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When I start bash on Windows Subsystem for Linux, it drops me in the directory

/mnt/c/Users/<username>

When I ls this directory, I see the directories Desktop, Documents, etc. that I can see are in C:\Users\<username> using the Windows File Explorer. Since this is where the bash program started, I expected this is my home directory, but when I type either cd or cd ~ I am brought to

/home/<username>

which contains my .bashrc, .profile etc. file which I would expect to find in my home directory in a Linux box. Moreover, entering cd ../.. from here I can see the directories bin, etc and so on, again as expected on a Linux box.

I have two questions regarding all this:

  1. What exactly is /mnt/c/Users/<username> compared with C:\Users\<username>? It seems they are one in the same---so what is /mnt/c/?
  2. How can I view the files in /home/<username> using the Windows File Explorer? Not that I'd really ever want to---I'm just trying to get a feel for how Windows is organizing this Subsystem for Linux thing.

10 Answers 10

105

For 2: The current path is now related to which distribution you have installed from the Microsoft Store rather than one global path. So, for Ubuntu it is now located at:

%LOCALAPPDATA%\Packages\CanonicalGroupLimited.UbuntuonWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc\LocalState\rootfs

I assume the other distributions will be in a similar location under their respective folders under:

%LOCALAPPDATA%\Packages\
  • 11
    Anyone else find this practice disturbing? Isn't my HOME folder supposed to be the ONE safe place for MY data inside a repo? With this approach, a broken repo and reinstall hoses MY DATA with NO attempt to protect it at all AND it's hidden when I already have a REAL /home. Why isn't data persisted there? This is all the more dangerous because we're now being encouraged to try/use/swap distros (WLinux). Really feels like someone didn't think this whole thing through. – rainabba Sep 25 '18 at 19:53
  • In my case (1809) the folder is called CanonicalGroupLimited.Ubuntu18.04onWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc – jao Dec 3 '18 at 13:34
  • 2
    Important Note: You should still not poke around Linux files using Windows tools. See: blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/commandline/2016/11/17/… (also see the blog post itself) – coltoneakins Dec 11 '18 at 6:14
  • fantastic. another reason git for windows/mingw still works better... much more thought put into real daily workloads. is there a way to remap it properly? – enorl76 Feb 17 at 5:34
  • 1
    @rainabba At first blush I agree but after some thought, I'm still choosing to use Windows rather than full-blown Ubuntu. As such I'm treating WSL as a way to access Linux tools but still treating my windows file system as the first class citizen. So /mnt/c/ is where I store everything in WSL. I would love it if WSL was reversed to LWS; meaning it would be awesome if we were all running Ubuntu with Linux Subsystems for Windows to run a complete Windows 10 copy integrated into Ubuntu. I know, that would be a lot harder but one can dream. – Chev Jul 12 at 6:10
29
  1. /mnt/c is the exact same as C:\. It's just the syntax for getting to it from WSL.
  2. Look in C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Lxss\rootfs.
  • 8
    Warning: blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/commandline/2016/11/17/… that's the place yes but do not change anything. – chx May 5 '17 at 22:34
  • 6
    As of 2018, this answer is not valid anymore. See @MichaelBond's answer. – dr01 Mar 20 '18 at 9:44
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    Now it's gone to C:\Users\[USERNAME]\AppData\Local\Packages\CanonicalGroupLimited.UbuntuonWindows_[CODE]\LocalState\rootfs\ You might aware how bad if you edit / manually – mementototem Jun 21 '18 at 5:41
  • for easy access via copy-pasta, `%LOCALAPPDATA%\Packages\CanonicalGroupLimited.UbuntuonWindows_[CODE]\LocalState\rootfs` – twig May 13 at 0:05
  • Note that the lxss folder will be hidden in File Explorer unless you uncheck "Folder options > View : Advanced settings : Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)". But even though it's hidden, you can still open the folder in File Explorer if you enter it in the folder path. – Daryn May 16 at 7:20
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About the filesystem mounted on /mnt/c

  1. What exactly is /mnt/c/Users/ compared with C:\Users\? It seems they are one in the same---so what is /mnt/c/?

In contrast to Windows, Linux (and the other systems based on Unix) use a single folder structure independent of the number of disks you have. If you have multiple disks, all these disks must me mounted into the folder structure at some point.

