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Windows Subsystem for Linux
Other namesWSL
Initial releaseAugust 2, 2016; 7 years ago (2016-08-02)
Stable release
WSL 2 2.1.5 / March 12, 2024; 44 days ago (2024-03-12)[1]
Preview release
WSL 2 2.1.3 / February 20, 2024; 2 months ago (2024-02-20)[2]
Operating systemWindows 10, Windows 10 LTSB/LTSC, Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2019, Windows 11, Windows Server 2022
PredecessorWindows Services for UNIX
TypeCompatibility layer, Virtualization
LicenseSubsystem: Proprietary commercial software;
Linux kernel: GNU GPLv2 (only) with some code under compatible GPL variants or under permissive licenses like BSD, MIT

Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is a feature of Microsoft Windows that allows developers to run a Linux environment without the need for a separate virtual machine or dual booting. There are two versions of WSL: WSL 1 and WSL 2. WSL is not available to all Windows 10 users by default. It can be installed either by joining the Windows Insider program or manually via Microsoft Store or Winget.[3]

WSL 1 was first released on August 2, 2016, and acts as a compatibility layer for running Linux binary executables (in ELF format) by implementing Linux system calls on the Windows kernel.[4] It is available on Windows 10, Windows 10 LTSB/LTSC, Windows 11,[5] Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2019 and Windows Server 2022.

In May 2019, WSL 2 was announced,[6] introducing important changes such as a real Linux kernel,[7] through a subset of Hyper-V features. WSL 2 differs from WSL 1 in that WSL 2 runs inside a managed virtual machine that implements the full Linux kernel. As a result, WSL 2 is compatible with more Linux binaries than WSL 1, as not all system calls were implemented in WSL 1. Since June 2019, WSL 2 is available to Windows 10 customers through the Windows Insider program, including the Home edition.[8]


Microsoft's first foray into achieving Unix-like compatibility on Windows began with the Microsoft POSIX Subsystem, superseded by Windows Services for UNIX via MKS/Interix, which was eventually deprecated with the release of Windows 8.1. The technology behind Windows Subsystem for Linux originated in the unreleased Project Astoria, which enabled some Android applications to run on Windows 10 Mobile.[9] It was first made available in Windows 10 Insider Preview build 14316.[10]

Whereas Microsoft's previous projects and the third-party Cygwin had focused on creating their own unique Unix-like environments based on the POSIX standard, WSL aims for native Linux compatibility. Instead of wrapping non-native functionality into Win32 system calls as Cygwin did, WSL's initial design (WSL 1) leveraged the NT kernel executive to serve Linux programs as special, isolated minimal processes (known as "pico processes") attached to kernel mode "pico providers" as dedicated system call and exception handlers distinct from that of a vanilla NT process, opting to reutilize existing NT implementations wherever possible.[11]

WSL beta was introduced in Windows 10 version 1607 (Anniversary Update) on August 2, 2016. Only Ubuntu (with Bash as the default shell) was supported. WSL beta was also called "Bash on Ubuntu on Windows" or "Bash on Windows". WSL was no longer beta in Windows 10 version 1709 (Fall Creators Update), released on October 17, 2017. Multiple Linux distributions could be installed and were available for install in the Windows Store.[12]

In 2017 Richard Stallman expressed fears that integrating Linux functionality into Windows will only hinder the development of free software, calling efforts like WSL "a step backward in the campaign for freedom."[13]

Though WSL (via this initial design) was much faster and arguably much more popular than the previous UNIX-on-Windows projects, Windows kernel engineers found difficulty in trying to increase WSL's performance and syscall compatibility by trying to reshape the existing NT kernel to recognize and operate correctly on Linux's API. At a Microsoft Ignite conference in 2018, Microsoft engineers gave a high-level overview of a new "lightweight" Hyper-V VM technology for containerization where a virtualized kernel could make direct use of NT primitives on the host.[14] In 2019, Microsoft announced a completely redesigned WSL architecture (WSL 2) using this lightweight VM technology hosting actual (customized) Linux kernel images, claiming full syscall compatibility.[7] Microsoft announced WSL 2 on May 6, 2019,[6] and it was shipped with Windows 10 version 2004.[15] It was also backported to Windows 10 version 1903 and 1909.[16]

GPU support for WSL 2 to run GPU-accelerated machine learning was introduced in Windows build 20150.[17] GUI support for WSL 2 to run Linux applications with graphical user interfaces (GUIs) was introduced in Windows build 21364.[18] Both of them are shipped in Windows 11.

In April 2021, Microsoft released a Windows 10 test build that also includes the ability to run Linux graphical user interface (GUI) apps using WSL 2 and CBL-Mariner.[19][18] The Windows Subsystem for Linux GUI (WSLg) was officially released at the Microsoft Build 2021 conference. It is included in Windows 10 Insider build 21364 or later.[20]

Microsoft introduced a Windows Store version of WSL on October 11, 2021, for Windows 11.[21] It reached version 1.0.0 on November 16, 2022 with added support for Windows 10.

