I searched around, and currently there are two methods suggested; installing an enhancement for Windows Subsystem for Linux and installing an XServer.

I want to know which method is the most hassle-free (easy to install AND to use), and which one is less memory-heavy.

I just want Synaptic and CMake. Why couldn't that be a builtin feature?


The short answer is you can not as WSL does not yet support this function. WSL is not a full Linux installation with a Linux kernel, it allows you to run some native linux commands / binaries on a Windows (Microsoft) kernel and has limitations.

See https://github.com/Microsoft/WSL/issues/2356

You can, however, install a 3rd party X server, such as xming, and ssh into your WSL.


I did not copy that tutorial here as it is fairly ubiquitous (X over ssh) and I would expect some apps simply will not work even with this technique.

  • 1
    So, hassle-free is not an option, then? Maybe somebody will make Synaptic for Windows to work with WSL in the future.... – George Hovhannisian Jan 7 '18 at 15:09
  • 2
    Graphical programs on WSL does not mean you can use Steam on WSL. You would need Valve to create support for WSL. – Rinzwind Jan 7 '18 at 15:25
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    Keep in mind that you don't have to use SSH at all. Just set DISPLAY and you're good to go (for xming and VcXsrv anyways). – dma1324 Apr 18 '18 at 22:36
  • 6
    I would downvote this answer as it is 1: not fully accurate, and 2: not in the spirit of the question - yes, you can run gui apps in wsl with an xserver. The op didn't ask about supported apps. (install vcxserve or something similar, sudo apt-get install synaptic after setting DISPLAY, no need for ssh)... – decuser Nov 13 '18 at 17:42
  • 4
    @decuser Upvote better answers instead: If there isn't one, write one. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 4 '19 at 9:43


I chose to use VcXsrv in WSL (Windows 10 Subsystem for Linux). I recommend everyone do their research between xming (the accepted answer) and VcXsrv before selecting one or the other for Graphical User Interface (GUI) support in Windows 10 Ubuntu 16.04.


Installation is straight forward. As of March 17, 2019 you can simply accept the defaults. If you want to call gedit from within your Bash Shell / Terminal you need to edit ~/.bashrc and insert this line:

export DISPLAY=localhost:0.0

What can you do after VcXsrv is installed?

I was able to run:

sudo apt install ubuntu-desktop
sudo apt install yad
sudo apt install gedit

... to install GUI desktop software. This then allowed me to run gedit and nautilus. Also I was then able to install specific GUI applications through the CLI (Command Line Interface) using apt or apt-get commands.

When I want to try many of my Ubuntu bash scripts within WSL VcXsrv must be installed so zenity and yad x-windows dialog boxes are displayed for user input.

As others have noted GUI within WSL is not perfect and you can expect to spend time problem-solving some issues. Also some GUI software simply won't work in WSL.

Setup notes

I modified /etc/environment to tweak GUI drop down menus:

export DISPLAY=localhost:0.0
  • /mnt/e/bin is unusual path because it is where I store scripts used in both Windows 10 dual boot WSL and Ubuntu 16.04 dual boot. Most users would not include this on their machine.
  • 10
    This was painless: On Windows, downloaded VcXsrv using the link provided. Installed and launched it. Then I opened an Ubuntu shell and entered export DISPLAY=:0. Now I could run xhost, xeyes and gnuplot in Ubuntu (provided these programs are already installed in the Ubuntu WSL). – Daniel K. Mar 20 '18 at 8:00
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    @dessert +1 to your comment. It's double hilarious considering my user name means "Limited by Windows User switched over to Unix". Thanks to WSL I use Windows 10 occasionally now because I can run Ubuntu inside it. Call me WinEunuuchs2Unix2WinSub4Linux? :p – WinEunuuchs2Unix Feb 20 '19 at 23:45
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    @ErelSegal-Halevi See github.com/QMonkey/wsl-tutorial for complete instructions. – WinEunuuchs2Unix Feb 27 '19 at 10:47
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    also export LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT=1 and you get some hardware acceleration in GL apps over X using VcXsrv – Jippers May 29 '19 at 14:10
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    I had to use the WSL network interface IP. On .bashrc I added \n export DISPLAY_NUMBER="0.0" and another line: export DISPLAY=$(grep -m 1 nameserver /etc/resolv.conf | awk '{print $2}'):$DISPLAY_NUMBER – Manuel Alves Oct 8 '20 at 7:30

I've had a very positive experience with VcXsrv on Win 10 Bash on Ubuntu on Windows (Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial x86_64 Linux 4.4.0-17074-Microsoft). I did not focus on running Unity desktop as it is useless and resource consuming. I just simply ran apps from bash in GUI mode from Windows10 desktop using XServer.

