8 Aug 2022

ZFS and dm-crypt On Windows 10/11 WSL2 using custom kernel

Introduction and Context


ZFS is a Linux filesystem that is designed to be fast and resilient with advanced features like compression and deduplication enabled by default. The main advantages of ZFS over other filesystems like ext4 (the most common) are:

  • Copy-on-write: Avoid file corruptions when writing/modifying existing files. A visual description is avaialble here
  • Support for snapshots: Track changes in files and directories over time without additional storage space.
  • Supports pooled storage: Create a file system that spans across multiple disks
  • Supports data integrity verification and automatic repairs (scrubbing)

Further reading on ZFS:


dm-crypt is a Linux kernel module that enables encryption of block devices.

Why custom WSL2 kernel ?

Windows WSL2 kernel does not have ZFS and dm-crypt support by default. Additional kernel modules are needed to enable ZFS and dm-crypt support. Moreoever, ZFS is licensed under CDDL, and is incompatible with GPL and therefore it is not distributed with the Linux Kernel.

Steps to enable ZFS and dm-crypt on Windows WSL2

Build custom WSL2 kernerl with ZFS and dm-crypt support:

  1. Use this well-written script to download and setup the kernel source files and the ZFS module : build_wsl_kernel which uses the kernel config from the official Microsoft WSL2 kernel repository.
  2. cd /usr/src/linux-${KERNELVER}-${KERNELNAME}
  3. Install ncurses library needed for menuconfig: sudo apt install libncurses-dev.
  4. Enable dm_crypt, cryptographic API and other kernel modules as necessary using menuconfig: sudo make menuconfig

     [*] Enable loadable module support
     Device Drivers --->
     [*] Multiple devices driver support (RAID and LVM) --->
         <*> Device mapper support
         <M>   Crypt target support    
     General setup  --->
         [*] Initial RAM filesystem and RAM disk (initramfs/initrd) support
     Device Drivers --->
         [*] Block Devices ---> 
             <*> Loopback device support 
     File systems ---> 
         <*> FUSE (Filesystem in Userspace) support 
  5. Choose the cipher and digest algorithms you want to use: 1.1. Enable XTS Support under Cryptographic API

     [*] Cryptographic API --->
         <*> XTS support
         <*> SHA224 and SHA256 digest algorithm
         <*> AES cipher algorithms
         <*> AES cipher algorithms (x86_64)
         <*> User-space interface for hash algorithms
         <*> User-space interface for symmetric key cipher algorithms
         <*> RIPEMD-160 digest algorithm 
         <*> SHA384 and SHA512 digest algorithms 
         <*> Whirlpool digest algorithms 
         <*> LRW support 
         <*> Serpent cipher algorithm 
         <*> Twofish cipher algorithm
  6. Install necessary system requirements for compiling the kernel: sudo apt install uuid-dev libz-dev libudev-dev libblkid-dev libssl-dev libaio-dev flex bison libelf-dev

  7. Compile and build the custom kernel: sudo make install && sudo make modules_install

  8. Copy the new kernel to the C:\Users\<username> directory on Windows where <username> should be replaced with your Windows user name: cp arch/x86_64/boot/bzImage /mnt/c/Users/<username>

  9. On your Windows host, create (if does not exist) or update: C:\Users\<username>\.wslconfig file to have the following contents:


    Save and close the file.

  10. Reboot WSL2 using a Windows cmd prompt or powershell: wsl --shutdown

  11. Open a new WSL2 session and load the dm-crypt kernel module: sudo modprobe -v dm-crypt

    You should see an output similar to the following :

     insmod /lib/modules/4.19.81-microsoft-standard/kernel/drivers/md/dm-crypt.ko

You can now use dm-crypt on Windows WSL2 to load your encrypted disks and/or setup and access ZFS and zpools!

  1. Attach a test disk drive to your Windows host via USB to test.
  2. Using a Window cmd prompt launched with Adminstrative privileges, run the following command to mount the test disk drive to the WSL2 container:

     wmic diskdrive list brief4.wsl --mount \.\PHYSICALDRIVE1 --bareWLS2
  3. Using a bash terminal, run the following command: lsblk. You should see your ZFS and dm-crypt devices.

Go ahead and unlock your encrypted disk drive and mount or setup/import your zpool volumes and filesystems!


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