Linux on Windows is a reality, thanks to the partnership between Canonical (parent company of Ubuntu) and Microsoft.
When Microsoft’s CEO announced that the Bash shell was coming to Windows, several people couldn’t believe it. #BashOnWindows trended on Twitter for days; such was the impact of this news.
But Bash on Windows (or Windows Subsystem for Linux) was not available to everyone immediately. People had to install the Windows 10 technical preview to install Linux on Windows 10.
That's not the case anymore; it is pretty easy to install and use WSL now!
What is Bash on Windows?
Bash on Windows provides a Windows subsystem, and Linux runs atop it. It is not a virtual machine or an application like Cygwin. It is a complete Linux system inside Windows 10/11. It allows you to run the same Bash shell you find on Linux. You can run Linux commands inside Windows without installing a virtual machine or dual-boot Linux and Windows.
You install Linux inside Windows like a regular application. This is a good option if your main aim is to learn Linux/UNIX commands.
Check for System Compatibility
You must be running specific versions of Windows for the different features described in this article. Requirements necessary for a particular feature to work are described under its titles. To check your Windows version, search for about in the start menu.
Here, you can see the build of your PC, as shown in the screenshot below. Make sure it is matching with the respective requirements described under various sub-headings here in this article.
- You must be running Windows 10 version 1607 (the Anniversary update) or above.
- WSL only runs on 64-bit versions 32-bit versions are not supported.
Install Bash in Newer Windows 10 and 11
The good thing is that the latest set of upgrades, including the stable release of WSL v1.0 released from Windows, makes it easier to install Bash on Windows.
There are two ways you can go about it:
- You can get it in one click from Windows Store.
- Choose to use the command-line.
1. Install WSL Using the Microsoft Store
Launch the Microsoft Store and search for "Windows subsystem".
Install it, and you're done with the first step. Next, you have to install a Linux distribution.
So, if you try to open WSL, you will get to see a window informing you that no distribution is installed.
Similar to WSL, search for the distribution on Microsoft Store, and then install it.
For instance, I installed Ubuntu from the store as shown in the image below:
And, then proceed to "Open" it and it will automatically start installing. The procedure is same for any distribution you choose.
We then have to configure it, which is discussed right after installing it through the command line.
2. Install WSL and the default distribution using the command-line
In WSL, the default distribution is Ubuntu (which can be changed). To install, open Powershell as an administrator.
For this, search for Powershell in the start menu, right-click on Powershell and select Run as Administrator.
Inside Powershell, enter the following command to install WSL, along with all necessary features and the default distribution, that is, Ubuntu.
Once finished downloading and installing, you need to reboot to apply the changes.
Whether you installed WSL and Ubuntu using the Microsoft Store or the command line, you need to configure it.
Here's how it is done:
🛠️ Configure the newly installed Ubuntu
After rebooting, search for Ubuntu in Start Menu and open it.
It will ask you to enter a UNIX Username and Password. Enter these details and press enter key.
You will now be inside the terminal window of Ubuntu.
Once logged in, you need to update the installed Ubuntu. For this, enter the following commands one by one:
sudo apt update
sudo apt full-upgrade
After completing the update, you are good to go with Ubuntu in WSL.
Install Bash on Older Windows
If you have the minimum requirements mentioned in the beginning but are running an older Windows build, the previous method may not be supported. So there is a manual installation method.
Also, there are both WSL1 and WSL2 available. WSL2 offers some upgraded functionalities but has some minimum requirements to run:
- For x64 systems: Version 1903 or later, with Build 18362 or later.
- For ARM64 systems: Version 2004 or later, with Build 19041 or later.
So this brings us to two possibilities to install:
- Install Ubuntu with WSL1
- Install Ubuntu with WSL2
1. Install Ubuntu with WSL 1
This is a relatively simple procedure for those with a system incompatible with WSL2. First, you need to enable the Windows Subsystem for the Linux feature. This can be done through the command line. Open Powershell as an administrator and enter the following command:
dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux /all /norestart
Or, to do this via GUI, follow the steps below:
- Search for Windows Features in Start Menu.
- Turn on Windows Subsystem for the Linux feature.
- Reboot your system.
- Open the Windows store and search for the distribution of your choice to install.
Once installation is completed, open the Ubuntu app from the start menu. It will take a couple of seconds to install. You will be prompted to enter a username and password. Provide those credentials, and you are good to go with Ubuntu in WSL1.
2. Install Ubuntu with WSL 2
It is recommended to use WSL2 instead of WSL1 if you have support. To install Ubuntu with WSL2, you need to make sure that the Windows Subsystem for Linux feature is turned on. For this, as in the above case, execute the following command in an elevated Powershell:
dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux /all /norestart
Reboot the device once the command is completed.