Notable releases

WSL as a Windows component
Release / Feature Preview build Public build
WSL (Beta) (Bash on Ubuntu on Windows) Windows 10 build 14316 Windows 10 version 1607 (Anniversary Update)
WSL (no longer Beta) Windows 10 build 16251 Windows 10 version 1709 (Fall Creators Update)
WSL 2 (lightweight VM) Windows 10 build 18917 Windows 10 version 2004 (also backported to 1903 and 1909)
WSL 2 GPU support Windows 10 build 20150 Windows 11 (also Windows 10 21H2)
WSL 2 GUI support (WSLg) (last version) Windows 10 build 21364 Windows 11
WSL as a Windows Store app
Version Comment
0.47.1 First version
0.67.6 systemd support
1.0.0 Generally available; Windows 10 support


Bash running on Windows 10

WSL is available in Windows Server 2019 and in versions of Windows 10 from version 1607, though only in 64-bit versions.

Microsoft envisages WSL as "primarily a tool for developers – especially web developers and those who work on or with open source projects".[22] In September 2018, Microsoft said that "WSL requires fewer resources (CPU, memory, and storage) than a full virtual machine" (which prior to WSL was the most direct way to run Linux software in a Windows environment), while also allowing users to use Windows apps and Linux tools on the same set of files.[22]

The first release of WSL provides a Linux-compatible kernel interface developed by Microsoft, containing no Linux kernel code, which can then run the user space of a Linux distribution on top of it, such as Ubuntu,[23][24][25][26] openSUSE,[27] SUSE Linux Enterprise Server,[28][29][12] Debian[30] and Kali Linux.[31] Such a user space might contain a GNU Bash shell and command language, with native GNU command-line tools (sed, awk, etc.), programming-language interpreters (Ruby, Python, etc.), and even graphical applications (using an X11 server at the host side).[22]

The architecture was redesigned in WSL 2,[6] with a Linux kernel running in a lightweight virtual machine environment.


The wsl.exe command is used to manage distributions in the Windows Subsystem for Linux on the command-line. It can list available distributions, set a default distribution, and uninstall distributions.[32] The command can also be used to run Linux binaries from the Windows Command Prompt or Windows PowerShell.[33] wsl.exe replaces lxrun.exe which is deprecated as of Windows 10 1803 and later.[34]


Windows Subsystem for Linux GUI (WSLg) is built with the purpose of enabling support for running Linux GUI applications (X11 and Wayland) on Windows in a fully integrated desktop experience.[35] WSLg was officially released at the Microsoft Build 2021 conference and is included in Windows 10 Insider build 21364 or later.[20] However, with the introduction of Windows 11, WSLg is finally shipping with a production build of Windows, bringing support for both graphics and audio in WSL apps.[36] FreeRDP is used to encode all communications going from the RDP Server (in Weston) to the RDP Client (mstsc on Windows) according to the RDP protocol specifications.[37]

Prerequisites for running WSLg include:



Firefox for Linux running on WSL

LXSS Manager Service is the service in charge of interacting with the subsystem (through the drivers lxss.sys and lxcore.sys), and the way that Bash.exe (not to be confused with the Shells provided by the Linux distributions) launches the Linux processes, as well as handling the Linux system calls and the binary locks during their execution.[39] All Linux processes invoked by a particular user go into a "Linux Instance" (usually, the first invoked process is init). Once all the applications are closed, the instance is closed.

WSL 1's design featured no hardware emulation / virtualization (unlike other projects such as coLinux) and makes direct use of the host file system (through VolFS and DrvFS)[40] and some parts of the hardware, such as the network, which guarantees interoperability. Web servers for example, can be accessed through the same interfaces and IP addresses configured on the host, and shares the same restrictions on the use of ports that require administrative permissions, or ports already occupied by other applications.[41] There are certain locations (such as system folders) and configurations whose access/modification is restricted, even when running as root, with sudo from the shell. An instance with elevated privileges must be launched in order to get "sudo" to give real root privileges, and allow such access.[22]

WSL 1 is not capable of running all Linux software, such as 32-bit binaries,[42][43] or those that require specific Linux kernel services not implemented in WSL. Due to a lack of any "real" Linux kernel in WSL 1, kernel modules, such as device drivers, cannot be run. WSL 2, however, makes use of live virtualized Linux kernel instances. It is possible to run some graphical (GUI) applications (such as Mozilla Firefox) by installing an X11 server within the Windows (host) environment (such as VcXsrv or Xming),[44] although not without caveats, such as the lack of audio support (though this can be remedied by installing PulseAudio in Windows in a similar manner to X11) or hardware acceleration (resulting in poor graphics performance). Support for OpenCL and CUDA is also not being implemented currently, although planned for future releases.[45][46] Microsoft stated WSL was designed for the development of applications, and not for desktop computers or production servers, recommending the use of virtual machines (Hyper-V), Kubernetes, and Azure for those purposes.[22]

