PowerShell modules on VSTS build agents

How to install PowerShell modules on Visual Studio Team Services CI

Whenever possible I try to use hosted build agents for my Continuous Integration (CI) services like Gitlab CI or Appveyor and VSTS CI is no exception here. I do not want the, quite considerable, overhead of maintaining and managing my own build agents. Part of that would be to first build them, create a process to on demand deploy/scale, then register and then after a build destroy them. This does not give me any actual value, so I do not want it.
One downside of such hosted agents usually is that I will not get full access to the file system, unless I containerise my build, which I probably could, but then again, usually, what is the point?!
Builds for PowerShell more often than not have external dependencies that thankfully nowadays we can quite easily install through PowerShell’s PackageManagement module (Install-Module).

An example of such an installation could look like this:
Install-Module -Name Pester

When trying to run this as part of a VSTS CI build we will promptly be greeted with this error message:

Install-Module : Administrator rights are required to install modules in 'C:\Program Files\WindowsPowerShell\Modules'.
Log on to the computer with an account that has Administrator rights, and then try again, or install
'C:\Users\buildguest\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\Modules' by adding "-Scope CurrentUser" to your command. You can also
try running the Windows PowerShell session with elevated rights (Run as Administrator). 

We are not administrators on these hosted build agents (for good reasons) and as such we cannot install a PowerShell module into the AllUsers scope. Refer to the official documentation for the -Scope parameter: MSDN Install-Module

The correct way to install a PowerShell module is this:

Install-PackageProvider -Name NuGet -Force -Scope CurrentUser
Install-Module -Name Pester -Force -Verbose -Scope CurrentUser

The first step will install the nuget.exe into our user’s scope, and the second step installs the PowerShell module “Pester” into C:\Users\buildguest\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\Modules\Pester. For this we do not need administrative permissions and our build will continue beyond this step.

vsts_ci_success

Enjoy!

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