, how can we safely utilise new .NET 4 functionality from PowerShell without waiting for a new PowerShell release from Microsoft? A quick search of the web will reveal a few different approaches, each with their own major drawbacks:

  • Change the system-wide registry setting to load all .NET 2 assemblies under .NET 4 instead for all .NET applications.
  • Change the system-wide config files for the PowerShell console, ISE, and Remoting service to use .NET 4 instead for all PowerShell sessions.
  • Build a small .NET 4 application to host a PowerShell Runspace in-process as .NET 4.

These options are either have too wide an effect or vary too much from the standard PowerShell experience for me to adopt. What if there was a way, from inside a standard PowerShell 2 session to execute a single command, script block, or script under .NET 4 without touching any upfront configuration, without requiring elevated permissions, and without affecting anything else on the system?

This solution is available in the form of the new Activation Configuration Files feature also introduced in .NET Framework 4.0. By dynamically creating a small config file in a temporary directory then setting a process-scoped environment variable we can easily start a new .NET 4 PowerShell session passing in a ScriptBlock and some arguments and receive the same deserialized objects in return as you would see when using Remoting.

I’ve implemented my first version of this technique as a PowerShell script module available on Gist.GitHub. It includes an Invoke-CLR4PowerShellCommand Cmdlet which behaves just like a very simple version of the built-in Invoke-Command Cmdlet. The module also includes a Test-CLR4PowerShell function demonstrating basic use of the module.