After this, you need to enable the Virtual Machine Platform feature. Open the Powershell with admin privileges and enter the following command:
dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:VirtualMachinePlatform /all /norestart
Once again, restart the device to complete the WSL install and update to WSL 2.
If you are not sure about the device architecture, enter the command below in Powershell to get the type:
systeminfo | find "System Type"
When the file is downloaded, double-click on it and finish the installation of the Kernel update package.
Now, open PowerShell and run this command to set WSL 2 as the default version when installing a new Linux distribution:
wsl --set-default-version 2
Once WSL2 is set as the default version, you can now install the Linux distribution of your choice.
Go to Windows Store and install Ubuntu, as described in the earlier steps. and the rest of the procedure is already described above.
Enjoy Linux inside Windows.
🔧 Troubleshooting Tip 1
"The WSL optional component is not enabled. Please enable it and try again."
You may see an error like this when you try to run Linux inside Windows 10:
The WSL optional component is not enabled. Please enable it and try again.
See https://aka.ms/wslinstall for details.
Press any key to continue...
And when you press any key, the application closes immediately.
The reason here is that the Windows Subsystem for Linux is not enabled in your case. You should enable it as explained in this guide. You can do that even after you have installed Linux.
🔧 Troubleshooting Tip 2
Installation failed with error 0x80070003
This is because Windows Subsystem for Linux only runs on the system drive i.e. the C drive. You should ensure that when you download Linux from the Windows Store, it is stored and installed in the C Drive.
On Windows 10, go to Settings -> Storage -> More Storage Settings -> Where new content is saved: Change where new content is saved and select C Drive here.
On Windows 11, go to Settings -> System -> Storage -> Advanced storage settings -> Where new content is saved and select C Drive here.
🔧 Troubleshooting Tip 3
"Failed to attach disk Error"
Sometimes, this error will appear when we reinstall the Ubuntu in WSL.
In this case, open Powershell and run the following command:
wsl -l -v
This will list the installed Linux systems. Find the name of the system, that is throwing the error, in my case Ubuntu. Now run the following command:
wsl --unregister Ubuntu
You can restart the ubuntu app and it will run without any issues.
You can refer to more common troubleshooting methods from the official website.
Run GUI Apps On Windows Subsystem for Linux
The ability to run GUI apps on Windows Subsystem for Linux was introduced with the WSL 2 release in May 2020.
Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) with WSL2 now supports running Linux GUI applications (X11 and Wayland) on Windows in a fully integrated desktop experience. This allows you to install Linux applications and seamlessly integrate them into Windows desktop, including features like “pin to taskbar”.
Step 1: Enable/Update WSL 2
This procedure has been explained in the above section and you can refer to it.
Step 2: Download and Install Graphics drivers
To run GUI apps, you need to install appropriate graphics drivers. You can use the following link to download the drivers according to your provider.
Once installed, you are all done.
Step 3: Install some GUI Apps
Now, go to your Ubuntu app and install any GUI app using the APT package manager. You should note that running apps from other sources like flatpak are problematic within WSL.
For this article, I installed the Gedit text editor using the following command:
sudo apt install gedit -y
This will install several MB of packages including required libraries. Once completed, you can run the following command to start the GUI Gedit app in Windows.:
Similarly, you can install all the popular applications available to Linux, including Nautilus file manager, GIMP, etc. For more about running GUI applications in WSL, you can refer to the official documentation.
Install Linux Bash Shell on other older Windows 10
If you cannot get the Fall Creator’s update on Windows 10 for some reason, you can still install it if you have the Anniversary update of Windows 10. But here, you’ll have to enable developer mode. I still recommend upgrading to the Fall Creator’s update or the latest Windows 10 2004 version update though.
Press Windows Key + I to access Windows system settings. Here, go to Update & Security:
From the left side pane, choose “For developers.” You’ll see an option for “Developer mode.” Enable it.
Now search for Control Panel and in Control Panel, click on “Programs”:
In Programs, click “Turn Windows features on or off”:
When you do this, you’ll see several Windows features. Look for “Windows Subsystem for Linux” and enable it.
You’ll need to restart the system after doing this.
After restarting the computer, click the start button and search for “bash”.
When you run it for the first time, you’ll be given the option to download and install Ubuntu. You’ll be asked to create a username and password during this process. It will install an entire Ubuntu Linux system, so have patience as it will take some time in downloading and installing Linux on Windows.
Once this is done, go back to the Start menu and search for Ubuntu or Bash.
Now you have a command line version of Ubuntu Linux. You can use apt to install various command line tools in it.
💬 I hope you find this tutorial helpful for installing bash on Windows and experimenting with Linux GUI apps on Windows. No wonder WSL lets you play with Linux inside of Windows. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to ask.