  1. Install VcXsrv from here on Sourceforge

  2. Run the VcXsrv app directly, do not launch XLaunch. You should see localhost:0.0 - 0 clients when you hover over the icon on Win10 Taskbar

  3. Open Ubuntu Bash:

     cd /mnt

(results in localhost@localhost:/mnt$)

    cd .. 

(localhost@localhost:/$ meaning this commands brings you to the beginning of the hard-drive as far as WSL can see...)

    sudo apt-get install dbus synaptic nautilus --install-suggests --show-progress

(this will install "dbus" to create virtual connector for GUI, "Synaptic Package Manager" and "Nautilus" file explorer for unity-desktop

    cd /usr/share/dbus-1 && sudo vi session.conf

(When session.conf opens in vi editor)

Press i to enter insert mode and add

    <!-- <listen>unix:tmpdir=/tmp</listen> || Original Command --> to preserve original rules

than add:


Press ESC when you are done editing file and :wq to save the file.

Run these commands and check their output:

    $ export DISPLAY=localhost:0
    $ sudo service dbus start
    * Starting system message bus dbus                 [OK]
    $ echo $DISPLAY
  1. You are done! Now just run synaptic, nautilus or firefox from Bash and they should load on Win10 desktop. GUI options like this are buggy but operational. You can install ubuntu-desktop, unity, ccsm, compiz and try to run Unity Desktop for Ubuntu. I did not try to set the "Steam" because I am still suffering rrying to run "Unreal", Good luck :)

If someone knows how to run gnome-terminal on XServer instead of XTerm please share...

You can add VcXsrv as a Win10 bootable

To max your sources with "Steam" as specified in original post, tune your Windows a little for network package management (to lower latency) and CPU/GPU prioritization to make a Win10XBox… :)

Although you will run "Steam" under "Unix" the shell is still "Windows" which allows you to launch "Steam" on "Unix" …

Tcp Prep:;

In regedit:


Here you need to go through the list of sub-keys to locate the network adapter entry that is used to connect to the Internet. If you are using DHCP, you need to look for DhcpIPAdddress entry (with system data values NOT : to find the correct adapter.

Once you have located the correct key right-click it and select New > Dword (32-bit) Value.

Name it TcpFrequency and click ok.

Double-click the value afterwards and set its Decimal value to 1. (To restore the default setting, change the value to 2 or delete the key) Now navigate to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\MSMQ

Right-click on the key again and select New > Dword (32-bit) Value.

Name the new parameter TcpDelay

Double-click it afterwards and change its Decimal value to 1. (To restore the key at a later point in time change it to 0 or delete the key)

Nagle’s Algorithm

Nagle’s algorithm combines several small packets into a single, larger packet for more efficient transmissions. This is designed to improve throughput efficiency of data transmission. Disabling “nagling” can help reduce latency/ping in some games. Nagle’s algorithm is enabled in Windows by default. To implement this tweak, modify the following registry keys.


For the {NIC-id}, look for the one with your IP address listed; under this {NIC-id} key create following DWORD value:

  • TcpFrequency and set it to 1 to disable “nagling” for gaming.
  • TCPDelay and set it also to 1 to disable “nagling”
  • TcpTicks and set it to 0


Some reports say that the tweaks did reduce latency when playing Dota 2 and League of Legends but it doesn’t work for some. I have tried it and my latency improved from 110 to 90ms (SEA Server) when playing Dota 2.

Network Throttling Index

Windows implements a network throttling mechanism, the idea behind such throttling is that processing of network packets can be a resource-intensive task. It is beneficial to turn off such throttling for achieving maximum throughput.

To implement this tweak, run regedit and modify the registry

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Multimedia\SystemProfile. 

Under SystemProfile, create a DWORD value and name it to NetworkThrottlingIndex then set its Hexadecimal value to ffffffff for gaming and max throughput: ffffffff completely disables throttling.

