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Run Debian in Windows 10 with WSL 2

guinuxbr profile image Guilherme L. Leite Marques Originally published at guinuxbr.com ・4 min read

We use Windows in our workstations at my current job (it was not my choice πŸ™Š), but there is a lot of tasks that are easier to do in a Linux environment. Some days ago I needed to manipulate a huge CSV and just thought: "This would be a lot simple with cat, grep, sort, etc.".

So, I remember that I have read something about running Linux inside Windows using WSL and, well, why not give a try?

Setting up the environment

Some considerations:

  • WSL 2 is only available in Windows 10, Version 2004, Build 19041 or higher. Check your Windows version by selecting the Windows logo key + R, type winver, select OK.
  • All Windows commands should be typed in a PowerShell session with administrative privileges unless otherwise specified (right-click in the PowerShell icon and choose "Run as administrator").

Here we go! Since I'm a command-line lover and do not have a Microsoft account to access Microsoft Store, I'll do this from there as much as possible. First, let's install a decent terminal emulator and Microsoft is doing a good job with Windows Terminal. I have downloaded v1.1.2021.0 and renamed it to WindowsTerminal.msixbundle. This is the latest version at the time of writing. The installation is pretty straight forward, just open a PowerShell instance, navigate to the directory where the executable was downloaded and type:

.\WindowsTerminal.msixbundle

Now, click in Instal and wait a few seconds to the windows of Windows Terminal show up. Close this window for now, we need to open it as Administrator soon.

The next step is to enable WSL. Use the same method stated at the top of the article to launch an instance of Windows Terminal with administrative privileges (damn, I wish that there was a "sudo" for this. Maybe Microsoft can launch an "addo" πŸ™ƒ). Observe that should have a "PS" before your prompt, this indicates that you are in a PowerShell session. Now type:

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux /all /norestart

The 'Virtual Machine Platform' is needed to run WSL 2. To enable it, just type:

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:VirtualMachinePlatform /all /norestart

You should see "The operation completed successfully." to both commands. Now reboot your computer.

Once rebooted, open Windows Terminal again and set WSL2 as default:

wsl --set-default-version

If you already have a distribution installed and like to convert it to use WSL2, this is possible. First, check the current status.

wsl --list --verbose

The above command will show a list of installed distributions separated by NAME, STATE, and VERSION. For instance, if you have an Ubuntu installation that is running at version 1 you can type:

wsl --set-version Ubuntu 2

You also can revert it to WSL 1 if you are not satisfied with the result, just change the version number.

Download and installation

Now it is time to download the distribution that you wish to install. I chose Debian because it is very light and stable. Since Windows 10 Spring 2018 Update, curl.exe is present, so let's use it.

curl.exe -L -o debian.appx https://aka.ms/wsl-debian-gnulinux

The installation step is also quite simple.

Add-AppxPackage .\debian.appx

A strange progress bar will be displayed. Once it disappears, it is done. Now Debian should be available in your applications menu, but don't click there, use the Windows Terminal do open a Debian session. On the right side of the tab, there is an arrow that hides all the possible sessions.
Clicking on Debian will lead you to the user configuration screen. Choose your username and password and you are done.

Configuration

Now, I recommend that you update installation:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

Verify the version of Debian that was installed.

cat /etc/os-release

For an unknown reason by me, the downloaded image was still the Stretch version of Debian. No problem, let's update it to Debian Buster. First, make a backup of your sources.list file.

sudo cp /etc/apt/sources.list /etc/apt/sources.list.bak

Now, replace every "stretch" entry with "buster". You can do this with nano or vi or directly with sed.

sudo sed -i 's/stretch/buster/g' /etc/apt/sources.list

Then update the system again.

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade && sudo apt full-upgrade

Now get rid of obsolete packages in your system.

sudo apt autoremove

Close the Debian tab and open another one to check if you have installed Debian Buster with success.

cat /etc/os-release

You should see something like the below:

PRETTY_NAME="Debian GNU/Linux 10 (buster)"
NAME="Debian GNU/Linux"
VERSION_ID="10"
VERSION="10 (buster)"
VERSION_CODENAME=buster
ID=debian
HOME_URL="https://www.debian.org/"
SUPPORT_URL="https://www.debian.org/support"
BUG_REPORT_URL="https://bugs.debian.org/"

Final considerations

For a better file system performance, make sure to store your Linux project files in the Linux file system (not the Windows file system).
It is probable that when you open a Debian session your prompt show something like: username@hostname:/mnt/c/Users/username$ This is why WSL exposes the Windows file system through mount points placed in /mnt like /mnt/c and /mnt/d just type cd ~ to go to your real home.

Not only the file system of Windows is exposed by WSL, but you can use Windows applications too, try to type explorer.exe . As you can see, Windows Explorer will open with the files of your current directory loaded.

That is it, everything is set up and ready to use.

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