Skip Navigation

Scott Spence

Windows Subsystem Linux Bootstrap 2020

15 min read
Hey! Thanks for stopping by! Just a word of warning, this post is almost 4 years old, . If there's technical information in here it's more than likely out of date.

Yo! It’s that time again!!

This is an opinionated guide on setting up a development environment for web development in widows that will use the requisite tools, Bash, Node, Git, VS Code etc…

Tl;Dr to the guide if you’re not interested in the preamble and how I got here.

I’ve been using Manjaro (Linux distribution) for a grand total of three months or so now; so now I’ve switched back to Windows 😂


Why not! 😜

I added another SSD to my PC so I have one with Linux and one with Windows, I’m giving Windows a good roll because of things like the XSplit VCam for a virtual camera background and OBS having Twitch integration, not directly related to web dev but I like to create content and the options in Windows are better than with Linux.

I have done a web development set up on Windows a couple of times in the past:

This time round it was just as confusing (for me) at the times before, so this is why I’m making notes for future Scott to refer to. 🔥

Advantages of Windows over Linux or macOS

I’m not going to get into a debate on the advantages of one platform over another.

I can be productive on all of them given the right tools and that’s fine with me. Consider it like building a project for a client, they really don’t care what framework you used to make it as long as it works and I feel the same about that with using Windows, Linux or macOS.

Why WSL?

So me saying that I do sound like a total hypocrite when what I am using for web dev on Windows is, in fact, Linux!

Windows Subsystem Linux 2 to be precise, I was really excited for this ever since seeing the announcement back in May 2019.

Dramatically improved file read performance up to a 3x improvement!

So what does WSL offer over using everything in Windows, I couldn’t say really, I think the developer experience (DX) in WSL offers a bit more than that of Windows.

I have become a lot more accustomed to doing my web dev in a Linux environment and I’m very comfortable using the terminal to get what needs doing, done.

If you already have a good set-up with Windows then there’s no need to change, I’m not here to convince you otherwise.


I did this from a fresh install of Windows 10 Pro, I followed the instructions from the Windows WSL Install docs.

You need to be on Windows version 1903 or higher, Build 18362 or higher.

If you don’t have Windows Pro you should be able to enable WSL 2 on Windows 10 home.

To check use the Windows run command Windows key + r (Win+r) and enter winver, you’ll get a dialogue with your machine details on it, I’m on version 2004 build 19041.

Install Ubuntu

Now is a good time to install a Linux distro from the ms store I’ll be using Ubuntu.

Use PowerShell as admin

The next couple of things are getting the computer ready to run WSL, open PowerShell as admin and enter some commands.

To open PowerShell as admin use Win+x then select Windows PowerShell (Admin) or press a on the keyboard.

dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux /all /norestart
dism.exe /online /enable-feature /featurename:VirtualMachinePlatform /all /norestart

Restart the machine.

Check the features are on

Now is a good time to check the features were enabled, open the Windows panel and search for ‘Turn Windows features on or off’ and check in the dialogue windows that the ‘Virtual Machine Platform’ and ‘Windows Subsystem for Linux’ are checked.

Check that you can open Ubuntu, open it from the Windows start panel.

If there’s a message along the lines of WSLRegisterDistribution failed with error: xxxx (which is what I got) then there’s more information on enabling some additional features for the WSL 2 kernel, run that.

Reboot again!

Check that you can open Ubuntu, again, it should start initialising.

Installing, this may take a few minutes…

Open PowerShell, as admin again and check for available distros.

The -l is to list what you have installed and the -v flag is for verbose, I thought it was the WSL version (1 or 2). 🤷‍♀️

wsl -l -v

Once Ubuntu has finished installing you’re prompted to add a user and password.

You’re good to go!

I like to update any packages that may need upgrading, I use the following snippet to do that:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade -y && sudo apt autoremove -y

The -y flag is to confirm ‘yes I want to update’ if you want to take a look before letting it do it’s thing then remove the -y flags.

This will only come into play if you want to have your configuration files for things like .gitconfig and .ssh in a shared location.

This allows file permissions to be persisted see this great explanation from Brian Turek detailing it.

I followed the documentation on the Microsoft docs to configure per distro launch settings with wsl.conf, my wsl.conf file looks like this:

# Enable extra metadata options by default
enabled = true
root = /windir/
options = "metadata,umask=22,fmask=11"
mountFsTab = false

You probably only need:

enabled = true
options = "metadata,umask=22,fmask=11"

With the first options I now have my root directory changed to /windir/ instead of the default /mnt/. Partly my fault for blindly following instructions on the internet!

There’s more detail on what the [automount] options are in this post on RIDICURIOUS.

You can edit the wsl.conf with:

nano /etc/wsl.conf


Now it’s time for me to start adding programs for use on my Windows machine, this is a fresh install so all I have installed is the pre-installed app that come with the installation media I created via the Windows media creation tool.

Anyways, to keep my packages in order I’m using Chocolatey the package manager for Windows.

Install for Chocolatey was again via an admin level PowerShell, the instructions can be found on the site under Get Started.

