Setting up Windows Subsytem for Linux

micahshute profile image Micah Shute Updated on ・8 min read

I am relatively new in the world of programming, and I have decided to document new concepts and other things that took me a while to figure out - not only to solidify my learning but to help others who may be trying to learn or accomplish the same things.

I set up Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) using a conglomerate of different blogs and resources, with varying levels of being out of date. I did not come across one that was recent and had all I needed in it, so hopefully this can serve that purpose for someone.

Setting up Windows Subsystem for Linux for Development

It is no longer necessary to enable developer mode for Windows Subsystem Linux to work

Getting Windows Ready

1) Make sure you are running Windows 10. Windows Subsystem Linux (WSL) is not automatically enabled on windows. So, to start off, we need to enable it!

a) Go to your Windows Search bar and type in turn windows features on or off

b) Click on the result that matches your query. It will be in your Control Panel. You should see something like this:

toggle windows features

c) Scroll down until you see "Windows Subsystem for Linux" - ensure its box is checked!

wsl checkbox

2) Restart your computer

3) Check your Windows 10 version by going to System Information and checking your Version. If your build is earlier than 16215, skip step 4 and proceed to step 5.

windows version

4) Open up Microsoft Store. Search for "Ubuntu"

a) Choose "Ubuntu" (I didn't use 16.04 or 18.04 LTS)

ubuntu choice in microsoft store

5) If you run into errors or if you have an early version of Windows 10, see further information here

6) Open up the Ubuntu app. Follow the prompts, which will include making a username and password. Don't forget your password!

Note: if you get an error at this step that says Windows Subsystem for Linux has no installed distributions. Distributions can be installed by visiting the Windows Store: https://aka.ms/wslstore Press any key to continue..., try manually starting or restarting LxssManager in your Services Desktop App (just search services in your windows search bar). In the L section, you can right-click LxssManager and choose Restart or Start.

Start Outfitting your new Linux Subsystem: RVM / Ruby, git, NodeJS, and Rails

1) Once everything is set up, we can start setting up our system! Start off by running the following to download our dependencies:

sudo apt-get update    
sudo apt-get install git-core curl zlib1g-dev build-essential libssl-dev libreadline-dev libyaml-dev libsqlite3-dev sqlite3 libxml2-dev libxslt1-dev libcurl4-openssl-dev software-properties-common libffi-dev libpq-dev libgdbm-dev libncurses5-dev automake libtool bison gnupg postgresql postgresql-contrib

2) Install RVM by running:

    gpg --keyserver hkp://keys.gnupg.net --recv-keys 409B6B1796C275462A1703113804BB82D39DC0E3 7D2BAF1CF37B13E2069D6956105BD0E739499BDB  

followed by

   \curl -sSL https://get.rvm.io | bash -s stable --ruby  

and finally

   source ~/.rvm/scripts/rvm  

3) Let's install the bundler gem:

    gem install bundler  

4) And set up git:

    git config --global color.ui true     

For the next few commands, make sure to input your specific information:

    git config --global user.name "your_name"
    git config --global user.email "your_email@example.com"    

You can either communicate with your remote repositories via HTTPS or SSH. If you want to use SSH (which means you will not have to authenticate with your GitHub username and password before each push) - follow these instructions.

5) Now let's get NodeJS installed, and then Rails so we can make a bunch of stuff!

  • First, nodejs:

    curl -sL https://deb.nodesource.com/setup_10.x | sudo -E bash -
    sudo apt-get install -y nodejs  
  • Next, Ruby on Rails:

    gem install rails

Choose your programming editor: VSCode

You can use any editor you want, but I am going to be walking through setting up VSCode.

1) Download VSCode here. Choose the Windows download, not the Linux download. Any required Linux downloads will be done via the Ubuntu terminal, and everything else should be downloaded for your Windows OS.

2) To configure your Ubuntu terminal to be available in VSCode:

  • open up VSCode
  • open the Command Palette via F1 or Ctrl+Shift+p
  • begin typing the following: Terminal: Select Default Shell until you see it. Select that option.

    command palette

  • Once you select it, a few options will pop up. You want to select WSL

    WSL Terminal

3) Now, you can use your Ubuntu terminal in VSCode. Select "New Terminal" in the "Terminal" drop-down, or type Ctrl+Shift+` in order to use it!

