Lately I have been working a team, in which my fellow devs mostly use Linux while I decided to stay with Windows. However, whenever I can take a look on their shells, during pair programming for instance, I get a little envious of them, since they use oh-my-zsh in different flavors.

Oh my zsh

Oh my zsh is an extension on top of Linux’ zsh, which provides some really neat features, including docker auto-completion for parameters, containers and images, mvn auto completion, integrated git status, shell theming and so much more, that you should definitely check it out.

By the way, Jekyll will also work out of the box under WSL ;-)

Oh my zsh on Windows

I have long used cygwin under Windows, but updating and installing new applications were uncomfortable. But nevertheless it integrated pretty well into my workflow with “cygwin here” in Windows Explorer.

Recently I discovered babun, which in theory sounded awesome to me. Built-in package manager and a preconfigured oh-my-zsh as default shell. However, the oh-my-zsh plugins never really worked for me and being somewhat disappointed, I uninstalled it again.

But then I learned about Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) and actually wanted to try it Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

Installation Guide

In order to fully re-use my setup, you’ll need Windows 10 Creators Update, which among others enables you to execute regular Windows binaries from within bash.

Here’s what I found to be most helpful:

The last step actually is optional with respect to functionality. However, many oh-my-zsh themes use characters that cannot be displayed in the default Windows terminal application. Even though you can change the font of the default terminal in the settings of the opened terminal, you can still only select fonts that are properly recognized as monospace fonts by Windows. Unfortunately, all fonts I tried were not, except for Hack as mentioned above. Besides wsl-terminal with solarized-dark theme looks awesome.

Now what?

Having followed all the steps above, you’ll have a working oh-my-zsh in your Bash on Ubuntu on Windows and a clean terminal application that is capable of rendering properly.

When navigating to a git repository in a WSL shell you might notice git status behaves differently from what your git-in-windows might tell you. And rightly so, because WSL has its own git alongside its own global / system settings.

Frankly, I absolutely disliked the idea of re-installing and re-configuring every tool I wanted to use under WSL.

Re-using the Windows configuration

My dev systems were setup the way I wanted them and I was obsessed with the thought that there has to be a way to re-use it. Starting with Windows 10 Creator’s Update, you can naturally execute Windows programs from within WSL…

The Windows %PATH% is inherited to WSL, which is quite practical, and you can even use aliases in ~/.zshrc. Sadly, these will not work for oh-my-zsh auto completion.

Backup your current git

At this point we already have a git installed in WSL and unfortunately the oh-my-zsh setup and update does not work with the faked executable. I decided to make a backup of the original Linux git and preserve it for later zsh updates.

git --version
sudo mvn /usr/bin/git /usr/bin/git.original

Faking executables in WSL

You can simply fake an executable with a symbolic link placed in /usr/bin/ and pointing to the appropriate Windows executable.

sudo -i
cd /usr/bin/
ln -s /mnt/c/path/to/your/git.exe
git --version

This worked for git, docker and docker-compose but not for Maven, since mvn under Windows actually is mvn.cmd. In order to get Maven up and running I needed to run cmd.exe with the path to mvn.cmd


#re-use specific mvn 
#mvn_cmd="C:\Program Files\JetBrains\IntelliJ IDEA Community Edition 2017.1.1\plugins\maven\lib\maven3\bin\mvn.cmd"

#...or just the one from the %PATH%

for var in "$@"
        params="$params $var"

#simply delegate all own parameters to mvn.cmd
/mnt/c/Windows/System32/cmd.exe /C "$mvn_cmd" $params

Here is a list of my “faked” programs:

ll /usr/bin/ | grep mnt
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root   root          53 Jul 31 17:08 code -> /mnt/c/Program Files (x86)/Microsoft VS Code/Code.exe*
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root   root          59 Jul 11 16:25 docker -> /mnt/c/Program Files/Docker/Docker/resources/bin/docker.exe*
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root   root          36 Jul 11 16:04 git -> /mnt/c/Program Files/Git/cmd/git.exe*
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root   root          45 Jul 24 08:50 mvn -> /mnt/c/Users/omilke/[data]/app/*
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root   root          52 Jul 18 11:14 mvnexit -> /mnt/c/Program Files/apache-maven-3.5.0/bin/mvn-exec

Now you can enable the plugins in oh-my-zsh you need:

nano ~/.zshrc

plugins=(git mvn docker)

oh-my-zsh in IntelliJ IDEA

IntelliJ has a neat configuration option to specify which terminal application to use

#in IntelliJ
[STRG] + [ALT] + S
 #Tools | Terminal | Shell Path

IntelliJ by default uses the theme font for displaying characters in the terminal, hence you might want to change that font, as well

#in IntelliJ
[STRG] + [ALT] + S
 #Editor | Color Scheme | Console Font
Sets only the font for the console
 #Editor | Font
Globally sets the font, including the console (except when already exclicitly set)         


Docker-Compose behaved a little strange. I had a Dockerfile using npm that worked out of the box with docker, but didn’t work when using the same Dockerfile via docker-compose.yml because there was an issue with a file path. I could solve this problem with explicitly activating long file paths. However, this only worked with docker-compose invoked from Windows Power Shell or cmd. It didn’t work when faked in WSL and neither did the oh-my-zsh plugin for docker-compose.

As mentioned earlier, updating oh-my-zsh does not work with the faked git from Windows. Updating now requires restoring the original executable, performing the update and re-faking git.
#request root, staying $user
#revert git
sudo mv ${git_executable} ${git_faked}
sudo mv ${git_original} ${git_executable}
#perform the update, as given by "which upgrade_oh_my_zsh" 
env ZSH=$ZSH sh $ZSH/tools/
sudo mv ${git_executable} ${git_original}
sudo mv ${git_faked} ${git_executable}

Additionally I use an alias in ~/.zshrc

alias update-omz="/mnt/c/Users/omilke/\[data\]/app/"

WSL currently does not properly support networking tools like ngrep or tcpdump. You can however track progress on these at WSL github issue and vote for it.

While you can generally use TCP Ports, binding them to in order to make them reachable not only via loopback does not work. It won’t fail, it will just silently be bound to

The wrapper I wrote for invoking mvn from bash might fail if quoting is required. Currently quotation marks are swallowed by bash.

Executing shell scripts requires these scripts to only contain Linux line breaks.


I like that I can ditch my VM I used for reviewing my blog articles in Jekyll and mvn CLI works in IntelliJ’s terminal.

While I originally thought WSL might be nice toy around with, it has replaced cygwin on my setup now and is a good addition to IntelliJ. SSH works out of the box and it almost feels like a real Linux.

I have prepared a github-repo with the helpers I created.