WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux) lets you run Linux seemlessly on Windows.

Read Carefully!

  1. Run Windows Update and reboot before attempting to install WSL.
  2. You will be prompted to give the installer Admin access.
    WSL is an exception to our "no sudo" rule.
  3. You must run the installer again, after a Restart.
    WSL 2 must be installed after WSL 1.

Since WSL 2 is not compatible with all system, WSL 1 is the default.

Cheat Sheet

WSL lets you run Linux seemlessly on Windows.

The Windows Subsystem for Linux has two modes:

  • WSL 1 - a Windows Kernel syscall wrapper (similar to WINE)
  • WSL 2 - a true Linux Kernel run with Hyper-V virtualization

Each mode has its tradeoffs, but the main differences are that WSL 1 has better compatibility with inexpensive laptops and better seemless integration with the Windows file system and that WSL 2 can run certain low-level software (such as for networking and virtual file systems) that WSL 1 cannot.

Once installed, Ubuntu Linux 20.04 will be available from the Windows Start Menu.

You can use the wsl command to start Ubuntu Linux with the wsl command, but only after clicking on it in the Windows Start Menu to add a username and password.

  • Username: We recommend app as the username (this is a common convention)
    • The root (admin) account always exists, no matter what username you pick
  • Password: You can change the password at any time:
    • For app: wsl -u root passwd app
    • For root: wsl -u root passwd

How to Launch Linux

How to launch the default Linux:


How to launch a specific Linux distribution with -d:

wsl.exe --list --verbose
wsl.exe -d Ubuntu-20.04

Note: Linux is NOT AVAILABLE until you complete the installation and create a username and password.

How to Set or Reset Linux Password

To reset the root password:

wsl -d Ubuntu-20.04 -u root passwd

To reset the app user's password:

wsl -d Ubuntu-20.04 -u root passwd app

How to Run a Single Linux Command

Assuming you want to run ls ~/ as the default user:

wsl -- ls ~/

Assuming your username is app and you wanted to run ls:

wsl -d Ubuntu-20.04 -u app -- ls ~/

How to Switch Between WSL 1 and WSL 2

Despite the name, WSL 2 is neither a "better" version of nor a replacement for WSL 1. Rather WSL 1 uses a syscall wrapper (much like WINE) whereas WSL 2 uses Hyper-V virtualization.

You can start a Linux install in either mode and switch between the two as desired.

Either by setting the per Linux install:

wsl --list --verbose
wsl --set-version Ubuntu-20.04 1
# or
wsl --set-version Ubuntu-20.04 2

Or by setting the global default:

wsl --set-default-version 1
# or
wsl --set-default-version 2

Note that you cannot set the mode before rebooting.

See also

How to Install WSL with PowerShell

  1. Install WSL 1 + parts of WSL 2

    # Install WSL 1
    dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux /all /norestart
    # Install VirtualMachinePlatform for WSL 2
    dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:VirtualMachinePlatform /all /norestart
  2. Install Ubuntu Linux

    # Install Ubunut Linux
    curl.exe -L -o Ubuntu_2004_x64.appx
    powershell Add-AppxPackage Ubuntu_2004_x64.appx
  3. Reboot

  4. Finish installing WSL 2 (copying the kernel twice for good measure)

    # Download and Install the WSL 2 Update (contains Microsoft Linux kernel)
    & curl.exe -f -o wsl_update_x64.msi ""
    powershell -Command "Start-Process msiexec -Wait -ArgumentList '/a ""wsl_update_x64.msi"" /quiet /qn TARGETDIR=""C:\Temp""'"
    Copy-Item -Path "$env:TEMP\System32\lxss" -Destination "C:\System32" -Recurse
    # Also install the WSL 2 update with a normal full install
    powershell -Command "Start-Process msiexec -Wait -ArgumentList '/i','wsl_update_x64.msi','/quiet','/qn'"
  5. Then click Ubuntu Linux in the start menu.

See also:

Errors: Feature Not Installed & Nested VMs

The most likely problem is that you're on a computer that does not support WSL 2 (or the necessary VT-x options have been disabled).

The simplest workaround is to switch back to WSL 1:

wsl --set-default-version 1
wsl --set-version Ubuntu-20.04 1

See also (errors section).



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