I installed Ubuntu 20.04 (server/terminal) from the Windows 10 Apps store. After launching the Ubuntu Terminal via WSL2 (Windows Subsystem for Linux), I installed Ubuntu Desktop and did several steps to try and get a desktop instance of Ubuntu 20.04 launched.

In short, the steps involved editing the .bashrc file, installing Xming, and then attempting to open the Ubuntu desktop in Xming with the startxfce4 command. However, startxfce4 just doesn't open the desktop for me. I can get programs to open with grun and the file explorer to open with gopen though, so it is working partially.

Does anyone have any alternative suggestions to how I might get the terminal to open up the full Ubuntu Desktop? Obviously, this wasn't what Windows had in mind with WSL2, so this is kind of a reach, but any input would be helpful. Could I somehow do this from the file explorer or with a program that could be opened from grun or gopen?

  • "startxfce4" starts the xfce4 or xubuntu desktop. If you installed ubuntu desktop it will not open that I think. I run Xubuntu and start the desktop with "startxfce4". Nov 15, 2020 at 16:01

2 Answers 2


I managed to get the full Ubuntu 20.04 Unity desktop GUI running using VcXsrv by installing the GNOME Desktop the ubuntu-wsl2-systemd-script and then appending a script to my ~/.bashrc file.

Initially, Ubuntu has root-only access, so create a normal account with sudo privileges:

sudo adduser username
sudo usermod -aG sudo username

From now on, start WSL using that account:

wsl.exe -d distroname -u username

The ubuntu-wsl2-systemd-script calls systemd using --system-unit=basic.target and thus does not start the gdm or lightdm service, so edit the enter-systemd-namespace and start-systemd-namespace files and change --system-unit=basic.target to --system-unit=default.target prior to installation.

# runs only if 1st level shell
if [ $SHLVL = 1 ] &&
   [ -d "${srv_path="/mnt/c/Program Files/VcXsrv"}" ] &&
   [ -f "${srv_exec="$srv_path"/"${srv_name=vcxsrv.exe}"}" ] &&
   [ -d "${sys_path="/mnt/c/Windows/System32"}" ] &&
   [ -f "${tasklist="$sys_path"/tasklist.exe}" ] &&
   [ -f "${taskkill="$sys_path"/taskkill.exe}" ]; then
   # find a Windows Process ID
   function find_wpid {
     echo $("$tasklist" | grep "$1" | awk '{print $2; exit}')
   # kill a Windows Process ID
   function kill_wpid {
     "$taskkill" /PID $1 /F /T >/dev/null
   # export the Windows %UserProfile% path in Linux Format
   export WIN_HOME="$(wslpath "$($sys_path"/cmd.exe" /c "<nul set /p=%UserProfile%" 2>/dev/null)")"
   # Find the current WSL2 local IP address
   srv_addr="$(ip route | awk '{print $3; exit}')";
   # shutdown old instance of VcXsrv if running
   if [ "${gfx_wpid=$(find_wpid $srv_name)}" ]; then
     kill_wpid $gfx_wpid
     unset gfx_wpid
   # start a new instance of VcXsrv
   "$srv_exec" :0 -ac -wgl -fullscreen -notrayicon -dpms &
   # wait for startup success
   while [ -z $gfx_wpid ]; do gfx_wpid=$(find_wpid $srv_name); done
   # Start Windows Pulse Audio if installed
   unset srv_exec srv_name 
   if [ -f "${srv_exec="$srv_path"/pulse/bin/"${srv_name="pulseaudio.exe"}"}" ]; then
      # shutdown old instance of Pulse if running
      if [ ${snd_wpid=$(find_wpid $srv_name)} ]; then
        kill_wpid $snd_wpid
        unset snd_wpid
      # delete the expired Pulse config
      if [ -d "${snd_conf=$WIN_HOME"/.config/pulse"}" ]; then
        rm -r "$snd_conf"
      unset snd_conf
      # Start a new instance of Pulse
      "$srv_exec" --use-pid-file=false --disable-shm=true --exit-idle-time=-1 &
      while [ -z $snd_wpid ]; do snd_wpid=$(find_wpid $srv_name); done
      export PULSE_SERVER=tcp:"$srv_addr";
   # setup Ubuntu Desktop
   export DISPLAY="$srv_addr":0; 
   # setting below: 0 = llvmpipe (faster), 1 = software rasterizer
   export XDG_CONFIG_HOME=$HOME/.config
   export XDG_CONFIG_DIRS=/etc/xdg/xdg-ubuntu:/etc/xdg
   export XDG_SESSION_DESKTOP=ubuntu
   export XDG_SESSION_TYPE=x11
   export XDG_SESSION_CLASS=user
   export XDG_DATA_DIRS=/usr/share/ubuntu:/usr/local/share/:/usr/share/:/var/lib/snapd/desktop
   # cleanup expired vars
   unset tasklist sys_path srv_path srv_exec srv_name srv_addr
   # script stays here until gnome-session logout or failure
   # shutdown VcXsrv
   if [ $gfx_wpid ]; then
     kill_wpid $gfx_wpid
     unset gfx_wpid 
   # shutdown Pulse
   if [ $snd_wpid ]; then
     kill_wpid $snd_wpid
     unset snd_wpid
   unset taskkill
   # shutdown the shell
   exit 0