From the Chocolatey docs:

Run Get-ExecutionPolicy. If it returns Restricted, then run Set-ExecutionPolicy AllSigned or Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process

Which I did, then I run this:

Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol -bor 3072; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString(''))

So for me there are a few programs I need:

  • 7zip
  • bitwarden
  • discord
  • firefox-dev
  • hwmonitor
  • hyper
  • licecap
  • microsoft-edge-insider
  • obs-studio
  • vlc
  • vscode
  • WSLGit

To get that list I used this PowerShell command to list what I have installed:

choco list --local-only
# or
clist -l

The only ones on there to take note of really that are used for web dev are VS Code and WSLGit.

WSLGit being the important one that enables the use of Git installed on my WSL instance to work in VS Code on Windows.

Prior to this I had to install Git on Windows which had it’s own set of problems with line endings and file permissions.

Installing this via Chocolatey I haven’t had any issues, it’s a straight up install from Chocolatey and forget about it, works pretty well so for.

Make it my own

Time to add all the web dev tools I need, for me this is Node, Yarn, NVM and my shell of choice Fish with Oh My Fish.

Install the build-essential tools for utility packages like make this will come in handy when installing NVM and OMF.

sudo apt install -y build-essential


I like Hyper, but I’ve decided to use the Microsoft Terminal for a while, so far I really like it.

Once I found out how to customise it via the Windows Terminal documentation and found a pretty sweet site for Windows Terminal Themes.

Shell, Fish Shell

My preferred shell is Fish, I love this for it’s auto completion and path matching, also with Oh My Fish you get added themes and support for NVM and additional utilities.

Install Fish via the Ubuntu package manager:

sudo install fish

Then install OMF with a curl command:

curl -L | fish

This will switch me into the Fish shell once it’s finished then I can install a super sweet theme from OMF, to list out the available themes in OMF:

omf theme

I like the one theme as it gives Git and node version information, I’ll install it with:

omf install one

I’m also going to need the NVM wrapper package for Fish:

omf install nvm

Now I can add my aliases to fish, I have a list that I always use from my Cheat Sheets site. This is shortening things like git to g (yes) and yarn add to ya.

Change default shell

Default shell is currently set to bash I want to change that to Fish, I can do that with chsh (Change Shell, I guess??).

In the past I have used chsh -l to list available shells, that doesn’t work here so instead I can see what shells are available with cat /etc/shells, this lists out my available shells:

# /etc/shells: valid login shells

That’s a lot of shells yo! I want to use Fish so I’ll use the -s (set, save whatevs!):

chsh -s /usr/bin/fish

My default shell is now Fish cool! I now want to have my default path to my repos set when I open the terminal, I’ll do that by adding a command to the file:

nano ~/.config/fish/

It didn’t exist before so nano will create it for me, I’ll then add in the default path I want to go to when I open the terminal, in the file I’ll add:

# Change start path
cd /home/scott/projects/

Node with NVM

Ok, time to install Node, this time round I’m using Node Version Manager (NVM) in place of n as n has a weird bug where it doesn’t change past Node v10.

NVM is installed with a one liner:

curl -o- | bash

Then install node set it for use and default it to v12 long term support (LTS) version.

nvm install 12 && nvm use 12 && nvm alias default 12

There’s other Node version managers out there if you want to give them a try:

For fnm you may need unzip for if not installed already:

sudo apt install unzip

I’ve also installed fnm as it also works with .nvmrc and .node-version.


I prefer to use Yarn in my projects over npm, one for Yarn workspaces but also because the script syntax is that little bit shorter:

npm run develop
# vs
yarn develop

Yes lazy dev is lazy! I’ll install Yarn with the Ubuntu package manager:

sudo apt install yarn


Hub offers some extended command line features for GitHub, such as making PRs and being able to pop open the repo in a browser window.

Install hub via the Ubuntu package manager:

sudo apt install hub

Now I’ll alias my git command which I already have aliased to g over to Hub:

alias g hub
funcsave g

Now if I want to make a PR from my current branch develop to the production branch I can do:

g pull-request -b production

If you don’t specify a branch with -b then it will default to the default branch on GitHub.

A quick note on symlinks (symbolic links), and why I’m using them.

I touched on this earlier where I set up my filesystem so I could set file permissions that aren’t enabled by default in WSL.

So a symlink is a pointer to a file somewhere else, an example would be in Windows when you install a program you get a shortcut on your desktop to that program, a symlink is like that.

The reasoning for using them is with WSL you can have several several instances of a Linux distro on your machine.

There’s several for Ubuntu, with Ubuntu (20.04), Ubuntu 20.04 LTS and Ubuntu 18.04 LTS then on top of that there are another several distros recommended by Microsoft with additional ones on top of that like Pengwin (which is a great extension on what’s already available in the recommended distros from Microsoft).

What does that have to do with symlinks though? Well, if you think about each one of these instances as their own isolated operating system on your machine.

Each one with it’s own set of configurations, it will get pretty tedious keeping them all current.

The majority of my settings on these instances will be for Git, .gitconfig and SSH settings for authenticating with GitHub via SSH.

Rather than have several differing SSH keys I have the one key in a shared location for all the WSL instances that need to use it.

