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Docker vs WSL for Running Ubuntu on Windows 10

Ubuntu 11

In the world of virtualization and development, there are several ways to run Ubuntu on a Windows 10 system. Two of the most popular methods are through Docker and the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). This article will delve into the specifics of each method, their advantages, disadvantages, and use-cases.

Quick Answer

Docker and WSL both provide ways to run Ubuntu on Windows 10, but they serve different purposes. Docker is ideal for creating isolated and reproducible environments for specific applications or services. WSL, on the other hand, is perfect for running Linux command-line tools alongside Windows applications. The choice between the two depends on your specific needs and use case.

Understanding Docker

Docker is an open-source platform that automates the deployment, scaling, and management of applications. It uses containerization to package up an application with all of its dependencies into a standardized unit for software development.

Running Ubuntu on Docker

To run Ubuntu on Docker, you first need to install Docker for Windows. Once installed, you can pull the Ubuntu image from Docker Hub using the command:

docker pull ubuntu

This command fetches the latest Ubuntu image. After pulling the image, you can run Ubuntu in a Docker container with the following command:

docker run -it ubuntu

In this command, -it is an option that allows you to interact with the container. The run command tells Docker to run a new container from the Ubuntu image.

Advantages of Docker

Docker offers several benefits, including:

  • Environment Reproducibility: Docker containers maintain consistency across multiple development and release cycles, solving the “it works on my machine” problem.
  • Isolation: Docker ensures that each container has its own resources that are isolated from other containers. This provides a secure environment for your applications.

Disadvantages of Docker

Despite its advantages, Docker does have some drawbacks:

  • Docker is not designed for running a general-use Ubuntu system. It is better suited for running specific applications or services.
  • Docker can be slow when mounting different filesystems, especially on Windows.

Understanding Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL)

WSL is a compatibility layer for running Linux binary executables natively on Windows 10. WSL allows developers to run a GNU/Linux environment, including most command-line tools and utilities, directly on Windows.

Running Ubuntu on WSL

To run Ubuntu on WSL, you need to install WSL and then install Ubuntu from the Microsoft Store. Once installed, you can start Ubuntu from the Start menu or by typing ubuntu in the command prompt.

Advantages of WSL

WSL offers several benefits, including:

  • Integration: WSL provides excellent integration with the rest of the Windows system. You can run Windows and Linux commands side by side.
  • Performance: WSL2, the latest version, offers near-native performance for most tasks and supports graphical Linux applications on Windows 11.

Disadvantages of WSL

WSL also has some drawbacks:

  • WSL may have performance issues, especially with IO operations and accessing Windows files.
  • WSL is still in active development and may have compatibility issues with some Linux software.

Docker vs WSL: Which One to Choose?

The choice between Docker and WSL depends on your specific needs. Docker is ideal for creating reproducible environments for developing and deploying applications. On the other hand, WSL is perfect for running Linux command-line tools alongside Windows applications.

In general, if you need to run a specific application or service in an isolated and reproducible environment, Docker is the way to go. If you need to use Linux command-line tools for development or system administration tasks on a Windows machine, WSL is a better choice.

Remember, Docker and WSL are not mutually exclusive. Docker Desktop for Windows can use WSL2 as its backend, combining the best of both worlds. This allows you to develop Docker containers using Ubuntu as a base, right from your WSL2 Ubuntu environment.

In conclusion, both Docker and WSL offer unique advantages when it comes to running Ubuntu on Windows 10. Your choice between the two will depend on your specific use case and requirements.

Can I run graphical Linux applications using Docker or WSL?

Yes, WSL2 supports running graphical Linux applications on Windows 11. However, Docker is primarily designed for running command-line applications and services, so it may not provide native support for running graphical applications.

Can I access Windows files from Ubuntu running on Docker or WSL?

Yes, both Docker and WSL allow you to access Windows files. In Docker, you can use volume mounts to share files between the host system and the container. In WSL, you can access Windows files directly from the Linux file system under the /mnt directory.

Can I use Docker and WSL together?

Yes, Docker Desktop for Windows can use WSL2 as its backend. This allows you to develop Docker containers using Ubuntu as a base, right from your WSL2 Ubuntu environment.

Can I use Docker or WSL to run other Linux distributions besides Ubuntu?

Yes, both Docker and WSL support running various Linux distributions. Docker provides a wide range of official and community-maintained images for different distributions. WSL also allows you to install and run different Linux distributions from the Microsoft Store.

Can I run Docker or WSL on Windows 10 Home edition?

Docker requires Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, or Education editions to run. However, WSL is available on all editions of Windows 10, including Home edition. Note that WSL2 is only available on Windows 10 versions 2004 and later.

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