Connect WSL Docker CLI to Docker for Windows

Use case: You want to run docker commands from WSL bash. You’re running Windows and have Docker for Windows installed.

For example, most of my team at work runs Mac and Linux, so all our scripts are written against Unix / bash. I work within WSL on a Windows host, so I have Docker for Windows installed.

As far as I know, you can’t run a docker engine within WSL, but you can install and run docker’s CLI. So you simply need to configure WSL’s docker CLI to talk to Windows’ Docker engine. The Windows Docker engine accepts connections on a Windows named pipe, which WSL processes cannot access. Fortunately, there’s a program – npiperelay.exe – which can create a bridge between a Windows named pipe and a Unix domain socket. Connections to the Unix socket are proxied to the Windows named pipe.

NOTE: my username in both WSL and Windows is “abradley”; substitute your own.


  1. Install docker-ce, go, and socat in WSL Ubuntu
  2. Install npiperelay and docker-relay script

Install docker-ce, go, and socat in WSL Ubuntu

I use Ubuntu; I’m sure other distros will work, too

Docker installation is documented on Docker’s website.

Go installation is documented on Go’s website.

socat is installed with apt-get: sudo apt-get install socat

Install npiperelay and docker-relay script


Use go get to check out npiperelay source code into “/home/abradley/go/src/” Use go build to build the Windows version of npiperelay and saves it at “$HOME/bin/npiperelay.exe” in Windows. (not WSL)

# In WSL bash
go get -d
GOOS=windows go build -o /mnt/c/Users/abradley/bin/npiperelay.exe

npiperelay includes a script to setup a docker pipe. Copy it to $HOME/bin in WSL and set execute permissions.

# In WSL bash
sudo adduser abradley docker
mkdir -p $HOME/bin
cp /home/abradley/go/src/ $HOME/bin/
chmod +x $HOME/bin/docker-relay

… except I had issues running docker-relay, because socat running as root is unable to find “npiperelay.exe”. So I modified it to use an absolute path:


# Notice the full path to npiperelay.exe
exec socat UNIX-LISTEN:/var/run/docker.sock,fork,group=docker,umask=007 EXEC:"/mnt/c/Users/abradley/bin/npiperelay.exe -ep -s //./pipe/docker_engine",nofork

…and I created another script, start-docker-relay, to spawn the first in the background:

sudo bash -c "$HOME/bin/docker-relay 1>/dev/null 2>/dev/null & disown"

NOTE: I have $HOME/bin in my $PATH.


Start the pipe relay.


At this point docker commands should work. They’ll attempt to connect to unix socket /var/run/docker.sock, which is hosted by socat. Socat will start and pipe the connection to npiperelay.exe, which connects to Windows named pipe //./pipe/docker_engine.

NOTE: If you’ve previously configured DOCKER_HOST or other docker environment variables, you’ll probably have to undo that. This setup relies on docker’s default behavior, connecting to Unix socket /var/run/docker.sock


Docker for Windows has an option to accept TCP connections without any encryption. This is less secure than the named pipe.

There are tutorials for setting up Windows Docker to use TLS. These are for Windows server and do not work for a developer machine.


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