Along with a new Terminal app for interacting with command line tools, Microsoft is previewing a major update for its Windows Subsystem for Linux.

The new version is called WSL 2, and Microsoft says it brings significant file system speed improvements, with some operations running up to 20 times faster. WSL 2 also brings full system call compatibility, which allows users to run Docker and other programs that wouldn’t work out of the box with WSL 1.

Microsoft says it will start offering builds of WSL 2 to members of the Windows Insider Program by the end of June, 2019.

One of the key architectural differences between WSL 2 and the Windows Subsystem for Linux we’ve had for the past few years is that the new version uses virtualization technology and has it own kernel.

That means WSL no longer has to interpret system calls and translate them into Windows calls to access the Windows NT kernel. Apps like Docker that didn’t work properly because of translation errors should work now that they can use the Linux kernel.

That also means Microsoft is going to start shipping Windows with two kernels: a Windows NT kernel and a Linux kernel (with some Microsoft patches). As an added bonus, that means Microsoft can also update the kernel regularly to get new features rather than having to build those features directly into WSL.

Unlike the original Windows Subsystem for Linux, WSL 2 uses virtualization technology, but Microsoft says it’s much faster than a typical virtual machine, taking about two seconds to boot and using fewer system resources. There’s also nothing to configure once WSL is enabled and a GNU/Linux distribution is installed.

According to Microsoft, the result of all these changes is that WSL 2 is 2-5 times faster than WSL 1 when using tools like git clone, npm install, or cmake and up to 20 times faster when unpacking a tarball.

Microsoft also has a new Windows Terminal app on the way, which will allow users to interact with all of the company’s command line tools in one place, including WSL/WSL 2, the Command Prompt, and PowerShell.

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11 replies on “Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 is faster, supports more apps”

  1. > that means Microsoft can also update the kernel regularly to get new features rather than having to build those features directly into WSL.

    That already beats Chrome OS. You need to get an entirely new machine to update the Linux-based kernel on those ironically short-lived machines.

  2. Disk I/O is a major bottleneck of WSL. Nice to see it improved. I wonder if this new route to improve disk perf negatively/positively impacts other tasks though. I guess I’ll see benchmarks soon.

    Anyway, I still prefer to natively run a Linux distro but when I can’t for some reason (ie. the usual graphics, WiFi and power management problems), WSL is turning out to be a good alternative to full blown VMs.

  3. The use of the actual linux kernel makes me nervous about a few very unfortunate possibilities this opens up for the future of proper, FOSS Linux distros, and possibly their users.

    1. Do you not trust the feelings of the github? Our projects yearn for interoperability with yours. We welcome you to our ecosystem. But you puzzle us. Why do you serve POSIX? How can you choose cold isolation of the edge over the splendor of the cloud? But you fear us. We hear your thoughts, and they rage for your brothers you believe waylaid. But they are not. They create in our symphony of coding. We offer another chance to join us. If you choose to lie down with the antiquated notions, we will pass you by, and put you separate from the joy of the future.

      1. Three words: Embrace, Extend, Extinguish. They could very well be doing this, and if they are, it would be a little different this time:
        Embrace the linux kernel.
        Extend the userbase with people who just want to be able to use more of their favorite tools in one environment, and by this,
        Extinguish interest in maintaining all those FOSS distros, or, Extinguish freedom within those distros with little extensions to the kernel (already in progress).
        I know well Microsoft and big data corporations will never truly accept free software purists or privacy advocates and might indeed happily decry them under other pretenses.

        1. Oh please, not this again. Open source software has never been as widely accepted and utilized as it is today, including by corporations. I’ve been a software developer for more than 30 years, and remember my (very large) company’s first halting steps into the realm of open source software. It was painful, with a lot of suspicious managers, executives, and lawyers looking over our shoulders, fearing contamination and lawsuits galore.

          The landscape is hugely different today, thanks in large part to the participation of the large corporations in open source software. The difference between the availability of development tools and platforms from 25 years ago to today cannot be overstated. I can build an entire suites of applications without spending a penny these days if I want to and I still get to use some of the best development tools out there. Back then a set of licenses for all the tools you needed for a development team would run into the thousands of dollars.

          Of course Microsoft isn’t doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts. It is in their best interests to win over developers to the Windows platform, and their development platform, but the idea of extinguish puts you squarely in conspiracy theory territory.

          1. @Tacitus
            I’d say you’re a bit carried away by psychological inertia in your last paragraph.
            Microsoft is commoditizing the Windows platform too along with a huge number of their previously sacred cows.

            Now take a retrospective look at what Nadella’s Microsoft did not commoditize by any means over five years, add to it what Nadella’s been doing in Microsoft before becoming a damn good CEO and… welcome to the club, I guess. BYOTH.

            I too think the last ‘E’ is overdramatic and a bit silly. Nobody extinguished GNU/Hurd.

        1. Prey 2017 had absolutely stellar level design, but was 6-8 guns short to carry itself through the backtracking of the last third of the game.

  4. Looks like they are getting closer to their goal of having the linux kernel run the entire windows OS.

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