Config Git

So I have had to install WSL enough times to know that I’m going to be losing my dotfiles at some point, that’s why I made a dotfiles repo to store this information for the next time.

This is where the symlinks come into play, I have my .gitconfig in a separate location on my computer to my WSL install.

So for me as I changed my root dir, that’ll be /windir/ if you’re following along and didn’t set your root dir to that then you’re probably going to be in /mnt/ anyways! Link what is on my C drive to what in in my Linux home folder:

ln -s /windir/c/Users/scott/stuff-not-on-linux/symlinks/.gitconfig /home/scott/.gitconfig


Config SSH

I want to be able to use Git with GitHub and not have to authenticate on each pull/push to a GitHub repo, to do that I use SSH!

I’ll follow my own instructions I’ve made for myself in Cheat Sheets again, as this is the first time authenticating with GitHub the .ssh folder containing the rsa files will be created on my WSL instance. I’ll need to move the contents of the created .ssh folder to the location on my C drive for safe keeping.

mv ~/.ssh/* /windir/c/Users/scott/stuff-not-on-linux/symlinks/.ssh/

Then I’ll simlink to those files:

# pwd = /home/scott/.ssh/
ln -s /windir/c/Users/scott/stuff-not-on-linux/symlinks/.ssh/* .

Now to change the permissions from within the .ssh folder for the symlinks, I’ll do that with chmod:

sudo chmod 644
sudo chmod 600 id_rsa
sudo chmod 644 known_hosts
cd ../
sudo chmod 700 .ssh/

VS Code

Ok I’m ready to use VS Code, configuring VS Code is another topic in itself the one thing I want to for Git to work with VS Code is to pick the default shell I want to use with VS Code.

On first opening VS Code I’m prompted in install the Remote WSL extension this will integrate VS Code with my WSL instance.

I’ll pop out the terminal pane in VS Code with the shortcut Ctrl+j (or Ctrl+’) then in the top of the panel there’s a drop down box with the option to ‘Select Default Shell’, selecting this option gives me the list of shells to choose from I’m picking Fish.

Now if I go to my settings (with Ctrl+,) I can see a new entry for the default shell:

"": "C:\Windows\System32\wsl.exe",

Shout out to Brittney in the Party Corgi Discord for that one as I’ve always added that setting manually in the past!

I can open the settings as a JSON file because I have set my workbench settings to open the JSON file rather than the UI, if you want to open the JSON file use the VS Code shortcut to open the command pallet with Ctrl+Shift+p then search for ‘Preferences: Open Setting (JSON)’, I have the following setting so I can use the JSON file over the UI:

"workbench.settings.editor": "json",


Time to touch on WSLGit again, now that I’ve got VS Code pointing to my WSL terminal I should see any changes under source control (Git) appear in the Git VS Code panel.

I mentioned previously in the past I had to install Git on windows with WSLGit installed via Chocolatey any issues I had in the past are forgotten (for now).

Now any code changes that are made in VS Code are forwarded to the WSL Git instance so there’s no need to install Git in Windows!

Like I mentioned at the top of this post, this is my opinionated guide for how I want to do my web dev work in Windows.

Here are some other guides that may be of use when setting up your in environment.

Hints and tips

Here’s a list of some of the problems I come up against when using the tools I detailed in this post.

They may work for you if you come across a similar problem.

Open Linux files in Windows

Yeahp! You can do that with explore.exe in WSL:

# pwd = /home/scott/
explore.exe .

Will open the directory I’m in, in Windows file explorer!

No Yarn?

Don’t seem to be able to use yarn in the terminal? Try adding this line to your .bashrc file:

# open the .bashrc file to edit with nano
nano ~/.bashrc
# add the following line at the bottom of the file
export PATH="$(yarn global bin):$PATH"
# ctrl+o to write the change
# ctrl+x to exit
# reload the terminal with
source ~/.bashrc

No Yarn binaries showing?

I came across this issue when switching to Manjaro from Ubuntu where I have documented it, the following line will resolve that issue:

set -U fish_user_paths $HOME/.yarn/bin $HOME/.config/yarn/global/node_modules/.bin $fish_user_paths

If you need to remove it at a later date use:

set fish_user_paths (string match -rv yarn $fish_user_paths)

Slow WSL

Does WSL seem slow on npm install/yarn? I had this issue and wasn’t to impressed with the supposed 3x speed increase promised with WSL 2. I found this comment on a WSL issue which cleared it up.

I had my project repos on my Windows file system (/mnt/c/Users/scott/), when they should be on my WSL file system (/home/scott/). Once I moved them to the Linux filesystem everything as super duper fast.

Wrap up!

That’s it 😅 done, for now at least!

Like I mentioned several times now I have set up WSL on Windows a few times now! This time was still confusing to me, I hope some of these notes help you although this is really just my reference for when I have to start from scratch again.

There is a lot more documentation out there covering this subject and I see Windows as a solid development environment now.

I’d love to know how it went for you if you’re going to give WSL a try.

There's a reactions leaderboard you can check out too.

Copyright © 2017 - 2024 - All rights reserved Scott Spence