How to Create and Run Shell Scripts on Windows

Are you interested in working with shell scripts on Windows? Thanks to a recent addition by Microsoft, you can now use Windows Subsystem for Linux to make this happen. 

Once you enable shell scripts in Windows 10, you can start creating shell scripts of your own. Shell scripts are great for automating simple tasks. You can also work on open-source Linux-based projects if that’s an area of interest to you. Finally, you’ll learn how to execute shell scripts on Windows 10. Continue reading to learn more.

What is Linux?

Linux is an open-source operating system that is highly popular among computer enthusiasts. Linux competes with other computer operating systems like Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s macOS, and mobile operating systems like Android and iOS. 

The Linux operating system was originally developed by Linus Torvalds back in 1991. The Linux kernel was designed as a Unix-like operating system. Unix was an early operating system created by Bell Labs in 1969. Today, modern Linux distributions are still Unix-like, meaning they retain the basic structure and properties that Unix had. An example of a non-Unix operating system would be Microsoft Windows.

The top Linux distributions have changed over the years, but as of 2022, Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, Fedora, and Red Hat rank as the top 5 most popular options. 

What is Bash?

When Linus Torvalds created Linux, he included a Unix shell called Bash. Bash had been created just two years before, in 1989 by Brian Fox. Bash has been the longtime default for Linux and was also the default for Apple macOS until it was replaced by Z shell in 2019. 

Until 2016, Windows users could not use the Linux kernel or Bash at all. Windows first introduced the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) beta with Windows 10 version 1607 update. About a year later, in October 2017, WSL was fully released in Windows 10 version 1709. Microsoft developed WSL for hobbyists and developers who want to work on open-source Linux-based projects. 

It’s important to note that WSL is not preinstalled on Windows 10. If you would like access to create and run shell scripts on Windows 10, you will need to manually install WSL or join the Windows insider program. 

What is a shell script?

A Shell script is a type of script that cannot be run without a Unix shell. Further, a shell script is a series of commands that are executed line by line by the command line. 

You can use shell scripts to automate processes and avoid repetitive tasks. Instead of manually completing each step in a series, you can execute a script, and the command line will handle the rest.

For example, if you find yourself regularly stopping processes that are hogging your CPU, you can automate this process with a script. When you execute the script, it may be designed to find a set of processes using CPU resources and request to kill them. 

Enabling shell scripts in Windows 10

  1. Click on the Start (Windows) button and enter “Control Panel” into the search bar. Click Open on the Control Panel result on the right-hand side.
Search for Control Panel
  1. Within the Control Panel window, find and click on Programs.
Control Panel options
  1. Now, from the Programs window, find Click Turn Windows features on or off underneath the Programs and Features header.
Turn Windows features on or off
  1. In the Windows Features window, scroll to the very bottom of the window. Check the Windows Subsystem for Linux option. Then click OK.
Enable Windows Subsystem for Linux to be able to run shell scripts
  1. Windows will automatically install the necessary files. When the installation is complete, select Restart Now.
Restart Windows
  1. When your computer restarts, you need to install Ubuntu from the Microsoft store.
Install Ubuntu to run shell scripts on Windows
  1. After installation, make sure you open Ubuntu and see it up. You are now ready to use scripts on your Windows 10 machine.

If you encounter any issues with Ubuntu or bash commands not working correctly, you may want to check that Virtualization is turned on in your BIOS. The most updated WSL version, WSL 2, runs the Linux kernel using virtualization technology. This means a virtual machine needs to be able to run on your system.

How to create shell scripts on Windows 10

Now that Windows Subsystem for Linux and Ubuntu has been installed, you are ready to start creating shell scripts in Windows 10. You may be tempted to write bash scripts with Notepad, but this is not recommended. Because Notepad is designed for Windows/DOS systems, the line endings will differ from those that are found at the end of Unix/Linux line endings. 

Text editors for shell scripts

You should use software that is designed to convert to Unix/OSX end-of-line characters. The best open-source software available for this is Notepad++. Amazingly, Notepad++ is lovingly maintained and developed by a single individual, Don Ho. 

If you try Notepad++ and don’t like it, you can try another fan favorite, nano. Nano is a text editor for Unix/Linux systems. You can easily create shell scripts that will run in bash, using nano. Download nano to get started.

Example shell scripts

Let’s look at some basic shell scripts, so you can learn more about what you are going to be coding and see how some formatting and syntax work.

1. Hello World!

echo "Hello World!"

This script will print out the infamous Hello World! Notice that echo can be used as a print command when not combined with any other modifiers. It will print the string on a new line. If you add the -n modifier, the output will print on the same line. 

2. Sum two numbers

If you want to do some basic arithmetic, you might have a script that looks like:

# Add two numbers together

# Print the sum of the numbers
echo $sum

Note that the # symbol is used to make comments that are not expressed. The output of this script will print the sum of 25+35, which is 60. 

3. Take user input

The following script will ask for the user’s name and then use the read command to take the user’s input. Then the user’s name is passed into the following expression, ultimately welcoming you to Windows Subsystem for Linux. 

echo "What is your name?"
read name
echo "Welcome $name to Windows Subsystem for Linux."

Write basic shell scripts in Windows 10

Continue reading to learn how to write basic shell scripts in Windows 10 using Notepad++.

  1. Click the Start button and search for “Notepad++” and click Run as administrator on the right-hand side.
Search Notepad++
  1. Now you can create your script.
Write your bash script in Notepad++ on Windows
  1. Once your script is complete, you need to use the EOL Conversion option available in Notepad++. Click Edit and locate EOL Conversion from the dropdown menu. Hover over this option and then select UNIX/OSX Format from the next dropdown menu.
Change EOL Conversion to UNIX/OSX format
  1. Now select File and then Save As. Make sure to name your file something you will recognize and add .sh to make it a shell script file.
Save the sh file before you run it on Windows
  1. Once the shell script is saved, continue to the next section to learn how to run your own shell scripts.

How to run shell scripts (.sh files) on Windows 10

You’ve created your first shell scripts, and it’s time to execute the sh file. Remember that when using WSL, you can only use Linux commands and utilities. Windows 10 programs will not work in bash scripts. To execute a script file, follow these step-by-step instructions:

  1. Click on the Start (Windows) button and enter “Command Prompt into the search bar. Click Run as administrator on the Command Prompt result on the right-hand side.
  2. Navigate to the folder where the script file is saved. You move around in the command prompt using the cd command. For example, if you want to access the Documents folder, you would enter the following and press Enter:

    cd C:\Users\Username\OneDrive\Documents

    Note: Username would be the username that you set up for yourself when you registered your computer. 
Navigate to the location of the sh file in Command Prompt
  1. Now enter bash, where file-name is the whatever you’ve named your script file. 


    The script will execute, and if there are any outputs or print statements included in the script, the output will be returned.

Bash scripts running on Windows 10

You’ve made it far and learned a ton of information in one go. Command-line utilities, different operating systems, and learning to write and execute shell scripts can be difficult topics. In fact, these topics will take time to master. You have a ton of learning to do for scripting, but resources are available to help you all over the internet. 

Within this guide, you learned the basics of Linux and Bash. You learned what shell scripts are and that you need to specifically enable Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) to use them. You learned how to create shell scripts using Notepad++ and how to execute the scripts in bash. Enjoy experimenting!

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