In benchmarks WSL 1's performance is often near native Linux Ubuntu, Debian, Intel Clear Linux or other Linux distributions. I/O is in some tests a bottleneck for WSL.[47][48][49] The redesigned WSL 2 backend is claimed by Microsoft to offer twenty-fold increases in speed on certain operations compared to that of WSL 1.[7] In June 2020, a benchmark with 173 tests with an AMD Threadripper 3970x shows good performance with WSL 2 (20H2) with 87% of the performance of native Ubuntu 20.04.0 LTS. This is an improvement over WSL 1, which has only 70% of the performance of native Ubuntu in this comparison. WSL 2 improves I/O performance, providing a near-native level.[50] A comparison of 69 tests with Intel i9 10900K in May 2020 shows nearly the same relative performance.[51] In December 2020, a benchmark with 43 tests with an AMD Ryzen 5900X shows good performance with WSL 2 (20H2) with 93% of the performance of native 20.04.1 LTS. This is an improvement over WSL 1, which has only 73% in this comparison.[52]


Synaptic package manager running on WSL

Version 2 introduces changes in the architecture. Microsoft has opted for virtualization through a highly optimized subset of Hyper-V features, in order to run the kernel and distributions (based upon the kernel), promising performance equivalent to WSL 1. For backward compatibility, developers do not need to change anything in their published distributions. WSL 2 settings can be tweaked by the WSL global configuration, contained in an INI file named .wslconfig in the User Profile folder.[53][54]

The distribution installation resides inside an ext4-formatted filesystem inside a virtual disk, and the host file system is transparently accessible through the 9P protocol,[55] similarly to other virtual machine technologies like QEMU.[56] For the users, Microsoft promised up to 20 times the read/write performance of WSL 1.[6] From Windows an IFS network redirector is provided for Linux guest file access using the UNC path prefix of \\wsl$.

WSL 2 requires Windows 11,[57] or Windows 10 version 1903 or higher, with Build 18362 or higher, for x64 systems, and Version 2004 or higher, with Build 19041 or higher, for ARM64 systems.[3]

WSL 2 on Windows 11 retains 95% of the performance of native Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.[58]

WSL 1 does not support IPv6 connections, whereas WSL 2 does.[59][60] IPv6 support in WSL 2 requires Windows 11 or newer.[61]

