Running Docker in WSL2 Ubuntu Distro without Docker Desktop

In this post, I will show you how to run Docker commands in WSL2 without Docker Desktop

Utkarsh Shigihalli
3 min readMar 7, 2024

I have been using Docker on WSL2 without Docker Desktop for a while now and recently I had to rebuild my Ubuntu distro. I had to go through installing the Docker Engine once again following a series of steps, so thought I will document so that I can use it again as a reference.

This post is just that and I hope others will find it useful too.


Before installing Docker in WSL2, first make sure you are running WSL2. You can do that using wsl --version in your PowerShell which should output as below.

You can also check you are running the Ubuntu version using lsb_release -a command which should output as below

Installing Docker

Now that you confirmed you have the prerequisites, let's start by installing Docker. Docker documentation provides a convenient script for us to run, which just involves running the script below.

However, you might get the error Updates for this repository will not be applied

A quick StackOverflow search suggested that this is caused due to the clock being out-of-sync between the Windows machine and the Ubuntu distro running in WSL2. To sync the clock, I had to run sudo hwclock --hctosys and restart the WSL using wsl --shutdown and starting WSL again.

Second attempt to run the command should be successful.

Creating docker group and adding current user

Due to the way Unix socket works, we need to preface docker command with sudo . To avoid it, Docker recommends creating a group name docker and adding current user to it. Docker daemon can then creates a Unix socket accessible by members of the docker group.

So, first create docker group using sudo groupadd docker then add yourself to that group using command

sudo usermod -aG docker $USER

Finally, run newgrp docker to activate the changes to the group.

Test running Docker

You can now test the docker commands without sudo . Try running docker run hello-world and it should run correctly.

Ensuring Docker daemon starts when you open WSL

Finally to ensure you have docker daemon start when you open WSL, you can run below commands which will start docker service as soon as you boot.

That is it, you should be able to run all your docker commands without Docker desktop now.



Utkarsh Shigihalli

Microsoft MVP | Developer | Passionate about Cloud, .NET and DevOps