4) Additional User Settings:

  • You can add a few things to your User Settings to customize and improve your programming experience. Most importantly, we can make VSCode treat .erb files like .html files, allowing us to use all the same shortcuts and get the same syntax highlighting.
  • To open up user settings, again open up the Command Palette using F1 or Ctr+Shift+p and type Preferences: Open Settings (JSON) Preferences - settings
  • You will see a screen like this: Preferences - settings
  • To have your erb files treated like html, add the following to your user settings (circled above):

        "emmet.includeLanguages": {
            "erb": "html"
  • Some optional personal preferences that I like:

        "window.zoomLevel": -1,
        "editor.acceptSuggestionOnEnter": false,
        "editor.fontSize": 11,
        "editor.fontFamily": "Hack, Consolas, 'Courier New', monospace",
  • Note that for the Hack font to be usable, you have to download it. You can check it out here.

Important Knowledge: Basic Use

Your terminal is actually accessing an Ubuntu Virtual Machine which is running inside of your Windows OS. If you ever cd in your terminal, you will be sent to the 'user home' of your Linux VM. That is also the default location you will be in when you open your Ubuntu app. You actually want to do all of your business inside of your normal Windows file space, not your Linux VM file space. So, you will need to know how to navigate in your terminal from your Ubuntu file system to your Windows file system. This is pretty simple if you understand how the system is set up, so let's go over that quickly.

To allow you to access the functionality of a Linux machine, Windows stores the Ubuntu OS and file system inside of its own file system. You should NEVER access your Ubuntu files via your Windows machine. What you SHOULD do is save everything you are working on in your normal Windows file space, and access that via your Ubuntu terminal. So, how do you do that? Well, from the Ubuntu's point of view, it is just a normal Linux machine, but Microsoft has made a pathway between the Linux VM and your Windows OS via the /mnt directory in your Ubuntu's root.

Here is a quick visual of what the first few levels of any Linux file system look like:

linux file system

As you can see, the mnt directory is made for other filesystems, so that is where Microsoft connected your Linux to your Windows machine:

linux file system

So, you can get there from your starting point by typing:

cd /mnt/c/users/your_windows_username


cd ../../mnt/c/users/your_windows_username

If you put either of those lines as an alias in your .bashrc file (found in /home/your_linux_username/.bashrc) you can quickly move into your windows home directory (in the example below by just typing home into your terminal):

alias home="cd /mnt/c/users/your_windows_username"

You can easily change your .bashrc file by navigating to your Linux home (by running just cd) and typing:

nano .bashrc  

You are going to want to backup your .bashrc file first though so you don't mess it up. You can do that by copying a backup using

cp .bashrc .bashrc.bak  

You save a file you have modified in nano by following the directions at the bottom of the screen: click Ctrl+X and then y and then Enter to save your changes.

If you feel uncomfortable with these commands, check out the basic Linux commands link below in the resources.

Remember, put all of your stuff in your windows directories! That way, you have access to it via your Linux Terminal or your Windows OS, and your VSCode editor can open to the correct location when you use

code .

(if you are in your Linux file system, VSCode will open, but not to the right spot).

PostgreSQL Database Setup

Setting up PostgreSQL allows simple production-level database integration into a Rails project. This allows easy hosting on Heroku with only a little setup.

1) First, we want to Download PostgreSQL for Windows - download the Interactive Installer.
2) Once everything is downloaded and installed, you can verify proper operation by typing in your terminal

psql -p 5432 -h localhost -U postgres

once connection is verified, you can quit by typing


3) There are a few ways to do the next few steps but the easiest way is to use pgAdmin. Open up pgAdmin, which is a Graphical User Interface for PostgreSQL.

PGAdmin in start

  • This should open up pgAdmin in your browser. Start a server by right-clicking "PostgreSQL" and selecting "Connect Server"

PostgreSQL selection
PostgreSQL connect

  • Enter the password you defined during the download
  • Your PostgreSQL server is running, and can now be integrated into your projects.
  • You also want to set up a new user/role and password that you want to use with your rails app. Ensure you give your user/role all available permissions during setup.
  • During setup, ensure to fill out Name in the General tab, Password in the Definition tab, and enable all permissions in the Privileges tab.

create user

create user permissions


  • Make sure your server is connected and roles are configured as described above.
  • Make sure you are in a suitable directory (in your Windows file system space) and create a Rails app configured to use PostgreSQL:

    rails new my-first-app --database=postgresql

  • Now, let's configure our database.yml file to allow our app to connect to our database. Add the following to your config/database.yml file under BOTH development: and test: You will need to add a user and password which will correspond to the roles we created in pgAdmin.

    host: localhost
    user: your-postgres-username
    password: your-postgres-usernames-password
  • We can now test our database and rails interoperability by first setting up some architecture in our app:

    rails g scaffold Post title:string body:text
  • now create and migrate a database:

    rake db:create
    rake db:migrate  
  • If these fail, ensure you have added your database.yml configurations under both the development AND test sections

  • Now, start a server:

    rails s  
  • If you navigate to localhost:3000 you should see that we are on Rails!

on Rails

  • Let's test our database by going to 'localhost:3000/posts'


  • Now just follow the crud links and try to make a post! We should be seeing our database working great with our rails app!

database works

  • Hopefully, everything is working for you! Now you're ready to develop using WSL!


