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Launch Windows programs from "Bash on Ubuntu on Windows" (WSL)

NOTE: WSL in Windows 10 Creators Update (version 1703) can natively launch Windows programs. I recommend that you try it and use it if you can. Cbwin remains available for people using WSL on Windows 10 Anniversary Update (version 1607) -- and will also continue to run on version 1703.

main cbwin features:

  • Win32 command line tools in the console, invoked from WSL
  • Win32 command line tools with redirections to WSL (stdin/stdout/stderr to or from pipe/file)
  • suspend/resume propagation (Ctrl-Z suspends the Win32 processes, fg resumes them)
  • exit codes propagation
  • launch "detached" GUI Windows programs (uses start of cmd)

security warning

Using cbwin breaks the WSL security model (access control within WSL using Linux accounts): Windows programs are not subject to extra WSL security checks, so the capability to run a Windows program is equivalent to being root in WSL. If you are only using separation between the WSL root and user to avoid casual mistakes and not for strong security purposes this is not an issue. (Note that being root under WSL does not give you any Windows administrator rights.)

Running elevated WSL processes can reduce the effectiveness of UAC, see this issue. Elevated instances of outbash.exe do not allow non-elevated callers to launch processes, but it is easy for non-elevated WSL processes to force elevated ones (present and future) to do anything, including accessing protected Windows files and talking with outbash.exe. Therefore, I do not recommend launching an elevated "Bash On Windows" (with or without outbash.exe) in an hostile environment, in order not to reduce the effectiveness of UAC.

outbash.exe listens on, but validates that processes that establish a connection are running as the same user as outbash.exe -- and extra sockets used to forward redirections are connected in a way that prevents interceptions (this is implemented starting with version v0.10). Therefore, it can be used on multi-user computers.


Binary releases:

  1. In the unpacked binary archive, launch outbash.exe
  2. Do: sudo ./
  3. In Windows, copy outbash.exe where you want, usually somewhere in your %PATH%
  4. In WSL sessions launched by outbash.exe, you can now call Windows programs with the wrun, wcmd, and wstart commands.

Or from source:

  1. Build outbash.exe with Visual C++ 2015 and use it instead of bash.exe
  2. In caller/, build wrun, wcmd, and wstart (with make all)
  3. Install wrun, wcmd, and wstart in /usr/local/bin (with sudo make install)
  4. In WSL sessions launched by outbash.exe, you can now call Windows programs with the wrun, wcmd, and wstart commands.


wrun launches a Windows executable (directly with CreateProcess). wcmd launches a command with cmd.exe. wstart launches a detached command (with start of cmd).

Windows processes and their children launched with wcmd or wrun are handled in a Windows Job, and suspending the WSL caller process (wcmd or wrun) results in the suspension of all the Windows processes in the corresponding Job. Also, when the launched process terminates, all its direct and indirect children are killed. This means that trying to manually do e.g. wcmd start notepad won't yield useful results, because notepad will be killed just after having been launched -- wstart must be used in this case.

If in doubt use wcmd to launch Win32 command line tools, and wstart to launch graphical applications.

xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ uname -a
Linux WINWIN 3.4.0+ #1 PREEMPT Thu Aug 1 17:06:05 CST 2013 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ wcmd dir
 Le volume dans le lecteur C n’a pas de nom.
 Le numéro de série du volume est CZTX-666H

 Répertoire de c:\Users

22/04/2016  20:00    <DIR>          .
22/04/2016  20:00    <DIR>          ..
22/04/2016  20:20    <DIR>          Default.migrated
22/04/2016  20:00    <DIR>          Public
27/04/2016  01:15    <DIR>          xilun
               0 fichier(s)                0 octets
               5 Rép(s)  43 126 734 848 octets libres
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ wstart notepad

You can redirect input and output (avoid doing that with wstart, it would behave weirdly):

xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ wcmd dir | grep xilun
15/05/2016  05:09    <DIR>          xilun
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ wcmd dir > xilun/foobar
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ wc xilun/foobar
 12  50 457 xilun/foobar
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ echo dir | wrun cmd | grep 'c:\\Users'
 Répertoire de c:\Users

The environment block for launched processes is the one outbash.exe was started with, but it can be modified for individual commands. The --env option allows to set environment variables for the command. Parameters after this option are interpreted as environment variable definitions until one starts with "--" or a parameter does not contain an "=" character. An empty value erases the variable. Remaining command line arguments are used to compose the Windows command line. All the options interpreted by the launcher must be given at the start, before the Windows command line.

xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ wcmd --env TITI=TOTO TATA=TUTU set
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users$ wcmd --env TEMP= set

Other example to launch msbuild to rebuild outbash.exe, which shows that return codes are propagated (running from another copy of outbash.exe, its impossible to overwrite it when in use):

xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users/xilun/Documents/Projects/cbwin/vs$ wcmd '"C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 14.0\VC\vcvarsall.bat" amd64 && msbuild /t:Rebuild /p:Configuration=Release cbwin.sln'
Microsoft (R) Build Engine, version 14.0.25123.0
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation. Tous droits réservés.

La génération a démarré 30/04/2016 15:46:15.


    La génération a réussi.
    0 Avertissement(s)
    0 Erreur(s)

Temps écoulé 00:00:04.61
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users/xilun/Documents/Projects/cbwin/vs$ echo $?
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users/xilun/Documents/Projects/cbwin/vs$ wcmd '"C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 14.0\VC\vcvarsall.bat" amd64 && msbuild /t:Rebuild /p:Configuration=Release does_not_exist.sln'
Microsoft (R) Build Engine, version 14.0.25123.0
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation. Tous droits réservés.

MSBUILD : error MSB1009: Le fichier projet n'existe pas.
Commutateur : does_not_exist.sln
xilun@WINWIN:/mnt/c/Users/xilun/Documents/Projects/cbwin/vs$ echo $?


For now, interactive Win32 console tools in the same console as a WSL bash session (for example: wrun cmd or wcmd python) do not work well. The problems seem to be related to the console switching internal modes (charset, but not only) between the Win32 and the WSL world, and some input being directed to WSL even when there is no need to do so. I don't know yet if something nice enough to use in that regard can be achieved without some changes from MS about how their stuff works.

It is an unfinished work in progress. There are various stuff not-implemented and maybe tons of bugs.


Launch Windows programs from "Bash on Ubuntu on Windows" (WSL)







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