BoUoW: Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

bash_tuxsay_uobow_sysinfo
Tux is telling you the most current Ubuntu running for Windows for BoUoW.

I am not proud of possibly inventing the ugly acronym “BOUOW”, but “BASH on Ubuntu on Windows” appears to compel it. Maybe we can pronounce it “bow-wow” — not sure if that’s complementary. Just did a Google search, and, no, as predicted I couldn’t have invented it: It is variously acronymed: B.O.U.O.W., or BoUoW. It has been around since at least March of 2016, giving end users, computer geeks, and developers plenty of time to come up with something of a nickname or acronym.

But I actually mean to praise BoUoW, and to give it considerably high praise. This is a brave move on Microsoft’s part, and a long time coming. MS has made *NIX access available in its kernel for some time now, thus making *NIX conventions possible on the command line like certain commands in the Power Shell. The user has to enable the capability in the Windows 10 settings (“Windows Subsystem for Linux” (WSL)), and as Admin, the kernel has to be set to “Developer mode”, and follow the instructions on the MSDN website to download binaries and to enable a bash shell on either the command line or PowerShell.

BoUoW takes advantage of the WSL to do impressive things like use the same network stack as Windows 10 itself. This is because with WSL enabled, a UNIX command such as SSH can now make calls directly to the Windows 10 kernel to access the network stack.

This is, by Microsoft’s admission, a work in progress. It would worry me if they would not have said that. But lots of things do work. vi works and is symlinked (or somehow aliased) to vim. The bash shell comes with some other common aliases like “ll” for “ls -l”, for instance, and apparently, as part of the installation, you actually have a miniature version of Ubuntu, complete with a C compiler, and an image of Ruby, Perl, Python, and if it isn’t installed, you can always use “apt-get” to install it.

One of the security features has the disadvantage of conducting an install of BoUoW separately for each user. If a user types “bash” in a cmd window, and if BoUoW is not installed for that user, the install happens all over again, and the image goes under each user’s AppData directory requesting a BoUoW install. If you are using an SSD for C: drive like me, then you might find that limiting due to a shortage of space.

There are many things not recommended yet. If you are a serious web developer, for example, you would find many of the things you want, such as mySQL, are not currently working the right way. If you are a systems programmer, then you’ll find that ps and top only work for unix-like commands, so I wouldn’t use BoUoW for any serious process management. That being said, it does contain the old standbys: grep, sed, and awk.

gcc_output_uobow
The compiling and output of my “Hello, world!” program, also showing the source code.

gcc had to be installed separately. The binary it created for my “Hello, world!” program lacks the Microsoft .exe extension. And as it is for Unix binaries, it lacks any default extension. It is using gcc version 4.8.4. The current version is 6.3. This older gcc usually won’t pose a problem for most users.

The current stable Ubuntu is 16.04. BoUoW uses the previous stable version, 14.04, and thus has slightly older versions of Perl (5.18), Python (2.7.6), bash (4.3.11), Ruby (1.8) (available using apt-get), vim (7.4), and other software. Vim, however, appears to be the “large” version, which is expandable, using plugins like Vundle, which is good news. I don’t suspect that these slightly older versions would cause anyone problems, except possibly for Python, which has gone all the way up to version 3.5.2 since. You are warned also that it is possible that under Python or Perl, you might run into problems due to not all of their libraries running correctly under BoUoW. Not surprising, since Python has hundreds of installable libraries and Perl has thousands of them. Could take a while.

 

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I am Paul King, a math and science teacher. I help maintain the MIT FAQ Archive along with Nick Bolach. I am also the maintainer of the FAQ for sci.bio.food-science.