System Gaming Responsiveness (Not so sure about this one :)

Multimedia streaming and some games that uses “Multimedia Class Scheduler” service (MMCSS) can only utilize up to 80% of the CPU. The “Multimedia Class Scheduler” service (MMCSS) ensures prioritized access to CPU resources, without denying CPU resources to lower-priority background applications.

To implement this tweak, run regedit and modify the registry key

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Multimedia\SystemProfile. 

From there, create a new DWORD and name it to SystemResponsiveness set its decimal value to 00000000 for pure gaming/streaming.

In the same Registry hive as the above tweak, you can also change the priority of Games. To implement this tweak, go to

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Multimedia\SystemProfile\Tasks\Games

and change the following registry values:

  • “GPU Priority” change its values to 8 for gaming.
  • “Priority” set to 1 for gaming.

All cheers for "unknown" (pardon me was a while since I copied your directions) author of this Windows=Xbox tweak...

PPS: If XServer fails on what you would like to do try to find the workaround with Docker.

  • [WSL_Apache_Roolez][1]
  • [Throttling_a_'mm'_:0][2]
  • [You've Got Mail!!!][3]

Microsoft announced the green light for WSL 2 GUI: https://devblogs.microsoft.com/commandline/the-windows-subsystem-for-linux-build-2020-summary/#wsl-gui

  • 6-5-7; :5-6-7... – tenedas Feb 27 '18 at 1:05
  • Thanks for a very detailed answer. Otherwise, thanks to whoever suggested the edit, I can't believe, people are actually suggesting solutions for running Steam. On the other hand, people still keep suggesting desktops, which I still have no idea what would be the use of that, I personally don't even need a file manager, let alone a full flex desktop. – George Hovhannisian Jun 6 '18 at 19:26
  • I installed Xming on Windows, then used all the steps from section 3. here (above) - install dbus (no actual need for synaptic or nautilus, but nautilus is a good check), make the session.conf edit, and start the dbus service. Nautilus then starts successfully with a few error messages. – MikeW Dec 14 '18 at 10:07
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    What do you mean by "Run the VcXsrv app directly" - how exactly to do this? – Erel Segal-Halevi Feb 25 '19 at 17:45
  • Change <auth>allow_anonymous</auth> to <auth>ANONYMOUS</auth>, then service dbus restart and gnome-terminal should work – ZAB Jun 2 '19 at 16:49

Even though a full GUI desktop environment is not ‘officially’ supported by Microsoft, it can work.

Turn Windows features on or off
Enable Windows Subsystem for Linux
Restart Computer
Launch Microsoft Store
Search for Ubuntu
Select Ubuntu 18.04 under Apps
Click Get
Launch Ubuntu and wait for install
Set username and password

Run the following Commands:

sudo apt-get update -y
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop -y
sudo apt-get install xfce4 xorg xrdp -y
sudo sed -i 's/port=3389/port=3390/g' /etc/xrdp/xrdp.ini

Create and modify .xsession

cd /home/user/
sudo vim .xsession

Add text:

gnome-session --session=ubuntu-2d

Save and exit vi

sudo chmod 755 .xsession
sudo systemctl enable xrdp

You will need a second account on Ubuntu

sudo adduser remote
sudo usermod -aG sudo remote

Modify startwm.sh

cd /etc/xrdp
sudo chmod 777 startwm.sh
vim startwm.sh

Comment out the bottom two lines

#test -x /etc/X11/Xsession && exec /etc/X11/Xsession
#exec /bin/sh /etc/X11/Xsession

Add text:


Save and exit vi


In Windows, restart Ubuntu and run:

sudo /etc/init.d/xrdp start

In Windows run mstsc.exe
Leave username blank

Session: Xorg
username: remote
password: password

Enjoy xfce!

When done, close the remote desktop connection
Return to the Ubuntu command line

sudo /etc/init.d/xrdp stop
  • 1
    This is working. I used ubuntu 16. I didn't had ubuntu native GUI appearance. Xorg is not available in xrdp list – TRiNE Sep 16 '18 at 5:16
  • I keep getting the following error message - "login failed for display 0". Thoughts? Why will xrdp not allow me to login? – J-Dizzle Nov 23 '18 at 16:59

Based on my research, wsl was originally not designed for GUI users. However, we can install an X-server from the third party to display GUI. I have tested that VcXsrv with some proper setup can be used to display Debian Linux-desktop.

