/ Computer Science Department

Working with Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)

WSL is a way that you can run Linux distributions under Windows without dual-booting or running virtualization software like VMWare or Virtual Box.

Importing a Distribution

You will use WSL in several upper-level Computer Science classes. Most of them will provide a custom Linux image for you to use in class. Follow these steps to import an image provided by your instructor. Or watch a 2-minute video if you prefer (opens in a new tab).

  1. Start a Windows command prompt by searching for cmd.
  2. Locate the file containing the Linux image; usually this will be in your courses' folder in the Computer Science Students Google Shared Drive.
  3. Pick a location where you'd like to store the files for the image. Don't store the files on Google Drive, Drop Box, OneDrive, or any other cloud-based file system

    If you're not sure, you can use %USERPROFILE%\Documents\CSCIXXX, where XXX is your course number.
  4. Execute the following command:
    wsl --import Distro VMPATH  FILE
    • Distro is the name you'd like to give the distribution (e.g. CSCI361)
    • VMPATH is the folder you chose to store the files for the image
    • FILE is the name of the file containing the image

Note this could take 5–10 minutes depending on the speed of your computer.

Starting and using a Distribution

The best way to run your distribution is via the Windows Terminal application. Terminal provides a tabbed interface, allowing you to have several concurrent sessions without having lots of windows open.

Terminal will start either a Command Prompt or PowerShell instance by default. You can easily change that by pressing Ctrl - Comma to open the settings page, and then changing the Default Profile.

Usually your instructor will have created a non-root account for you to use, but will have given that user sudo privileges to allow you install new software as needed.

Watch this four-minute video to get a tour of the WSL filesystem and learn how to edit code using Visual Studio Code.

For more information
You can learn more about WSL by browing Microsoft's WSL documentation  (opens in a new tab).