Most systems provide an open command (alternately known as start, cygstart, xdg-open etc.) which opens a file in the desktop environment's "default" application, whatever that is.

For example, from Powershell when I enter:

PS> start form.pdf

The document pops open in Edge.

Can Bash-on-Ubuntu-on-Windows do this?


Since the Windows Linux interop started working you can now call:

cmd.exe /C start <file>
  • Works for me for relative paths, for absolute paths I wrote a script to substitute /mnt/c by c: ... | sed 's/\/mnt\/\(.\)/\1:/1' | xargs cmd.exe /C start – Michael Oct 4 '17 at 20:58
  • 1
    Nice solution. We can also access files on the Linux filesystem using info from superuser.com/q/1110974/66714. Something like cmd.exe /c start "%localappdata%/lxss/$(readlink -f $some_relative_path)" Now we're cooking with fire! – Cheezmeister Oct 8 '17 at 0:45

This depends on whether you want to A) launch a linux program inside WSL or B) you want to launch a windows program from a bash shell prompt.

If B) then yes if you install cygwin/bash. For example install git for windows and you have a system running under windows with bash. Then you can just run start, actually it is included as a script:

$ cat /usr/bin/start
#!/usr/bin/env bash
# Copyright (C) 2014, Alexey Pavlov
#   mailto:alexpux@gmail.com
# This file is part of Minimal SYStem version 2.
#   https://sourceforge.net/p/msys2/wiki/MSYS2%20installation/
# File: start

cmd //c start "${@//&/^&}"

If A) then it gets much more difficult especially if you want to launch a linux program to display a .pdf in a GUI window. Note that Windows knows to associate a default application to open a pdf file but WSL doesn't have the information. So even if you did get a Desktop running under WSL you would need to associate a linux GUI app to open the pdf.

Note to clarify, within WSL you execute linux executables not windows executables:

(WSL):~# file /bin/gzip
/bin/gzip: ELF 64-bit LSB  executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked (uses shared libs), for GNU/Linux 2.6.24, BuildID[sha1]=68cc3c090405cf6d40e97d2ff58085fd26940602, stripped

(WSL):~# file /mnt/c/Program\ Files/Internet\ Explorer/iexplore.exe
 /mnt/c/Program Files/Internet Explorer/iexplore.exe: PE32+ executable (GUI) x86-64, for MS Windows

(WSL):~# /mnt/c/Program\ Files/Internet\ Explorer/iexplore.exe
 bash: /mnt/c/Program Files/Internet Explorer/iexplore.exe: cannot execute binary file: Exec format error

WSL got Windows-Linux interop working in october, so I guess that you should be able to use Windows' start directly in Bash, just as you did in Powershell.
Just call it with start.exe

  • 1
    Doesn't work for me. Perhaps it's because I'm actually using zsh. Does this work for you? – Cheezmeister Jan 4 '17 at 16:50
  • 1
    no such thing as start.exe – Steven Penny Jan 1 '18 at 21:33

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