How to Set Your Default Linux Distribution on Windows 10

Windows 10 now allows you to install multiple Linux environments, starting with the Fall Creators Update. If you have multiple Linux environments, you can set your default and switch between them.

You’re free to run multiple Linux environments at once, but your default environment is used when you run a command like wsl.exe or bash.exe to launch the shell, or when you use wsl [command] or bash -c [command] to run a command from elsewhere in Windows.

How to Set Your Default Linux Distribution

The wslconfig.exe command lets you manage the Linux distributions running via the Windows Subsystem for Linux, or WSL.

To run it, you need to open either a Command Prompt or PowerShell window. To open a Command Prompt window, open the Start menu, type “cmd”, and then click the “Command Prompt” shortcut. To open a PowerShell window, right-click your Start button (or press Windows+X), and then select the “Windows PowerShell” command.

To view your installed Linux distributions, type the following command and hit Enter:

wslconfig /l

The Linux distribution ending with “(Default)” is your default Linux distribution.

If you don’t see an installed Linux distribution in this list, you’ll first need to launch it. Wait for the “Installing, this may take a few minutes…” process to complete. When it’s done, the Linux distribution will appear in this list.

To set your default Linux distribution, run the following command, where Name is the name of the Linux distribution:

wslconfig /setdefault Name

For example, to set Ubuntu as your default Linux distribution, run the following command:

wslconfig /setdefault Ubuntu

Now, when you run either the wsl or bash commands, the Linux distribution you selected opens.

Your default Linux distribution is also used when you run individual commands with either  wsl command or bash -c command.

How to Run Multiple Linux Distributions

You can run a Linux environment even if it isn’t your default. For example, you can launch the Ubuntu, openSUSE Leap, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server shortcuts from your Start menu and you’ll have all three separate environments running at the same time.

To launch a Linux distribution from the command line or via a shortcut, just use its command. The command you need is displayed on the Linux distribution’s page in the Microsoft Store. Here are the commands you’ll need to  launch the three initial three Linux distributions:

  • Ubuntu: ubuntu
  • openSUSE Leap 42: opensuse-42
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12: sles-12

For example, even if Ubuntu is your default environment, you can still launch openSUSE from anywhere by running the opensuse-42 command.

These commands also work with the same -c switch you can use with the bash.exe command. Just use the below command structure, where “distro-command” is the same command you use to launch the Linux distribution and “command” is the Linux command you want to run.

distro-command -c command

In other words, even if openSUSE Leap is your default Linux distribution, you can still run a command on Ubuntu from a command-line environment or script just by running ubuntu -c command .

For example, to run the apt-get moo command that shows an Easter egg on Ubuntu, you’d run the following command:

ubuntu -c apt-get moo

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Twitter.