Riedl's Blog

Copying a WSL Distribution

Published on 03 Mar 2023
Linux Bird AI Art
AI generated image of "linux on a windows machine".

I have found recently that the best workflow for me involves having multiple Ubuntu distributions on the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). The multiple distributions are also split between WSL 1 and WSL 2 since there are pros and cons to the different versions of WSL. For instance, I use the WSL 1 distributions when I need to interact with the Windows file system. Additionally, I use the WSL 2 distributions when I need to use the hardware pass-though capabilities for GPU programming. In order to quickly setup these various distributions, I used the export and import functionality of WSL.

Duplicating a WSL Distribution

I initially used this guide for duplicating the various WSL distributions. First, open the command prompt or Windows PowerShell and create a folder somewhere to store the distribution images. Once that folder has been created and you have changed directories into the folder, you can duplicate a WSL distribution with the following commands. This first command will export the distribution you are duplicating:

wsl --export <distribution name> <export file name>

# Example:
wsl --export Ubuntu ubuntu.tar

Next, you can import the image to create the new distribution using the exported image as the base. This is accomplished with the following command:

wsl --import <new distribution name> <install location> <export file name>

# Example:
wsl --import Ubuntu-cuda .\ubuntu-cuda ubuntu.tar

Once you have created the new instance of the distribution, you can list the available distributions with the command:

wsl -l -v

and open it with the command:

wsl -d <distribution name>

If you have WSL 2 as the default version, then the duplicated distribution will use WSL 2 even if the original distribution was running on WSL 1. You can change the WSL version using the following command:

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

# Example:
wsl --set-version Ubuntu 2

Additionally, you can change the default WSL version with the command:

wsl --set-default-version <version number>

# Example:
wsl --set-default-version 2

Fixing Common Issues

You may find after starting the distribution, that you are logged in as the root user. This can be fixed by modifying the file /etc/wsl.conf in the distribution. You could also start the distribution with the command:

wsl -d <new distribution name> -u <username>

I have found that these are the default settings in /etc/wsl.conf that I prefer to use:






I hope this helps anyone else looking to run multiple distributions across the different versions of WSL.