Microsoft Documentation: Windows Subsystem for Linux

Setting up a SSH Key with GitHub

Basic Linux Commands


Editor guide
davecranwell profile image
Dave Cranwell

How is WSL with inotify events these days? I last tried it (like you, piecing it together from a half-dozen inaccurate blogs) about a year ago and was unimpressed.

It's great in principal to be able to run Node and a modern front end stack on the virtual machine, and edit files from windows in VSC. But if saving a file in VSC doesn't notify the Node tasks on WSL that anything has happened, that's basically 90% of the fluidity of any node-based workflow down the toilet.

micahshute profile image
Micah Shute Author

So I only set this up myself a week or so ago, and my experience making apps is minimal - I am still very much learning more than doing. However, I was able to find this blog post by Microsoft confirming inotify support at the end of 2016, and the only github issues open that I could find were around the same timeframe and are now closed. From this evidence, I would guess it works well, but I'll be sure to keep this post up to date with any big issues I encounter.

mikeveerman profile image
Mike Veerman

Hi Micah!

For being "relatively new to the world of programming", you've compiled a nice overview on how to get started!

I've struggled a quite bit getting Docker to run and I have gotten into some ownership issues, but other than that, WSL looks like a promising path for development on Windows...

tux0r profile image

While this is a neat toy (and I seriously recommend anyone who's into that to install a Windows X server, like Xming or VcXsrv, to be able to run X11 applications on Windows), it may be worth noting that RVM / Ruby, git, NodeJS, Rails, PostgreSQL etc. all have a native Windows version which will hog notably less RAM and CPU time, so you probably won't have an advantage from using the WSL for most development things.

(Unless you want to run an X-only text editor, of course.)

micahshute profile image
Micah Shute Author

That's interesting to hear! Like I said in my post, I'm pretty new in the programming world, so I'm definitely not an expert on the subject. The reason I set up WSL as opposed to downloading native Windows versions is because of the article in this Microsoft doc, which said that there are sometimes Windows-specific issues with gems and dependencies when using ruby or nodejs.

tux0r profile image

I haven't found any yet, but my number of Ruby applications (which I use, at least) is rather small.

nasrin profile image
Nasrin Shirali

Well. A few days ago I ran into a problem when trying to get things running. I was getting an error when running VScode and also some other applications...
I Found the guy developing vsCode from Github, found his Twitter, tweeted at him and asked him to answer my question on Stackoverflow ( I'm a weird stalker! I know 😅)
Have a look at his answer, it might be helpful to you as well


micahshute profile image
Micah Shute Author

Thanks! I downloaded the Windows VSCode, so I didn't run into that problem. It works great, and code . works too if you are in your Windows file system!

mahmoudagamy profile image

Hi Michan!
Thank you for making it that easy I've been all over the internet to get all these info. everything is working fine on my laptop now.
I'm new to programming "Flatiron School" too, starting soon.
the school is asking for a Mac for the Bootcamp but I don't like/can't afford a Mac now. I have a high end Surface Book i7 16 512 dGPU which is amazing!

how is your experience going through the bootcamp using windows?
not sure if I should sell my surface and buy a Macbook pro?

micahshute profile image
Micah Shute Author

Hey man, I have a Mac and a Windows, both are working fine for me. I'm in the Rails section and haven't had any problems with my Windows using WSL. While testing this procedure I also started a React project and there were no obvious problems. There is a Flatiron beta cohort right now with a few students testing my setup to make sure it works through the whole curriculum, and if they don't hit any snags Flatiron is supposedly going to make using WSL an official supported environment. So, long story short I would say that while not "officially supported" by Flatiron, if you like your laptop and have WSL running on it with no problems, you should be fine and I don't see any reason you should sell it for a Mac.

mahmoudagamy profile image

Thank you so much!
I was just googling any good deals on Macs, now I can have some peace!
i did factory reset yesterday to have a clean windows and WSL, went through the steps here and everything looks great.

I'm starting tomorrow (will go with my surface) and I'll check with the instructors. will update in a reply here.

Thanks again
this was really helpful!

kb3dow profile image

I landed on your page trying to use VScode with WSL and git using ssh. I use git with the ssh-agent on WSL with no issues but am not able to use that along with VScode. Hoped to find something about that - but shall keep googling! Great article BTW.