Sharing your WSL2 environment with Linux

It seems like I’m in a constant state of switching between Windows 10 and Linux on my personal laptop, so I keep both environments available in a dual boot. I’ve really enjoyed using WSL2 on my Windows 10 side, so much so that I have a bunch of projects that are in active use within that environment.

WSL2 uses a lightweight virtual machine to boot a Linux kernel, and each WSL Linux distribution keeps a complete ext4 Linux filesystem as a virtual hard disk image for faster — and native — file access on your Windows 10 host. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to mount this filesystem if you’re booted on the Linux side.

I’m using Windows 10 2004 and Pop_OS! 20.04, but this process will work with any Linux distribution that is set up to mount NTFS partitions read/write using ntfs-3g and can install the guestmount utility via libguestfs.

To do this, the Windows 10 disk will need to be mounted within your Linux environment. On my Linux installation, I mount my Windows 10 volume using ntfs-3g under /mnt/c.

You will need to find your root virtual disk, which is located in the application package directory of the WSL Linux distribution being used. In Windows, this follows the pattern “C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Packages\distribution\LocalState\ext4.vhdx”, where C is your drive letter, username is your Windows username, and distribution is the generated name of the distribution used. If one is using Ubuntu, the generated name is “CanonicalGroupLimited.UbuntuonWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc“. I’m going to use this path in the example below.

The other tool we’ll need is guestmount. This can be installed on Debian/Ubuntu/derivatives by installing the libguestfs-tools package using APT.

sudo apt install libguestfs-tools

Now, let’s mount the partition. The mount points in the image do not like being mounted as a normal user, and I’m happy to hear suggestions on how to get around this. We’re using the allow_other flag to let other users have access to the filesystem, and mounting it under /mnt/wsl. You can alter the username, distribution, and mount point to match your system.

sudo mkdir -p /mnt/wsl
sudo guestmount -o allow_other \
  --add /mnt/c/Users/username/AppData/Local/Packages/CanonicalGroupLimited.UbuntuonWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc/LocalState/ext4.vhdx \
  -i /mnt/wsl

Your WSL2 distribution is now available under /mnt/wsl. I haven’t found any odd side effects, except that Visual Studio Code reminds you to install the Remote – WSL extension, as WSL is available on your system. Go figure. 🙂

Remember to use guestunmount when complete, before the Windows filesystem is unmounted. Too many force unmounts will eventually cause problems with the WSL2 environment, and there isn’t a lot of self-healing available.

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