I think my approach works smoothly to display mate-desktop (GUI) on windows subsystem Linux Debian. I have made a video on how to install and display mate-desktop (GUI) on wsl Debian from scratch. Link: https://youtu.be/QjogEWudpaM

The installation of the mate-desktop on Ubuntu is slightly different.

Step 1: install wsl

  • Open PowerShell as an administrator and type Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux
  • Install "Debian" or "Ubuntu" from the Microsoft store.

Step 2: install a Graphic user interface, such as mate desktop.

For Debian User:

  • Open Linux console in windows 10 and install mate-desktop by typing: sudo apt-get update, hit enter.
  • After update finish, type sudo apt install task-mate-desktop, hit enter.

OR for Ubuntu User:

  • open ubuntu console from windows 10
  • type sudo apt install tasksel, hit enter
  • type sudo apt update, hit enter
  • type sudo tasksel install ubuntu-mate-desktop, hit enter

Step3: Install the X server in windows 10. I used an open-source server called VcXsrv. It can be downloaded from https://sourceforge.net/projects/vcxsrv/.
Once the installation is completed:

  • open XLauch in windows 10

  • perform the following setup:

    • select: "One large window"
    • select Display number: 0
    • click next
    • select Start no client
    • click next
    • click finish

Step 4: setup in Linux console:

  • type export DISPLAY=:0

  • type export LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT=1 (maybe this commend is not required)

Step 5: Display mate-desktop GUI:

  • type mate-session for Debian user

  • type mate-session or lightdm-session for Ubuntu user

If you get confused about my description, you can check my youtube videos Install GUI (mate desktop) to Microsoft Windows Subsystem Linux.

  • These steps look promising, but I got stuck at the very last one: mate-session results into Unable to init server: Could not connect: Connection refused ** (mate-session:4087): WARNING **: 10:11:55.427: Cannot open display: – phi Nov 11 '20 at 9:13
  • 1
    This site gave me the missing infos: github.com/microsoft/WSL/issues/4106 For WSL2 you have to find the actual IP address, because its a separate VM: export DISPLAY=$(cat /etc/resolv.conf | grep nameserver | awk '{print $2}'):0.0 Furthermore, the VcXsrv was blocked by my Windows firewall (private/public). – phi Nov 11 '20 at 9:40

If you want an effortless off the shelf solution, use MobaXTerm. It's a great, multitabbed terminal emulator with direct support for WSL, and has a built-in optimized X server. I use synaptic all the time on Moba. Even RStudio.


I chose Panther's answer not only because it's the only, but also because it's the correct answer; there is no hassle-free (straightforward) way to get gui apps running.

Also, I used this tutorial, with a few changes:

  1. I didn't install xfce, because I don't know why I would need a desktop.
  2. Chose Multiple Windows in XLaunch (No DE, hence no need for one giant window)
  3. No need for mkdir fix and no need for a separate terminal.

What gui apps did I install? Only Synaptic and CMake, since I really can't think of anything else I would need on wsl.

I don't do VM/Dual Boot, for the very same reason Panther pointed out; I need a convenient (to me) dev environment, not a full flex OS.

  • vagrantup.com/docs/other/wsl.html - vagrant is an excellent tool to quickly spin up dev environments. Looks like it supports wsl. Though I have not tried it yet. – TamusJRoyce Sep 6 '18 at 22:26
  • Thanks for the link to the tutorial. That helped solved my problem :). – Shmuel Kamensky Sep 27 '20 at 19:01

Since you want it easy... There is an app in the Microsoft Store called x410. It's basically a Cygwin X11 server without the use of Cygwin itself. After installment - that is zero config - you can run WSL X11 Apps! (or even whole desktops). You might want to insert the following lines into your .bashrc (from your WSL user account) so you can run the apps from your bash terminal.

### Setup a D-Bus instance that will be shared by all X-Window apps
pidof dbus-launch 1> /dev/null || dbus-launch --exit-with-x11 1> /dev/null 2> 

## Export
export DISPLAY=

I bought x410 on salve for about 5euro's.. So if it's too much, perhaps wait for an sale!

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