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

I've found that explorer.exe works pretty well at finding the correct resolved path (even of mounted network directories) and launching the default tool. The one gotcha is that you can't have paths in the filename, so you need to create a little helper function/script to launch explorer correctly, e.g.:

win() { 
    # get full unsymlinked filename 
    file=`readlink -e $1` 
    dir=$(dirname "$file") 
    base=$(basename "$file") 
    # open item using default windows application 
    (cd "$dir"; explorer.exe "$base")

As Martijn noted this is the correct way to execute/open a Windows application/file.

cmd.exe /C start <file>

I found it very useful to work this into a bash script that I keep in a folder that is in my system path. I name it start and do chmod 0744 to the file to make it executable. The $* means it will pass all of the command line arguments you provided to the script to cmd.exe.

cmd.exe /c start $*

With this command in my system path I can commands like this in Linux that open in Windows:

  1. start FileXYZ.pdf // Opens the PDF in the default assigned PDF viewer in Windows
  2. start explorer . // Opens current WSL folder in the Windows Explorer
  3. start MyApp.exe // Launches the Windows application

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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