Windows 10's infamous October 2018 Update is soon to become a distant memory, as Microsoft is hard at work putting the polish on the next major Windows build, expected in April. In a new blog post, Microsoft's Craig Loewen reports that big changes are coming to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, including the ability to read and write to Linux distros from within Windows itself.
From the get-go, we have to be clear about one thing: this is not access to Linux partitions from within Windows 10, something that's undoubtedly one of the biggest requests Microsoft has fielded over the years. Unfortunately, it remains unsafe to manage and change Linux partitions (eg: ext4) from within Windows, and should still be considered a non-option.
For those using distros from within Windows itself, such as Ubuntu, files can now be accessed inside the installs as long as those are powered-on. Microsoft notes that in time, it would like to allow users to access their offline Linux installs. The company also says that while it's been possible to edit your Linux files for some time via the AppData folder, that's another method that bears big risk, so it's not worth even eyeing. That is, unless of course, you're experimenting and don't mind breaking things.
With this forthcoming feature, and from within a running Linux install, you'll be able to type in "explorer.exe ." to launch File Explorer with that very folder already loaded. If you're more of a command-line person (and chances of that are good if you are dealing with Linux in Windows to begin with), you can also use PowerShell to navigate straight to the active storage (seen below).
A protocol called 9P is responsible for allowing this magic to happen. It works as a server that's automatically loaded with a distro running through the WSL, and it will be what negotiates all file system modifications. Thanks to the implementation, even contextual menus will work as expected, with one example being given of right-clicking a folder with the option to open a Linux shell right there, or issue a Git command.
When Microsoft first launched Linux in Windows (which still feels odd to say), it was hard to gauge how seriously the company would continue to take it. Well, it's clear by this point that the company is dead serious about Linux, because it's become an important money maker through Azure. Hopefully things will only continue to get better, and just maybe, we'll see true Linux file system support in Windows at some point in the future. We can dream, anyway.