Use SSH & X11 forwarding on Windows with WSL

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Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is a feature of Windows that allows developers to run a Linux environment without the need for a separate virtual machine or dual booting.
There are two versions of WSL: WSL 1 and WSL 2. WSL 1 was first released on August 2, 2016, and acts as a compatibility layer for running Linux binary executables (in ELF format) by implementing Linux system calls on the Windows kernel.


  • Windows 10 version 2004 and higher (Build 19041 and higher) or Windows 11.

WSL Configuration

  • Start an elevated terminal by pressing on Windows key + X and choose terminal (admin) then type the following command :
wsl --install

This command will install all needed components for WSL and Ubuntu 22.04 distribution by default.

if you prefer another distribution you can specify it with the -d argument (more info at the end of this section).

  • After the configuration is completed you need to restart your computer.
  • After having restarted your computer you need to specify a username and a password then your WSL Distribution is ready to use.
  • To connect over SSH with X11 forwarding use the -X argument in your SSH command :
ssh username@hostname -X

Install another distribution

You ca use the -d argument to specify another distribution to be installed by WSL, use the following command to get the distribution that are available :

 wsl --list --online

At the time of writing this documentation the following distribution can be installed using WSL :

NAME                                   FRIENDLY NAME
Ubuntu                                 Ubuntu
Debian                                 Debian GNU/Linux
kali-linux                             Kali Linux Rolling
Ubuntu-18.04                           Ubuntu 18.04 LTS
Ubuntu-20.04                           Ubuntu 20.04 LTS
Ubuntu-22.04                           Ubuntu 22.04 LTS
OracleLinux_8_5                        Oracle Linux 8.5
OracleLinux_7_9                        Oracle Linux 7.9
SUSE-Linux-Enterprise-Server-15-SP4    SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 15 SP4
openSUSE-Leap-15.4                     openSUSE Leap 15.4
openSUSE-Tumbleweed                    openSUSE Tumbleweed

For example to install Debian use the following command :

wsl --install -d debian

More information