What’s new in the Windows Subsystem for Linux on Windows 11?

Source: Windows headquarters

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) for Windows 11 has been updated with various new features and improvements, including support for Linux GUI apps, changes to make installing and updating the platform easier, file explorer integration, memory improvements, and more.

On Windows, WSL is the platform that allows you to run Linux distributions (like Ubuntu and Debian) with a lightweight virtual machine alongside Windows without having to set up a full virtual machine or configure a dual-boot system.

In this Windows 11 guide, we are going to show you the key changes that ship with the updated version of the Windows subsystem for Linux.

The new changes for the Windows subsystem for Linux

While this is still considered WSL version 2, there are many improvements to the experience including a new faster installation process, support for Linux graphical applications, file explorer integration, and more.

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Simplified installation

The WSL installation process has been significantly simplified under Windows 11. In the past, you first had to activate WSL 1 via the “Windows functions” interface, activate the virtualization platform and download an update for the kernel in order to switch to WSL 2. Starting with this new version, Microsoft implements two new commands, including the wsl --install and wsl --update to install and update the system faster.

In other words, if the Windows Subsystem for Linux isn’t set up on your computer, now you can wsl --install Command to install all components required to use Linux on Windows 11. The command configures the virtual machine’s platform, installs the WSL components, downloads the Windows subsystem for the Linux kernel, sets up Linux GUI app support, and installs Ubuntu from the original. After running the command, the only additional step is to restart your computer for the configuration to take effect.

Windows 11 WSL installationSource: Windows headquarters

It’s worth noting that the custom Linux kernel available in the Windows 11 system image has been removed and is now being downloaded from the Microsoft Store.

If you use that wsl --install Command with the --distribution Option you can also specify the distribution you want to download in case you don’t want to use Ubuntu as the default distribution.

You can always do that wsl --list --online Command to see all of the available distributions you can get on Windows 11.

There is also a new one wsl --update Command to check and install all updates available for the platform.

Although these commands are new in Windows 11, they are also available for Windows 10.

Linux GUI apps

Perhaps one of the most significant improvements in this update is support for Linux GUI apps. That basically means you can now install graphical applications and run them alongside Windows 11 applications.

Windows 11 WSL Linux GUI appsSource: Windows headquarters

Microsoft is rolling out this feature for developers to test their apps, but you can use it to run your favorite editors, tools, and programs. Support also comes with GPU-accelerated 3D graphics, as well as microphones and speakers, which means these components are available to apps when you install a media application.

Once you’ve set up the Windows subsystem for Linux using the install command, it will also set up an auto-running X server containing Wayland, Pulse Audio, and other components to make everything work. After closing the application and the WSL session, the system distribution will automatically shut down.

In addition, during the installation of the app, the system adds an entry in the start menu to start the program without entering the command in the console. Additionally, when you run an app, you’ll notice that the icon also has a Linux log in it, indicating that it is not a native Windows application.

When you run an application, you will find that the system renders the visuals as if it were installed on Linux. The app frame, menus, buttons and other events correspond, for example, to the graphical user interface of Linux. However, Windows does not render these visuals. Instead, you’ll see a remote desktop connection with the distribution the application is running on.

Attach and mount drives to distributions

In this updated version of the Windows Subsystem for Linux, it is also possible to mount and mount a drive to access Linux file systems that are not supported on Windows 11.

The process of mounting a drive is simple. You would open PowerShell and the wmic diskdrive list brief to determine the hard drive you want to mount and then (for example) the wsl --mount .physicaldrivepath --partition 1 The command mounts the first partition using the physical drive’s ext4 file system.

If you need to mount a different filesystem, use (for example) the wsl --mount .physicaldrivepath -t vfat Command to mount the file system as “fat”.

Once the drive is mounted, you can always access the file through File Explorer wsl.localhostdistronamemountpoint Command. (Of course, you’ll always need to update the commands with the information that suits your situation.)

File explorer with Linux integration

Also, the Windows subsystem for Linux is now better integrated with the File Explorer app. For example, the Windows 11 standard file manager now has a “Linux” entry in the navigation pane that gives you quick access to all distribution files.

File Explorer Linux IntegrationSource: Windows headquarters

In addition, the default path has been changed from wsl to wsl.localhost however, to improve performance and reliability, you can still use the original path to access the files.

Run commands at startup

The platform also includes a new option to run Linux commands during the startup of a distribution. To take advantage of this new functionality, however, you must have the /etc/wsl.config Configuration file by adding the “command” option in the “boot” section.

GPU computation

The WSL solution now also includes GPU computing, a new feature that enables the Linux binaries to leverage the GPU to perform more intense machine learning (ML) development and data science workflows.

More Windows resources

For more helpful articles, information, and answers to frequently asked questions about Windows 10 and Windows 11, see the following resources:

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