Command Reference for Windows Subsystem for Linux

The best way to interact with the Windows Subsystem for Linux is to use the wsl.exe command.

Set WSL 2 as your default version

Run the following command in Powershell to set WSL 2 as the default version when installing a new Linux distribution:

wsl --set-default-version 2


If you're running a 32-bit process in order to access wsl.exe (a 64-bit tool), you may have to run the above command in the following manner: C:\Windows\Sysnative\wsl.exe --set-default-version 2

Set your distribution version to WSL 1 or WSL 2

You can check the WSL version assigned to each of the Linux distributions you have installed by opening the PowerShell command line and entering the command (only available in Windows Build 19041 or higher): wsl -l -v

wsl --list --verbose

To set a distribution to be backed by either version of WSL please run:

wsl --set-version <distribution name> <versionNumber>

Make sure to replace <distribution name> with the actual name of your distribution and <versionNumber> with the number '1' or '2'. You can change back to WSL 1 at anytime by running the same command as above but replacing the '2' with a '1'.

Additionally, if you want to make WSL 2 your default architecture you can do so with this command:

wsl --set-default-version 2

This will set the version of any new distribution installed to WSL 2.


Below is a list containing all options when using wsl.exe as of Windows Version 1903.

Using: wsl [Argument] [Options...] [CommandLine]

Arguments for running Linux commands

  • Without arguments

    If no command line is provided, wsl.exe launches the default shell.

  • --exec, -e <CommandLine>

    Execute the specified command without using the default Linux shell.

  • --

    Pass the remaining command line as is.

The above commands also accept the following options:

  • --distribution, -d <Distro>

    Run the specified distribution.

  • --user, -u <UserName>

    Run as the specified user.

Arguments for managing Windows Subsystem for Linux

  • --export <Distro> <FileName>

    Exports the distribution to a tar file. The filename can be - for standard output.

  • --import <Distro> <InstallLocation> <FileName>

    Imports the specified tar file as a new distribution. The filename can be - for standard input.

  • --list, -l [Options]

    Lists distributions.


    • --all

      List all distributions, including distributions that are currently being installed or uninstalled.

    • --verbose, -v

      Display additional or expanded details for the command.

    • --running

      List only distributions that are currently running.

  • --set-default, -s <Distro>

    Sets the distribution as the default.

  • --terminate, -t <Distro>

    Terminates the specified distribution.

  • --unregister <Distro>

    Un-register the distribution.

  • --help

    Display usage information.

Additional Commands

There are also historic commands to interact with the Windows Subsystem for Linux. Their functionality is encompassed within wsl.exe, but they are still available for use.


This command lets you configure your WSL distribution. Below is a list of its options.

Using: wslconfig [Argument] [Options...]


  • /l, /list [Options]

    Lists registered distributions.


  • /all Optionally list all distributions, including distributions that are currently being installed or uninstalled.

  • /running List only distributions that are currently running.

  • /s, /setdefault <Distro> Sets the distribution as the default.

  • /t, /terminate <Distro> Terminates the distribution.

  • /u, /unregister <Distro> Un-registers the distribution.

  • /upgrade <Distro> Upgrades the distribution to the WslFs file system format.


This command is used to start a bash shell. Below are the options you can use with this command.

Using: bash [Options...]

  • No Option given

    Launches the Bash shell in the current directory. If the Bash shell is not installed automatically runs lxrun /install

  • ~

    bash ~ launches the bash shell into the user's home directory. Similar to running cd ~.

  • -c "<command>"

    Runs the command, prints the output and exits back to the Windows command prompt.

    Example: bash -c "ls".

Deprecated Commands

The lxrun.exe was the first command used to install and manage the Windows Subsystem for Linux. It is deprecated as of Windows 10 1803 and later.

The command lxrun.exe can be used to interact with the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) directly. These commands are installed into the \Windows\System32 directory and may be run within a Windows command prompt or in PowerShell.

Command Description
lxrun The lxrun command is used to manage the WSL instance.
lxrun /install Starts the download and install process.
/y may be added to bypass all prompts. The confirmation prompt is automatically accepted and the default user is set to root.
lxrun /uninstall Uninstalls and deletes the Ubuntu image. By default this does not remove the user's Ubuntu home directory.
/y may be added to automatically accept the confirmation prompt
/full uninstalls and deletes the user's Ubuntu home directory
lxrun /setdefaultuser <userName> Sets the default Bash on Ubuntu user. Will prompt for a password if the specified user does not exist. For more information visit:
/y Bypasses promping for the password. The user will be created without a password.
lxrun /update Updates the subsystem's package index