Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) and Linux Docker Containers in the Cloud | Aaron|MSFT

Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) and Linux Docker Containers in the Cloud

Have you ever wanted a development machine in the cloud? Sometimes I might want:

  • a “freshly squeezed” and often disposable environment for a task that uses a particular toolchain.
  • to run something that has higher CPU, I/O, or bandwidth requirements than I have available, or want to use, locally, or something that must remain running despite intermittent connectivity.
  • a backup of my primary development machine, that can have me up and running in seconds to minutes in case of a hardware failure.
  • an always on machine that can be accessed via multiple devices, from a laptop to a mobile device, or perhaps even by multiple people.

My set of “desert island developer tools” include Visual Studio Code, bash via its Integrated Terminal, Google Chrome, and Docker. With these tools I can have almost complete parity across my primary MacBook Pro (macOS) laptop and my secondary Surface Go which dual boots Ubuntu and Windows 10 with Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

So what is the easiest way to get parity between my developer machine and one in the cloud? For my macOS/Linux/Containers toolchain, I would typically have run a Linux (Ubuntu) Virtual Machine. However, the lack of seamless Remote Desktop (RDP) options on Linux for GUI apps like Code and Chrome is a drawback, especially on low bandwidth connections.

Since the launch of Windows Server 2019 we can now run Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) on Windows Server as well as on Windows 10.

Azure’s v3 Series Virtual Machines also make it possible to use nested-virtualization and therefore Docker Desktop for Windows, which uses Hyper-V, to run Linux Containers on a Windows VM in the cloud.

Combining these two gives us the best of both worlds. A completely cross platform development environment with trivial remote access.

This is also a great option for people who would like to kick the tires of Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) without having to run Windows locally on a VM, dual-booted, or on a spare machine. WSL isn’t just for people whose daily driver is a Windows machine.

Here is how we can use the Azure CLI to create a Virtual Machine in Azure running Windows Server 2019, and PowerShell to quickly install Google Chrome, VS Code, Windows Subsystem for Linux, Ubuntu 18.04, Hyper-V, and Docker.

Create a VM in Azure

PASSWORD=$(openssl rand -hex 6)'A1!'
# optional:
# mkdir -p _/ && echo -n $PASSWORD > _/PASSWORD.txt

az group create -n $RESOURCE_GROUP -l $LOCATION

az vm create \
    --resource-group $RESOURCE_GROUP \
    --name windows1 \
    --size Standard_D2s_v3 \
    --image $IMAGE \
    --admin-username azureuser \
    --admin-password $PASSWORD

# optional: show vm public ip
az vm show --show-details \
    --resource-group $RESOURCE_GROUP \
    --name windows1 | jq -r .publicIps

If we prefer to use Windows 10, we could have used the following image, which gives us the option to install our preferred Linux distribution via the Windows Store, as well as join the VM to Azure Active Directory, use Multi-factor Authentication for Remote Desktop, and more.

# optional:
# az vm image list --all --offer Windows-10

However, we’ll use Windows Server 2019 and continue on to use Powershell to install the tools we need.

Install Chrome, Code, WSL, Ubuntu

# stop server manager from starting up automatically 
Get-ScheduledTask -TaskName ServerManager | Disable-ScheduledTask -Verbose

# chrome
Start-BitsTransfer -source -destination chrome_installer.exe

# vs code
Start-BitsTransfer -source -destination vscode-insider.exe

# wsl
Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux

# ubuntu 18.04
Start-BitsTransfer -source -destination Ubuntu.appx
Rename-Item Ubuntu.appx
Expand-Archive Ubuntu/

# in powershell:
# bash.exe
# <enter username and password>

# in vs code:
# Ctrl + Shift + P > Terminal: Select Default Shell
# WSL Bash

Enable Hyper-V and Install Docker

Install-WindowsFeature -Name Hyper-V -IncludeManagementTools -Restart

# <restart vm and log back in via remote desktop>

Start-BitsTransfer -source -destination docker.exe

Helpful aliases and other tweaks

Below we’ll make an alias that will run docker.exe every time we run docker from within WSL, alias code-insiders to c, and re-alias ls to remove the colorizaton.

vim ~/.bash_aliases

alias docker='docker.exe'
alias c='code-insiders'
alias ls='ls'
# :wq

We can also set terminal.integrated.rendererType to dom in vs code settings (see:

Create our first Docker Container via WSL, PowerShell, or cmd:

Here we see how we can run a Linux Docker Container, using Docker for Windows, from WSL, Powershell, or cmd.

# wsl
docker run --rm -v 'c:\users\azureuser\me\':/pwd/ -it ubuntu bash

# powershell
docker run --rm -v "$((get-location).path):/pwd/" -it ubuntu bash

# cmd
docker run --rm -v %cd%:/pwd/ -it ubuntu bash

Note that inside WSL we are passing the Windows path for a volume mount to docker (which has been aliased to docker.exe). There isn’t a good way of easily passing the Windows path from inside WSL.

In a future post we’ll look at automating the installation process (similar to cloud-init on Linux), and creating our own Virtual Machine images so that our favorite environment is only an az vm create away.

© Aaron|MSFT ~ "My Software Fixes Things" ~ @as_w ~