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How to Open Sublime Text From Windows Subsystem for Linux Version 2

In my current workflow for my day-job, I frequently find myself using my preferred shell fish through the Windows Subsystem for Linux version 2 – or WSL 2 – to do operations on files in the Windows file system. One of my most common operations is that I want to open a file in my preferred editor – Sublime Text. When just using the regular shell in any operating system, Sublime Text provides the shell command subl that opens Sublime Text. I now want to open the Windows application from the Linux shell to open a file on Windows. Microsoft even provides a wslpath utility that can translate a path in the WSL into a true Windows one or the other way round. A factor that adds additional complexity to this task is subl having command line arguments that I might want to use:

Sublime Text build 4152

Usage: subl [arguments] [files]         Edit the given files
   or: subl [arguments] [directories]   Open the given directories
   or: subl [arguments] -- [files]      Edit files that may start with '-'
   or: subl [arguments] -               Edit stdin
   or: subl [arguments] - >out          Edit stdin and write the edit to stdout

  --project <project>:    Load the given project
  --command <command>:    Run the given command
  -n or --new-window:     Open a new window
  --launch-or-new-window: Only open a new window if the application is open
  -a or --add:            Add folders to the current window
  -w or --wait:           Wait for the files to be closed before returning
  -b or --background:     Don't activate the application
  -s or --stay:           Keep the application activated after closing the file
  --safe-mode:            Launch using a sandboxed (clean) environment
  -h or --help:           Show help (this message) and exit
  -v or --version:        Show version and exit

--wait is implied if reading from stdin. Use --stay to not switch back
to the terminal when a file is closed (only relevant if waiting for a file).

Filenames may be given a :line or :line:column suffix to open at a specific

I especially care about the --wait flag, since this enables me to use Sublime Text as an editor, for example for setting git commit messages. Additionally it needs to be considered that if the --help flag is used, usually no path is added as argument.

I then whipped up this quick Python script. It passes on arguments that look like flags (starting with a -) to Windows’ subl and assumes that any other one is a path and translates it to a Windows one.

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import subprocess
import sys

# The path to the Sublime Text Windows executable in the Linxu file-system.
SUBL = "/mnt/c/Program Files/Sublime Text/subl.exe"

def window_path(path: str) -> str:
    # Convert a Linux path to a Windows one so Sublime Text understands it.
    result = subprocess.run(f'wslpath -aw "{path}"', shell=True, capture_output=True)
    if result.stderr:
        raise subprocess.CalledProcessError(
            returncode=result.returncode, cmd=result.args, stderr=result.stderr
    # Somehow `subl` only understands paths using slashes instead of backslashes
    # as you would expect from a Windows command line utility. So we replace all
    # of the backslashes with regular slashes. Afterwards spaces in the path are
    # escaped so `subl` understands any path as a single argument, not multiple.
    return result.stdout.decode("utf8").strip().replace("\\", "/").replace(" ", "\\ ")

def main() -> int:
    # Execute the command on the Linux command line. Any argument beginning with
    # a `-` is passed on directly to `subl` (like `-w` or `--help`). However any
    # other argument is converted to a Windows path from a Linux one.
    command = f'exec "{SUBL}" ' + " ".join(
        [arg if arg.startswith("-") else f"{window_path(arg)}" for arg in sys.argv[1:]]
    process = subprocess.Popen(
        command, stdout=subprocess.PIPE, stderr=subprocess.STDOUT, shell=True
    # Print any output of `subl` like help text or errors.
    print(process.communicate()[0].decode("utf8"), end="", flush=True)
    return process.returncode

if __name__ == "__main__":
    # Pass through the return code

I placed this file in WSL’s /usr/local/bin/ directory, named it subl (without any extension) and marked it as executable using

sudo chmod a+x subl

Linux knows to execute this file with Python 3 since it starts with the shebang line marking it as such. The utility passes on the exit code of subl.exe to WSL. Any paths on the Windows side of the VM divide are easily understood. Paths that refer to files or directories on the Linux side use \\wsl.localhost\Debian\ as the root directory. This mounts the WSL 2 file system on Windows.

As a result this means that even temporary files on the Linux side, like git commit messages can be edited. You can even use fish’s funced command to edit functions with Sublime Text. to simplify the process, I set my $EDITOR environment variable to sublw which refers to another little script I put in the /usr/local/bin directory:

subl -w 

This uses the -w or --wait flag to only exit from the call once Sublime Text is closed again, i.e., after a user has edited and saved the file. Without this flag, the subl command would immediately return once the file is opened in Sublime Text.

With the subl and potentially the sublw utility you can now easily use Sublime Text on Windows from the Windows Subsystem for Linux. You should be able to just copy the code above or copy it from this GitHub gist.

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