How to install Linux WSL2 on Windows 10 and Windows 11

Debian running on WSL 2 in Windows 11 inside the Windows Terminal app
(Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft dropped plenty of jaws when it launched the Windows Subsystem for Linux, a way to run actual Linux inside Windows without the need to set up a virtual machine. The project has seen a ton of support, and WSL2 is the latest and greatest.

It takes things a little further and adds yet more awesomeness to the Linux experience on Windows 10 and Windows 11. Now, since the release of version 1.0, it has never been easier to set up WSL2 on your Windows machine, with GUI apps now even supported on Windows 10, too. 

Simplified setup of WSL2 on Windows 10 and Windows 11

The single WSL installation command you need to enter. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There is now a new, extremely simplified way to get WSL2 up and running on your Windows 10 and Windows 11 PC. To get the very latest version you need to be running Windows 10 version 21H1, 21H2, or 22H2, or on Windows 11 21H2 with all of the November updates applied.

Once this is in place, open up PowerShell and enter this command:

wsl --install

That's it. The setup process will begin, and you can relax until it's finished. By default, WSL will enable all system features required and it will download and install Ubuntu. If you don't want a distribution installed during setup you can add the -- no-distribution tag to the installation command. 

Alternatively, if you want a non-Ubuntu distribution installed you can add its name after the install command. For example, wsl --install Debian

WSL is now distributed through the Microsoft Store and the simplified installation process will pull this version in. Alternatively, you can download it directly from its Microsoft Store listing

You will also require the optional Windows Subsystem for Linux component if you wish to also use WSL 1 alongside WSL 2.

How to enable Windows Subsystem for Linux optional component for WSL 1

WSL2 is now the standard, but if for any reason you also want to use WSL1 alongside it, you'll need the optional Windows Subsystem for Linux component enabling. Fortunately, you can do this in two ways. The first is by adding --enable-wsl1 to the install command used above. 

But you can also enable the component at any time, even after you already have WSL2 up and running. Open PowerShell as administrator and enter this command:

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

Eventually, you will need to reboot your PC, adding norestart means you won't be immediately kicked out of whatever you're doing. If you want to reboot immediately, simply omit this from the end of the command. 

Setting WSL2 for your Linux distros

The good thing about WSL2 is that it doesn't replace WSL1. It just runs alongside it. This means you can run Linux installs with a combination of different versions. You're able to set either as default as well as setting a version specifically to each Linux distro you have on your PC.

Setting a default version in PowerShell.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

If you want everything to run on WSL2 as soon as you install it, you can set it as the default version.

wsl --set-default-version 2

Listing installed Linux distros and their WSL version

Listing installed Linux distributions and their respective WSL versions in PowerShell is easy and helpful.  (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

With WSL2 set as default, any Linux installs after that will use it automatically. You can easily check which version of WSL your installed Linux distros are using.

wsl --list --verbose 

Using the verbose flag will give you the breakdown of which version of WSL is attached to which Linux installation. Without it, you'll simply get a list of the versions of Linux you have installed.

Changing the version of WSL per Linux installation

Change WSL version on a per-distribution basis. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While setting WSL2 as default will apply it to anything you install afterward. If you're already set up, you'll need to manually convert. Likewise, if you wish to go between versions 1 and 2 or run a mixture on your system, you can do that.

wsl --set-version <distribution name=""> <versionnumber></versionnumber></distribution>

So, as an example, if you have a Debian installation on WSL that you need to convert to WSL2, you'd enter

wsl --set-version debian 2

Launch specific Linux installations in PowerShell

You can launch into WSL from PowerShell regardless of which terminal app you use.  (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you only have one version of Linux installed, simply typing


in PowerShell will launch you into the associated bash shell. But if you have multiple, you can launch a specific distro with this command.

wsl -d <distribution name=""></distribution>

Once you're done, typing


will take you back into PowerShell.

From here on out, you're ready to go forth and install all the Linux you want. Our full guide will help you along the way, but once WSL2 is set up how you like it, it just fades into the background.

It's also worth grabbing the Windows Terminal app from the Microsoft Store if you're using WSL. While you can just use the standard terminal installed with each or launch through PowerShell as shown above, Windows Terminal has a neat, tabbed interface that lets you run multiple shells at once. Have PowerShell, Linux, Azure Cloud Shell, and even Command Prompt, all open together side-by-side in one window.

Richard Devine
Managing Editor - Tech, Reviews

Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at