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IT | 2023-05-30 09:28:43

WSL is fantastic for allowing devs and engineers to mix and match environments and toolsets. It's saved me many times having to maintain VM's specifically for different environments and versions of software. Microsoft are doing a pretty good job these days at updating it to support new features and bug fixes, however, running WSL and Docker as a permanent part of your workflow it's not without it's flaws.

This post will be added to as I remember optimizations that I have used in the past, however, all of them are specific to running Linux images and containers, not Windows.


Keep the WSL Kernel up to date

Make sure to keep the WSL Kernel up to date to take advantage of all the fixes Microsoft push.

wsl --update


Preventing Docker memory hog

I routinely work from a system with 16GB of RAM and running a few docker images would chew all available memory through the WSL vmmem process which would in turn lock my machine. The best workaround I could find for this was to set an upper limit for WSL memory consumption. You can do this through editing the .wslconfig file in your Users directory.

memory=3GB   # Limits VM memory in WSL 2 up to 3GB
processors=2 # Makes the WSL 2 VM use two virtual processors

You will need to reboot WSL for this to take effect.

wsl --shutdown

NOTE: half memory sizes don't seem to work, I tried 3.5GB and it just let it run max RAM on the system.


Slow filesystem access rates

When performing any sort of intensive file actions to files hosted in Windows but accessed through WSL you'll notice it's incredibly slow. There are a lot of open cases about this on the WSL GitHub repo, but the underlying issue is how the filesystem is "mounted" between the Windows and WSL. 

This bug is incredibly frustrating when working with containers that host nginx or Apache as page load times are in the multiple seconds irrespective of local or server caching. The best way around this issue is not have filesystem served from Windows, but serve it inside of the WSL distro. This used to be incredibly finicky to achieve but is easy now given the integration of tooling to WSL.

For example, say you have a single container that serves web content through Apache and that your development workflow means you have to modify the web content and see changes in realtime (ie React, Vue, webpack etc). Instead of building the docker container with files sourced from a windows directory, move the files to the WSL Linux filesystem (clone your Repo in Linux if you're working on committed files), then from the Linux commandline issue your build. Through the WSL2/Docker integration, the Docker socket will let you build inside of Linux using the Linux filesystem but run the container natively on your Windows host.

To edit your files inside the container, you can run VS Code from your Linux commandline which through the Code/WSL integration will let you edit your Linux filesystem.


Mounting into Linux FS

Keep in mind that if you do need to mount from Windows into your Linux filesystem for whatever reason you can do it via a private share that is automatically exposed.


If you have multiple distros installed they will be in their own directory under that root.


Tuning the Docker vhdx

Optimize-VHD -Path $Env:LOCALAPPDATA\Docker\wsl\data\ext4.vhdx -Mode Full

This command didn't do much for me. It took about 10minutes to run and only reduced my vhdx from 71.4GB to 70.2GB.

Error not binding port

I've had this recurring error every so often when restarting Windows and running Docker with WSL2. Every so often Docker compains it can't bind to a port that I need (like MySQL). Hunting down the cause of this is interesting - https://github.com/docker/for-win/issues/3171 - https://github.com/microsoft/WSL/issues/5306

The quick fix to this is:

net stop winnat
net start winnat