What are some of the challenges of using the Windows Subsystem for Linux?

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The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is a layer that allows users to run Linux programs on Windows 10 without using a virtual machine. WSL can be a great tool for users transitioning from Linux to Windows or just want to operate on both platforms.

However, there can be some challenges when using WSL that users should be aware of. In this article, we will look into the challenges of using WSL.

What is the Windows Subsystem for Linux?

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is a compatibility layer for running Linux binary executables natively on Windows 10. WSL allows users to run a Linux environment alongside existing Windows applications while leveraging the same underlying system resources and hardware. It also provides access to certain features of Linux such as the file system, directory structure, and user memories, making it an ideal platform for development.

While WSL has many advantages for developers, it has some technical and operational challenges that need to be considered when using it.

These include:

  • Setting up dependencies or packages for programs to run correctly;
  • Language choice: Only languages compatible with WSL can be used;
  • Memory limit: WSL can only use physical memory up to 4GBs;
  • Version control: Although rolling back versions is easy in WSL, it still requires identifying which versions were used originally;
  • Performance: WSL is slower than native Linux systems due to the emulation layer present within the platform.
  • Security: Using emulated code makes security vulnerabilities more likely than natively compiled code.

Challenges of Using the Windows Subsystem for Linux

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is a compatibility layer for running Linux binary executables natively on Windows 10. It allows you to run Linux programs and scripts on Windows, using a Linux environment without installing a Linux distribution.

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However, there are several challenges to using the Windows Subsystem for Linux, which can affect the performance of your programs. Let’s explore some of these challenges in detail.

Limited Functionality

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), initially released with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update in 2016, provides an environment for running Linux command lines tools and utilities on Windows. While WSL offers a convenient way to develop cross-platform applications using a single environment, it also poses some challenges to developers due to its limited functionality.

When running WSL, certain filesystems are not supported, including some dynamic disc formats such as RAID or software-RAID which require raw block devices and partitions. Additionally, certain directories and memory blocks are inaccessible or severely limited when running commands through WSL. This presents significant problems when developing applications that require access to certain files, especially those that deal with large datasets.

In addition to filesystems compatibility issues, there may be other limitations such as compatibility with system libraries or the inability to run certain 3rd party programs and packages within the system. Furthermore, due to the emulation approach used for compatibility with Linux file systems and applications, performance can be significantly slower than when working in a dedicated Linux setup.

Overall, while the WSL offers many advantages for developers who need access to Windows and Linux applications from a unified environment, it is important to understand its limitations before relying on it exclusively for application development.

Lack of Native Support

Despite the name, the Windows Subsystem for Linux (or WSL) is not natively supported by Microsoft. As a result, some common tools, ranging from cron to SysVinit or NFS, are largely unavailable. In addition, features like multi-session terminals and automatic system updates are also unsupported. This means administrators must find creative solutions to use the system effectively.

Recent attempts by Microsoft to make the platform more viable have included support for native Bash shell interpreter and integration with Windows Workflow Platforms like Azure Pipelines, supported on Linux machines since 2017. However, there remains a lack of support in Windows 10 and general compatibility issues between applications running on this platform versus those running on native Linux operating systems.

Furthermore, certain software packages require certain versions of other packages to be installed — so admins have to manually manage these dependencies for their applications to work on WSL as intended. While Microsoft has attempted to address these compatibility issues in recent releases of their OSes (including WSL2), significant work is still required before FOSS applications can run seamlessly across both platforms without issue.

Compatibility Issues

One of the main challenges of using the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is compatibility with native Linux applications. Many Linux distributions are designed to run on operating systems other than Windows, making it difficult for applications to interact with WSL. Additionally, many of these applications require additional components to be installed, which can strain system resources when running from within WSL.

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Another challenge is running a command line shell in WSL versus a full-fledged Linux GUI. While many common command-line tasks can be performed easily in WSL, graphical programs require additional settings and configuration options that must be done in a traditional Linux environment. Many tasks involving graphical programs are not easily achievable in WSL, such as running shell scripts or GUI-based management tools like webmin or cPanel.

Finally, because WSL emulates a Linux environment under Windows 10’s internal structure, users may experience unexpected complications when attempting certain tasks within their “virtual” environment. For instance, complex network setups may fail without an expected outcome or security settings can cause applications to fail mysteriously due to permissions issues related to running within an emulator environment instead of an actual OS installation.

For these reasons and more, using the Windows Subsystem for Linux can be quite challenging for newcomers unfamiliar with its workings. Nevertheless, having access to commands and tools from both Windows and at least one variant of the Linux OS provides users with much needed flexibility. In addition, it allows them to transition seamlessly between operating systems when needed.

Security Concerns

Security is a major concern when running the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Therefore, it is important to understand the limitations of WSL and apply appropriate security measures to manage risk.

Security risks can arise due to incompatibilities that exist between the way Windows and Linux programs work, as well as from poorly implemented permissions or other configuration errors. For example, Windows’ built-in malware protection may not be adequate for Linux applications, which could lead to malicious programs running on the same machine as WSL. Additionally, WSL’s Linux kernel is limited in certain ways compared to a full-fledged distribution, and this can leave the system vulnerable to certain attacks. However, it’s important to note that many of these security risks are minimized with proper configuration of WSL.

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Other potential risks include application incompatibilities where certain popular preview tools or libraries are unavailable in Windows versions or slow running in emulation mode. Additionally, sharing files between both environments can lead to potential data leakage if user credentials aren’t carefully managed and protected.

For IT administrators, some challenges may arise with managing systems with WSL installed — such as needing different backup or restore processes and additional effort required while enforcing compliance policies or updating packages over time.

To reduce the chance of a breach or trust violation when using WSL it is recommended to use secure management practices such as unique passwords per user account, regular backups of data files, periodic patch updates on all systems including 3rd party software applications on servers and desktops/laptops/mobile devices that connect back into the corporate network infrastructure either locally or remotely. Insecure protocols (telnet/FTP) should be disabled across all environments along with any vulnerable ports that could leave systems exposed from external threats from being easily compromised without proper authentication mechanisms being implemented correctly over public networks especially when remote access is essential for business needs by authorized personnel only.


The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) provides a great way to operate Linux programs and utilities on a Windows computer. It allows developers to access the full range of tools, including debugging, compilers, and command-line interfaces, which can improve their workflow.

However, some challenges need to be considered when using this system. First, the user needs to be aware that some applications are not supported in the WSL environment and that it could impact instruction performance when running programs from the WSL. Additionally, many users have experienced difficulty in getting WSL applications to work with other Windows applications and it can be challenging to ensure all components are compatible.

Lastly, using Windows Subsystem for Linux requires understanding Unix-like operating systems to utilize its features and optimize the user experience.

Despite these challenges, the advantages provided by WSL undoubtedly make it worth exploring for those seeking an easy transition from their native Linux environments.