  • Typically, all the disks (different than the used to boot the system) are mounted in a folder named /mnt or /media

WSL has an special type of filesystem named DrvFS that gives you access to the disks used in windows. You can use DrvFS to mount, not only your windows filesystem, but also network disks and other media types.

  • In WSL, by default, the C: disk in windows is mounted under /mnt/c
  • If you have another disk, for instance a D: disk in windows, it will be mounted under /mnt/d

The files you can see in /mnt/c are the same you have in C:. If you modify some file, you will get the changes in the windows too.

You may use the mount command to access other types of media (e.g. removable drives or network shares).


About the location of /home/<username>

  1. How can I view the files in /home/ using the Windows File Explorer? Not that I'd really ever want to---I'm just trying to get a feel for how Windows is organizing this Subsystem for Linux thing.

In WSL, all the linux filesystem is located under a Windows folder. The location of the folder depends on the version of Windows and of the WSL distribution you are using.

  • Initial versions of WSL store the linux filesystem in %LOCALAPPDATA%\Lxss\rootfs
  • WSL distributions installed from the Windows Store, starting in Windows Build 16215 (mid of 2017), use a folder like %LOCALAPPDATA%\Packages\...\LocalState\rootfs. The name of the package varies depending on the distribution (e.g. it is different for Ubuntu than for Debian)
  • Linux distributions installed using other tools, such as lxRunOffline or WSL-DistroLauncher may store the linux filesystem into any location.

You may check many options to know the location of the WSL folder. For instance, I think the easiest option is to use lxRunOffline to know the installation folder.

## You can use lxrunoffline to check which WSL distributions have installed
## using:   lxrunoffline list

C:\> lxrunoffline list
backup
Ubuntu-18.04    

## And you can use it to get the location of any of these WSL installations
## using:   lxrunoffline get-dir -n <name of distribution>

C:\> lxrunoffline get-dir -n backup
c:\wsl\installed\backup

C:\> lxrunoffline get-dir -n Ubuntu
C:\Users\Jaime\AppData\Local\Packages\CanonicalGroupLimited.UbuntuonWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc\LocalState

Once you know the location of the installation folder, the /home/<username> is under <installation folder>\rootfs\home\username.

  • For instance, if your installation folder is c:\wsl\ubuntu
  • the /home/<username> is in c:\wsl\ubuntu\rootfs\home\username

NOTE: Both Linux and Windows stores file permissions in different ways. Nowadays, the WSL DrvFS stores the Linux permissions as Streams (metadata) attached to the files you can see in Windows. Microsoft does not recommend to modify linux files using Windows programs. It is possible that some Windows applcations damage the linux permissions without notice it.

5

I suppose it might depend on which windows build you are on, but for me in 2018 on Windows 10 Pro 64-bit, Version 1709 (OS Build 16299.522) and also Version 1803 (OS Build 17134.165) [a windows update ironically occurred as I was typing this] the location is still:

C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\lxss

The trick is when you're at C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local you will not see an lxss folder (unless you happen to have unchecked "Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)" in your folder options).

However just append \lxss in the windows explorer address bar and it will take you to the folder.

(Note I did not have a %LOCALAPPDATA%\Packages\CanonicalGroupLimited.UbuntuonWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc or anything similar that was mentioned in Michael Bonds answer)

Update

Turns out there is legacy WSL which is what I had installed. Now WSL is provided via a Microsoft store app. There are versions for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and also now a few other flavors of Linux (e.g. Debian). If you want to be up-to-date you might want to uninstall legacy WSL and install the Microsoft store version.

Where your home folder is will depend on which of these types of WSL you have installed.

