How to Edit a Text File in Windows PowerShell?

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Problem Formulation

Given is a text file, say my_text_file.txt. How to modify its content in your Windows PowerShell working directory?

I’ll start with the most direct method to solve this problem in 90% of cases and give a pure PowerShell method afterward.

By the way, you can learn all about becoming a PowerShell developer in this blog post.

Method 1: Using Notepad

The easiest way to edit a text file in PowerShell on your Windows machine is to run the command notepad.exe my_text_file.txt, or simply notepad my_text_file.txt, in your PowerShell terminal to open the text file with the visual editor Notepad.

notepad.exe my_text_file.txt

You can also skip the .exe prefix in most cases:

notepad my_text_file.txt

Now, you may ask:

💡 Is Notepad preinstalled in any Windows installation? The answer is: yes! Notepad is a generic text editor to create, open, and read plaintext files and it’s included with all Windows versions.

Here’s how that looks on my Win 10 machine:

When I type in the command notepad.exe my_text_file.txt, PowerShell starts the Notepad visual editor in a new window.

I can then edit the file and hit CTRL + S to save the new contents.

But what if you cannot open a text editor—e.g. if you’re logged into a remote server via SSH?

Method 2: Pure PowerShell Approach

If you cannot open Notepad or other visual editors for some reason, a simple way to overwrite a text file with built-in PowerShell tools is the following:

  • Run the command echo 'your new content' > my_text_file.txt to print the new content using echo and pipe the output into the text file my_text_file.txt using >.
  • Check the new content using the command cat my_text_file.txt.
PS C:\Users\xcent\Test> echo 'hello universe!' > .\my_text_file.txt
PS C:\Users\xcent\Test> cat .\my_text_file.txt
hello universe!

Here’s what this looks like on my computer where I changed my_text_file.txt to contain the text 'hello universe!':

This is a simple and straightforward approach for small changes. However, if you have a large file and you just want to edit some minor details, this is not the best way.

Method 3: Install and Use Nano Text Editor

If you need a full-fledged solution to edit, potentially large, files in your Windows PowerShell, you need to do a quick installation.

I recommend the widely use Nano text editor for Windows machines. Here’s how it looks generally:

You can install the Nano text editor using the following approach outlined here.

First, install Chocolatey, a Windows package management solution, on your computer. This makes sure that you install trustworthy software packages from trustworthy sources. Download the latest version here.

Second, run the following choco install command in your PowerShell to install the nano editor:

choco install nano -y

Now, you can open and edit your file in your PowerShell using this command:

nano my_text_file.txt

Method 4: If you SSH’d to a Unix Machine

Of course, if you have logged in a Unix-based machine, you don’t need to install any editor because it comes with powerful integrated editors such as vim or emacs.

One of the following three commands should open your file in a terminal-based editing mode:

vim my_text_file.txt
vi my_text_file.txt
emacs my_text_file.txt

You can learn more about Vim here.

Summary

To edit a file.txt in PowerShell, use the command notepad file.txt to open a graphical editor on Windows.

If you need a simple file edit in your terminal without a graphical editor and without installation, you can use the command echo 'new content' > file.txt that overwrites the old content in file.txt with new content.

If you need a more advanced terminal-based editing approach, install the Nano text editor and run nano file.txt to open the file in editing mode.

If you’re SSH’d into a Unix machine, running the Vim console-based editor may be the best idea. Use vim file.txt or vi file.txt to open it.

Where to Go From Here?

Enough theory. Let’s get some practice!

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