How to install the Linux subsystem on Windows 11

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Catherine Le Nevez

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Il Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) allows you to run Linux software on your Windows 11 PC. When you enable WSL, Windows will install a Linux kernel custom: you can then install Ubuntu or another GNU / Linux distribution of your choice from the Microsoft Store.

How to install the Windows subsystem for Linux on Windows 11

The good news is that it is possible enable the WSL on all editions of Windows 11, including Windows 11 Home. Of course, the Linux subsystem is also available on Windows 10.

Windows 11 - as well as newer versions of Win10 - uses WSL 2: this is the second redesigned version that runs a full Linux kernel in a hypervisor Hyper-V for better compatibility. When you enable the feature, Windows 11 downloads a Linux kernel created by Microsoft that runs in the background, and Windows Update keeps the kernel up to date. Optionally, you can also use your own custom Linux kernel.

Obviously, in order to use WSL it is necessary install a Linux distribution: by default it is installed Ubuntu, but you can install any Linux distribution of your choice, such as Debian.

Enable the WSL and install the Linux distribution via the command line

Microsoft made this process extremely simple on Windows 11. You can enable the Windows subsystem for Linux and install a Linux distribution like Ubuntu with a single command. To do this, you need to open the Windows terminal as an administrator, but you can also start the Command Prompt.

  • start a Windows terminal with administrator permissions: right-click the Start button on the taskbar or press Windows + X and click “Terminale Windows (Admin)”;
  • to enable the Windows subsystem for Linux and install Ubuntu, which is the default distribution, run the following command:

    wsl --install

  • when the process is complete, Windows will ask you to restart your PC: You will only be able to use your Linux system after a reboot.

know the Linux distributions available, you can run the following command instead:

wsl - l -o

Then you can install a Linux distribution of your choice by running the command, where instead of "Name" you must enter the name of the Linux distribution that is in the "Name" column of the previous step, for example "kali-linux".

wsl --install -d Name

You can install several distributions on your system by sending multiple installation commands separately. Once your PC has restarted, you can start the installed deployment from the Windows Start menu. You will be able to use the Linux shell just as if you were using a Linux PC.

Enable the WSL in an alternative way

You can also enable the Windows subsystem for Linux through the operating system interface, without using the command line. This will take multiple steps, and our advice is to take advantage of the method explained above anyway, as it's really quick.

To enable command lineless WSL you will need to:

  • go to the Start menu and search "Windows functionality", then launch the shortcut "activate or deactivate Windows features";

  • enable the item "Windows subsystem for Linux" and then press OK to confirm the change;
  • restart your PC.

After restarting the PC you can proceed with the installation of the Linux distribution you want:

  • go to the Microsoft Store and look for the Linux distribution you want to install, for example “Ubuntu”;
  • install the distribution as if it were any app;
  • Once the installation is complete, you can start the distro by searching for it in the Windows 11 Start menu.
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