4
  1. Using WSL bash console, in your home directory, create a file with an arbitrary specific name such as "test_here.txt".
  2. Then using Windows Explorer, using the search box, search for the file test_here.txt.
  3. On the found file > right-click > Open file location.
  • I tried this. It doesn't work. I don't see the file in search. However, if I drop the file in /mnt/c/Users/<username> it obviously works. – Eamonn Kenny Jan 11 at 16:39
  • I'm afraid I tried the WSL but I don't use this anymore. I didn't find it much useful. (I use cygwin daily, instead of WSL, and I find it very useful.) So I cannot verify it anymore, sorry ;) – Ellis Jan 13 at 7:54
  • Searching for rootfs works. you can then navigate the unbuntu file system from there. – tigr Jan 21 at 4:14
2

Four steps for windows 10 pro to pin your Debian/Ubuntu/OpenSUSE $HOME to the start menu of Windows:

  1. From start menu start File Explorer
  2. In address bar (not search bar) type %LOCALAPPDATA%.
  3. In search bar look for your $HOME directory name, in my case it was ekenny. There will be about 3 versions of this but you want the one with really long path.
  4. Right click your home directory and click "Pin to Start".

Now you have your home directory pinned to your start menu. I tried creating a shortcut but that doesn't go anywhere intelligible.

0

In Bash, to view the current directory in Windows File Explorer just enter:

explorer .

Don't leave out the "." This will open windows explorer at the current folder and you can see where everything is in relation to the rest of your windows system.

  • Thanks for the contribution but that only works in Bash, not in WSL (WIndows Subsystem for Linux) which is what this question is about. I would advise you to delete your answer or it may get downvoted. – rmcsharry Apr 25 at 13:24
  • This does not work in WSL – Nicolai Anton Lynnerup Oct 22 at 17:16
  • 1
    Actually explorer.exe . does work in WSL. This is the only answer which worked for me as all the paths provided by the other answers are not present in my system. I could not edit the answer myself because edits must be at least 6 characters. – Marco Lackovic yesterday
0

I just needed to find /etc/environment using Ubuntu 16.04 looking into Windows 10 NTFS storage. I found it here:

C:\Users\USER_NAME\AppData\Local\Packages\CanonicalGroupLimited.Ubuntu16.04onWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc\LocalState\rootfs\etc\environment
  • I changed /mnt/c/ to C:\ for Windows nomenclature.
  • I also changed all occurrences of / to \ for same reason.
  • You need to replace USER_NAME with your Windows User Name.
  • I had to use sudo -H Nautilus to get permissions to view the User Files stored in WSL.
  • NEVER update your Linux files in WSL using a Windows application. It will corrupt your Linux data.

From the Linux (Ubuntu 16.04) side the nomenclature would be:

$ sudo cat /mnt/c/Users/USER_NAME/AppData/Local/Packages/CanonicalGroupLimited.Ubuntu16.04onWindows_79rhkp1fndgsc/LocalState/rootfs/etc/environment

PATH="/mnt/e/bin:/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin:/usr/games:/usr/local/games"
export LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT=Yes
export DISPLAY=localhost:0.0
0

With current Windows 10 Insider (Fast ring: Windows 10 build 19025.1) you can mount your distro as a network drive. WSL is accessible as wls$, the path is your distribution name (wsl -l -q).

For example net use Z: \\wsl$\Debian /PERSISTENT:YES

  • Are you sure this is limited to WSL2? I thought as of 1903 you could explore the contents of the WSL file structure from within Windows. Creating a map network location would have been possible with that change. – Ramhound Nov 16 at 15:38
  • As I wrote I am not sure about WSL2. There are two points: introducing WSL2 (from build 18432) and distribution backed by WSL 2. This feature appears along with WSL2 and I hope it works with any distribution. – foal Nov 16 at 16:19
  • 1909 (WSL2) is 18363.476, not 18432(Insider Preview 20H1) unless you are saying, this is only on 20H1 builds? – Ramhound Nov 16 at 21:19
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If you installed your distribution with Chocolatey, the path to the home directory is:

C:\ProgramData\chocolatey\lib\wsl-<distribution-name>\tools\unzipped\rootfs\home

For example for Ubuntu 18.04:

C:\ProgramData\chocolatey\lib\wsl-ubuntu-1804\tools\unzipped\rootfs\home

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