When all is up and running, go to Ubuntu's Settings -> Privacy -> Screen Lock and turn off the screen lock options. Trying to log back in after a screen lock for some reason results in an infinite loop when asking for your password. If that happens, just shutdown the WSL distro and on next start all is OK again.

Optional Audio Support

Download and unpack mingw64-pulseaudio-13.0.7z. Edit the \mingw\etc\pulse\default.pa file and replace line 38 containing load-module module-waveout sink_name=output source_name=input with:

load-module module-waveout sink_name=output source_name=input record=0
load-module module-native-protocol-tcp listen= auth-anonymous=1

Save the changes, rename the mingw folder as pulse and move it into your C:\Program Files\VcXsrv folder.
I am unsure if this step is required, however I also installed these apps via...

sudo apt-get install alsa-tools-gui pavumeter pavucontrol

Internet access is not immediately available unless you log out of your WSL2 Ubuntu Desktop and log back in again. This has become handy for me as allows me time to copy across updates from my real Ubuntu to the WSL2 Ubuntu without re-downloading them.


Older question that got bumped today, but my preferred approach for getting a "full desktop" under WSL is to use xrdp and then simply run Windows Remote Desktop Connection to enter the desktop manager.

The original question mentions both "Ubuntu Desktop" (assuming Gnome) as well as Xfce, so I'll provide steps for both. Xfce is by far the easier of the two, since it does not require Systemd.

Note that I do not have Pulse Audio running for sound.


sudo apt install xrdp xfce4
# Select lightdm, although it probably doesn't matter
sudo cp /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini.bak
sudo sed -i 's/3389/3390/g' /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini # So it doesn't interfere with Windows RDP on 3389
echo startxfce4 > ~/.xsession
sudo service xrdp start

And that's it -- You should be able to connect to your WSL Desktop using the built-in Remote Desktop Connection app. The computer to connect to will be localhost:3390. Make sure Xorg is selected as the Session type.

Gnome Desktop

The first few steps are nearly identical to those for Xfce.

sudo apt install ubuntu-desktop xrdp
sudo cp /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini.bak
sudo sed -i 's/3389/3390/g' /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini # So it doesn't interfere with Windows RDP on 3389

Create ~/.xsessionrc with the following:

export XDG_DATA_DIRS=/usr/share/ubuntu:/usr/local/share:/usr/share:/var/lib/snapd/desktop
export XDG_CONFIG_DIRS=/etc/xdg/xdg-ubuntu:/etc/xdg

Then run:

sudo -b unshare --pid --fork --mount-proc --kill-child sh -c "export container=wsl; mount -t binfmt_misc binfmt_misc /proc/sys/fs/binfmt_misc; exec /lib/systemd/systemd --system-unit=multi-user.target"

This starts Systemd in a new namespace with its own PID mapping. Inside that namespace, Systemd will be PID1 (as it must, to function) and own all other processes. However, the "real" PID mapping still exists outside that namespace.

Note that this is a "bare minimum" command-line for starting Systemd. It will not have support for, at least:

  • Windows Interop (the ability to run Windows .exe)
  • The Windows PATH (which isn't necessary without Windows Interop anyway)

If you want a more full featured Systemd, then there are several package and script options out there if you search. There's even a version in the previous answer here on this question. I would encourage anyone trying them to attempt to understand what they are doing so that you can troubleshoot when something doesn't work as expected.

It's also recommended to disable or mask any Systemd units that you don't need.

Wait a few seconds for Systemd to start up, then:

sudo -E nsenter --all --wd="$PWD" -t $(pgrep -xo systemd) runuser -P -l -w WSL_INTEROP -w WSL_DISTRO_NAME $USER -c "set PATH \"$PATH\"; exec $SHELL"
sudo systemctl start xrdp

As with Xfce4, you should be able to connect to your Gnome Desktop using the built-in Remote Desktop Connection app. The computer to connect to will be localhost:3390. Make sure Xorg is selected as the Session type.

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