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Linux on Windows

codingoneswriters profile image Codingones Updated on ・7 min read

Linux On Windows

❓ Abstract

Not So Basic: Devenv is a series of tutorials in which we aim to have a nice, productive and portable development environment that takes the best of both worlds between Linux and Windows.

In this first tutorial "Linux On Windows" we do the groundwork to install:

  • WSL 2: an efficient system to install Linux distributions on your PC. Thus giving access to a Unix shell.
  • Docker Desktop: for local development environment, to avoid system-dependent configuration.
  • Windows Terminal: a productive, configurable and efficient terminal that plays well with WSL, multiple profiles and shells.

📝 Overview

To complete this tutorial, you need to:

Upgrade to Windows version 2004

⚠️ This step can take a long time (2h+) depending on your machine and connection. Do not attempt this if you have limited time.

Run winver to check Windows version.

If your Windows version is lower than 2004, go to Settings > Update & Security to update your system1. Repeat this step until your PC restarts with the right version2.

Enable WSL 2

Following Microsoft documentation, you need to enable the Windows Subsystem for Linux (Step 1) to do that, open PowerShell as administrator and run:

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux /all /norestart
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Then, you need to enable Virtual Machine feature (Step 3), run:

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:VirtualMachinePlatform /all /norestart
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Restart your machine to complete the WSL install and update to WSL 2.

Download the WSL2 Linux kernel update package for x64 machines. Run it as administrator (Step 4)3.

To set WSL 2 as your default version (Step 5), run the following command:

wsl --set-default-version 2
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Install a Linux distribution

WSL is ready to run Linux on your machine, now you can install your favorite distribution (Step 6)

Open the Microsoft Store, then search and install your desired Linux distribution.

When the installation4 ends5, you will be prompted to create your user and set your password.

Now you should be connected to your distribution with the user previously set6.

You can see the installed distributions and their name with:

wsl -l -v
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The default distribution is marked with a star, you can set a distribution as default with:

wsl --set-default <distro>
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To launch the default distro you can execute the wsl command.

To launch a specific distro:

wsl -d <distro>
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If you have a previously installed distribution using WSL 1 (VERSION is 1), you can upgrade it with:

wsl --set-version <distro> 2
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This operation may take a long time.

Install Docker Desktop

Following Docker documentation, download and install Docker Desktop

You need to activate Docker Desktop to your Linux distribution, to do that, open Docker Desktop dashboard from the Windows task bar hidden icons.

Go to Settings > Resources > WSL integration, activate WSL integration for your distribution, then click on Apply & Restart.

Install Windows Terminal

You may need a better terminal in order to have the full comfort of your Linux distribution, Windows terminal fits our requirements. You can Install the app from the Microsoft Store.

Once installed you can customize the settings, use this JSON schema to see all the available options. To open the setting file, click the downside arrow in the top bar then click on Settings (Ctrl,+).

To change the default shell profile, set the guid value of the profile you want as default in defaultProfile. Profiles guids can be found in the profiles section.

"defaultProfile": "{xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxx}",

To set your distribution home directory as the starting path instead of the Windows mount location, add ~ to the commandline entry on your distribution profile.

"profiles": [
    "list": [
            "name": "<distribution-name>",
            "source": "Windows.Terminal.Wsl",
            "commandline": "wsl.exe ~ -d <distribution-name>",
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Terminal settings and shell override.

⚠️ Windows terminal is a medium to interact with a shell. Some of the settings defined here might be overridden by the shell configuration.

Configuration samples

Color scheme

Override the default color scheme and set a name.

"schemes": [
        "name": "Gerbier",
        "background": "#111111",
        "foreground": "#C8C8C8",
        "black": "#C8C8C8",
        "blue": "#44637A",
        "brightBlack": "#7A7A7A",
        "brightBlue": "#6FA0C6",
        "brightCyan": "#76A394",
        "brightGreen": "#7CA661",
        "brightPurple": "#9090C0",
        "brightRed": "#B04646",
        "brightWhite": "#505050",
        "brightYellow": "#E8C273",
        "cyan": "#32464A",
        "green": "#425934",
        "purple": "#555573",
        "red": "#8A3737",
        "white": "#3C3C3C",
        "yellow": "#9C824D"
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Reference your color scheme by associating the name to the colorScheme property.