See also


  1. ^ "Release 2.1.5 · microsoft/WSL". GitHub. Retrieved 19 March 2024.
  2. ^ "Release 2.1.3 · microsoft/WSL". GitHub. Retrieved 19 March 2024.
  3. ^ a b pokhrel, bishal (27 December 2023). "Install WSL on Windows 10 or 11". Droid Crafts.
  4. ^ Leeks, Stuart (2020). Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL 2) Tips, Tricks, and Techniques: Maximise Productivity of Your Windows 10 Development Machine with Custom Workflows and Configurations. Birmingham: Packt Publishing. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-1-80056-352-0. OCLC 1202451000.
  5. ^ June 2021, Darren Allan 23 (23 June 2021). "Windows 11 could seamlessly run graphical Linux apps". TechRadar. Retrieved 29 June 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b c d Craig Loewen (6 May 2019). "Announcing WSL 2". Windows Command Line Tools For Developers.
  7. ^ a b c mscraigloewen. "About WSL 2".
  8. ^ "WSL 2 Post BUILD FAQ". Windows Command Line Tools For Developers. 14 May 2019.
  9. ^ Bright, Peter (6 April 2016). "Why Microsoft needed to make Windows run Linux software". Ars Technica. Condé Nast.
  10. ^ Aul, Gabe (6 April 2016). "Announcing Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 14316". Windows Experience Blog. Microsoft.
  11. ^ "Windows Subsystem for Linux Overview". Windows Subsystem for Linux. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  12. ^ a b "What's new in WSL in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update - Windows Command Line". Windows Command Line. 11 October 2017. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  13. ^ Heath, Nick (20 September 2017). "Will Microsoft love Linux to death? Shuttleworth and Stallman on whether Windows 10 is free software's friend". TechRepublic. Archived from the original on 1 December 2022. Retrieved 18 February 2022.
  14. ^ Microsoft Ignite (2 October 2018), OS internals: Technical deep-dive into operating system innovations - BRK3365, archived from the original on 9 November 2021, retrieved 7 May 2019
  15. ^ "WSL 2 will be generally available in Windows 10, version 2004 - Windows Command Line". Windows Command Line. 13 March 2020. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  16. ^ "WSL 2 Support is coming to Windows 10 Versions 1903 and 1909 - Windows Command Line". Windows Command Line. 20 August 2020. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  17. ^ "GPU accelerated ML training inside the Windows Subsystem for Linux - Windows Developer Blog". Windows Blog. 17 June 2020. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  18. ^ a b "The Initial Preview of GUI app support is now available for the Windows Subsystem for Linux - Windows Command Line". Windows Command Line. 21 April 2021.
  19. ^ Foley, Mary Jo (21 April 2021). "New Windows 10 test build adds first preview of Linux GUI apps on WSL". ZDNet. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  20. ^ a b Abrams, Lawrence (29 May 2021). "Hands on with WSLg: Running Linux GUI apps in Windows 10". Bleeping Computer. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  21. ^ "A preview of WSL in the Microsoft Store is now available! - Windows Command Line". Windows Command Line. 11 October 2021. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d e "Frequently Asked Questions for WSL". Microsoft. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
  23. ^ Harsh, Mike (30 March 2016). "Run Bash on Ubuntu on Windows". Building Apps for Windows. Microsoft.
  24. ^ Finley, Klint (30 March 2016). "Why Microsoft Making Linux Apps Run on Windows Isn't Crazy". Wired. Condé Nast.
  25. ^ Kirkland, Dustin (30 March 2016). "Ubuntu on Windows – The Ubuntu Userspace for Windows Developers". Ubuntu Insights. Canonical.
  26. ^ Hammons, Jack (9 April 2016). "Bash on Ubuntu on Windows". MSDN. Microsoft.
  27. ^ Get openSUSE Leap 42 - Microsoft Store
  28. ^ Get SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12 - Microsoft Store
  29. ^ Yegulalp, Serdar (12 May 2017). "Windows Subsystem for Linux welcomes Suse and Fedora options". InfoWorld. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  30. ^ "Debian GNU/Linux for WSL now available in the Windows Store". Windows Command Line Tools For Developers. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  31. ^ "Kali Linux in the Windows App Store". Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  32. ^ Manage and configure Windows Subsystem for Linux
  33. ^ Windows Subsystem for Linux interoperability with Windows
  34. ^ Command Reference for Windows Subsystem for Linux
  35. ^ a b c Welcome to WSLg, Microsoft, 7 November 2021, retrieved 7 November 2021
  36. ^ Salter, Jim (7 October 2021). "The best part of Windows 11 is a revamped Windows Subsystem for Linux". Ars Technica. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  37. ^ "Installing WSLg". GitHub. 27 April 2022. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  38. ^ "Clarify Windows 10 vs 11 and build numbers (#485) · microsoft/wslg@5ddd8d2". GitHub. Retrieved 28 May 2022.
  39. ^ Jack Hammons (22 April 2016). "Windows Subsystem for Linux Overview". Windows Subsystem for Linux blog on MSDN.
  40. ^ Jack Hammons (15 June 2016). "WSL File System Support". Windows Subsystem for Linux blog on MSDN.
  41. ^ Jack Hammons (8 November 2016). "WSL Networking". Windows Subsystem for Linux blog on MSDN.
  42. ^ "Please enable WSL to run 32 bit ELF binaries". Windows Developer feedback (Microsoft/UserVoice). Archived from the original on 23 August 2019. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  43. ^ "Support for 32-bit i386 ELF binaries". GitHub.
  44. ^ "Windows 10's Bash shell can run graphical Linux applications with this trick". PC World. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
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  47. ^ "Windows Subsystem for Linux". Phoronix.
  48. ^ Larabel, Michael (12 October 2018). "A Look At The Windows 10 October 2018 Update Performance With WSL". Phoronix.
  49. ^ Larabel, Michael (5 November 2018). "The WSL Improvements In The Windows 10 October 2018 Update". Phoronix.
  50. ^ Larabel, Michael (24 June 2020). "Ubuntu 20.04 vs. Windows 10 WSL/WSL2 Performance In 170+ Benchmarks". Phoronix.
  51. ^ Larabel, Michael (17 June 2020). "Windows 10 May 2020 Performance For WSL vs. WSL2". Phoronix.
  52. ^ Larabel, Michael (16 December 2020). "Windows Subsystem For Linux / WSL2 Performance With The AMD Ryzen 9 5900X". Phoronix.
  53. ^ Loewen, Craig (26 July 2019). "What's new for WSL in Insiders Preview Build 18945". Microsoft devblog. Archived from the original on 26 July 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2019. In this new update we've added the ability to start using global config options for WSL. These options are targeted towards power users who want to further customize their WSL experience.
  54. ^ Hillis, Ben (25 July 2019). "MicrosoftDocs/WSL | Build 18947". GitHub. Archived from the original on 26 July 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
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Further reading