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Jim Frenette
Jim Frenette

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WSL ubuntu zsh nvm etc.

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) seems to be mature enough now to give it another shot. Copy and paste, and other simple annoyances that kept me away before are working better. Also, I've been reading that nvm (Node Version Manager) works now, so here goes.

The following has been tested on Windows 10 Professional (version 1709, build 16299.309) with WSL enabled and Ubuntu installed from the Windows Store. It's also working fine on the current May 2019 Update, version 1903.

Ubuntu Update

If it has been a while, first thing I like to do with the Ubuntu app is update and upgrade the ubuntu Linux packages. First update the package database with apt-get update, then upgrade with apt-get upgrade or apt-get dist-upgrade. I prefer apt-get dist-upgrade since it will remove obsolete packages and add new ones as needed.

Windows update does not change the WSL Ubuntu installation. To upgrade to a new release, run sudo do-release-upgrade in the Ubuntu Terminal.

Oh My Zsh

Oh My Zsh will spruce up your Ubuntu bash and add some additional functionality. Here is a screenshot of my Ubuntu app to illustrate.

WSL Ubuntu bash example oh-my-zsh cowsay etc.

Install Oh My Zsh just as you would on any other ubuntu system. Note that Zsh is a pre-requisite. For installation instructions and more information, visit

Your going to want to change the font to fix unknown character issues. I've installed the DejaVu Sans Mono for Powerline font available here.

WSL Ubuntu bash font properties

To set WSL Ubuntu bash with zsh as your integrated terminal in VS Code. Update your user settings file, e.g., %appdata%\Code\User\settings.json with the following.

"": "C:\\Windows\\System32\\bash.exe",
"": ["-c", "zsh"]


If you want to use your existing git and/or other ssh keys, copy them from their folder in Windows into a .ssh folder under ubuntu. For example,

cd ~/
mkdir .ssh

# navigate to Windows .ssh folder, e.g.,
cd ../mnt/c/Users/Gilfoyle/.ssh

# copy the keys into ubuntu .ssh folder
cp id_rsa ~/.ssh/
cp ~/.ssh/

# set permissions on the private key for github
chmod 600 ~/.ssh/id_rsa


nvm is a utility for installing and managing multiple versions of node.js.

Install as an Oh My ZSH! custom plugin by cloning zsh-nvm into your custom plugins repo.

cd ~/.oh-my-zsh/custom/plugins

git clone ~/.oh-my-zsh/custom/plugins/zsh-nvm

Then load as a plugin in your .zshrc profile. Note that plugins need to be added before is sourced. For example, here is a snippet from my .zshrc profile.

# Which plugins would you like to load? (plugins can be found in ~/.oh-my-zsh/plugins/*)
# Custom plugins may be added to ~/.oh-my-zsh/custom/plugins/
# Example format: plugins=(rails git textmate ruby lighthouse)
# Add wisely, as too many plugins slow down shell startup.


source $ZSH/

If you want to install Yarn, use apt-get install --no-install-recommends yarn. By default, Yarn installs nodejs as a system-wide dependency.

After updating your .zshrc profile to load the nvm plugin, close and re-open the Ubuntu app and to install nvm when the plugin is loaded for the first time.

One the install has completed, you can verify by running nvm which should output the nvm --help contents.

Install the latest LTS version of Node.js which at the time of this writing is version 8.11.1

# install node
nvm install 8.11.1  

If you want to upgrade npm, use nvm install-latest-npm.


Bash-Snippets collection of bash scripts.

apt-get install fortune

apt-get install cowsay

apt-get install htop


Mount a drive such as a USB flash drive formatted as FAT, ExFAT or NTFS. For example, a drive listed as F:\ in Windows would be mounted as follows.

mkdir /mnt/f
mount -t drvfs f: /mnt/f


Bind a custom mount for any drives you want to access. For example, the C drive. This is also required should you want to use Docker volume mount paths as described in this post by Nick Janetakis.

Windows 10 17.09

mkdir /c
mount --bind /mnt/c /c

# unmount
umount /mnt/c

Included in Windows 10 version 1803 (April 2018 Update) is support for WSL launch configuration. The /etc/wsl.conf file contains settings for drive mounting and network configuration. Read the Microsoft Developer blog post, Automatically Configuring WSL for more information on how to use wsl.conf

Windows 10 18.03 WSL Configuration File

Create the /etc/wsl.conf file and set root = / so you can access drives with /c or /e instead of /mnt/c and /mnt/e.

root = /
options = "metadata"

File System

If you want to browse the files using Windows Explorer and/or backup the root file system, the location of these files is in the hidden AppData folder. For example:


From Rich Turners blog post ...

Do not change Linux files using Windows apps and tools

More info available at WSL File System Support.


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