"profiles": [
    "list": [
            "colorScheme": "Gerbier",
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Custom keybindings example

        // Application-level Keys
        { "command": "closeWindow", "keys": "alt+f4" },
        { "command": "toggleFullscreen", "keys": "alt+enter" },
        { "command": "toggleFullscreen", "keys": "f11" },
        { "command": "toggleFocusMode" },
        { "command": "toggleAlwaysOnTop" },
        { "command": "openNewTabDropdown", "keys": "ctrl+shift+space" },
        { "command": "openSettings", "keys": "ctrl+," },
        { "command": { "action": "openSettings", "target": "defaultsFile" }, "keys": "ctrl+alt+," },
        { "command": "find", "keys": "ctrl+f" },
        { "command": "toggleRetroEffect" },
        { "command": "openTabColorPicker" },
        { "command": "commandPalette", "keys":"ctrl+shift+p" },

        // Tab Management
        // "command": "closeTab" is unbound by default.
        //   The closeTab command closes a tab without confirmation, even if it has multiple panes.
        { "command": "closeOtherTabs" },
        { "command": "closeTabsAfter" },
        { "command": "newTab", "keys": "ctrl+t" },
        { "command": "duplicateTab", "keys": "ctrl+d" },
        { "command": "nextTab", "keys": "ctrl+tab" },
        { "command": "prevTab", "keys": "ctrl+shift+tab" },

        // Pane Management
        { "command": "closePane", "keys": "ctrl+w" },
        { "command": { "action": "splitPane", "split": "horizontal" }, "keys": "alt+shift+-" },
        { "command": { "action": "splitPane", "split": "vertical" }, "keys": "alt+shift+plus" },
        { "command": { "action": "resizePane", "direction": "down" }, "keys": "alt+shift+down" },
        { "command": { "action": "resizePane", "direction": "left" }, "keys": "alt+shift+left" },
        { "command": { "action": "resizePane", "direction": "right" }, "keys": "alt+shift+right" },
        { "command": { "action": "resizePane", "direction": "up" }, "keys": "alt+shift+up" },
        { "command": { "action": "moveFocus", "direction": "down" }, "keys": "alt+down" },
        { "command": { "action": "moveFocus", "direction": "left" }, "keys": "alt+left" },
        { "command": { "action": "moveFocus", "direction": "right" }, "keys": "alt+right" },
        { "command": { "action": "moveFocus", "direction": "up" }, "keys": "alt+up" },

        // Clipboard Integration
        { "command": { "action": "copy", "singleLine": false }, "keys": "ctrl+c" },
        { "command": { "action": "copy", "singleLine": false }, "keys": "ctrl+insert" },
        { "command": "paste", "keys": "ctrl+v" },
        { "command": "paste", "keys": "shift+insert" },

        // Scrollback
        { "command": "scrollDown", "keys": "ctrl+down" },
        { "command": "scrollDownPage", "keys": "ctrl+pgdn" },
        { "command": "scrollUp", "keys": "ctrl+up" },
        { "command": "scrollUpPage", "keys": "ctrl+pgup" },

        // Visual Adjustments
        { "command": { "action": "adjustFontSize", "delta": 1 }, "keys": "ctrl+=" },
        { "command": { "action": "adjustFontSize", "delta": -1 }, "keys": "ctrl+-" },
        { "command": "resetFontSize", "keys": "ctrl+0" },

        // Other commands
            // Select color scheme...
            "name": { "key": "SetColorSchemeParentCommandName" },
            "commands": [
                    "iterateOn": "schemes",
                    "name": "${}",
                    "command": { "action": "setColorScheme", "colorScheme": "${}" }
            // New tab...
            "name": { "key": "NewTabParentCommandName" },
            "commands": [
                    "iterateOn": "profiles",
                    "icon": "${profile.icon}",
                    "name": "${}",
                    "command": { "action": "newTab", "profile": "${}" }
            // Split pane...
            "name": { "key": "SplitPaneParentCommandName" },
            "commands": [
                    "iterateOn": "profiles",
                    "icon": "${profile.icon}",
                    "name": "${}...",
                    "commands": [
                            "command": { "action": "splitPane", "profile": "${}", "split": "auto" }
                            "command": { "action": "splitPane", "profile": "${}", "split": "vertical" }
                            "command": { "action": "splitPane", "profile": "${}", "split": "horizontal" }
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Next article

In the next article A better shell with oh-my-zsh we will focus on customizing the shell.


Romain Cambonie
Marc Gavanier

References used

  1. To see the Windows version 2004 update you may have to click on Check online for updates from Microsoft Updates, just under the button Check for updates 

  2. If you already have docker desktop installed on your machine, you will be prompted with a message that invites you to use WSL 2 instead of HyperV. This will be addressed later in this tutorial. 

  3. If you cannot run wsl_update_x64.msi as administrator, the installation may end with the following error:
    This update only applies to machines with the Windows Subsystem for Linux
    To get around this problem, open PowerShell as administrator and run the installation via CLI. 

  4. You may need to press enter if you feel that the installation takes too long. Installs should typically take under a minute. 

  5. You may encounter the following error:
    Error: 0xc03a001a The requested operation could not be completed due to a virtual disk system limitation. Virtual hard disk files must be decompressed and unencrypted and must not be sparse.  

    To fix this error, go to $USER\AppData\Local\Packages, and find the package of the distribution (eg: CanonicalGroupLimited.Ubuntu20.04... ), open the folder properties General > Advanced, then uncheck Compress and Encrypt attributes.

  6. If you are connected as 'root' on your distribution, the installation failed somewhere, the easier option is to uninstall and reinstall. Run wsl --unregister <distro> Launch your distribution again from the Windows Store to restart the installation. 

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