How to Download and Install Cygwin on Windows

Cygwin is a powerful tool that provides a Linux-like environment for Windows, allowing you to run many Linux command-line tools directly on your Windows desktop or server.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll walk you through the entire process of setting up Cygwin, from downloading and installing to customizing your environment and troubleshooting issues. Whether you‘re a developer looking to add Linux functionality to Windows or an IT pro who wants access to grep, curl and other Linux commands, this tutorial has you covered.

What is Cygwin?

Cygwin is an open-source utility that provides a Unix-like environment and Linux toolset for Windows. It consists of:

  • A dynamic link library (DLL) that provides a POSIX API abstraction layer – this allows Linux programs to run on Windows
  • A collection of Linux and Unix tools and utilities that have been ported to run natively on Windows
  • A Bash shell and command prompt for running the tools

Some key capabilities and features of Cygwin include:

  • Access to hundreds of common Linux command-line tools like grep, curl, wget, vim etc. without needing a virtual machine
  • Ability to run Bash shell scripts on Windows
  • POSIX compatibility layer allows porting many Unix and Linux programs with minimal changes
  • Integrates with Windows drives, networks, pathnames, user credentials etc.
  • Support for installing additional Linux packages using the setup tool or apt-cyg package manager
  • Handy for developers who want Linux-style tools for Windows development

Compared to the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), Cygwin does not provide a full Linux kernel environment. But it is more lightweight, faster and simpler to setup compared to having a VM.

Advantages of Cygwin Over Command Prompt/WSL

Here are some of the notable advantages of using Cygwin instead of the standard Command Prompt or Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL):

More software available – Cygwin comes bundled with hundreds of Linux tools and utilities out of the box. Its repositories also have over 5000 other packages available.

Legacy Windows support – Cygwin can be installed on older Windows versions like 7/8/8.1 whereas WSL requires Windows 10 or 11.

Better integration – Cygwin integrates more tightly with the Windows environment. This allows you to easily access Windows paths, network drives etc.

Run executables – Pre-compiled Linux executables can often be run directly using Cygwin. With WSL, you would need to recompile the app specifically for WSL first.

Customizability – Cygwin provides more customization options for things like modifying your .bashrc file. WSL configurability is more limited at present.

Developer focused – Cygwin is focused mainly on developers who want access to Linux tools from the Windows desktop. WSL targets a more general-purpose Linux use case on Windows.

So in summary – Cygwin offers a lighter-weight and more customizable Linux-like environment compared to WSL, with tight Windows interoperability. This makes it a very handy tool for developers working on Windows machines.

System Requirements

Cygwin has the following minimum system requirements:

  • 64-bit or 32-bit Windows Operating System
    • Runs on everything from Windows 7 onwards
  • 150 MB Hard Drive space for a minimal install
  • 1 GB RAM (2 GB recommended)

I‘d recommend running Cygwin on a Windows 10 or 11 machine if possible, just to have the latest performance and stability updates. But it works reliably even on older OS versions like Windows 7.

Downloading Cygwin Installer

To get started, go to the official Cygwin website: www.cygwin.com

Cygwin Homepage

Under the "Get Cygwin" section click on either the 32-bit or 64-bit installment link based on your Windows architecture:

This will download the Cygwin setup application file to begin installation.

I would recommend the 64-bit installer for most modern systems. But if you have a legacy 32-bit OS, go for the other option.

Installing Cygwin

The Cygwin installation process is pretty straightforward because it uses a graphical wizard similar to other Windows apps.

Once downloaded, double-click on the Cygwin installer exe file to kickstart the setup process.

Step 1: Choosing Install Options

The first screen allows you to select Typical or Custom installation options:

Cygwin Setup Options

Choose the default “Install from Internet” and click Next to proceed.

This fetches all the required Cygwin files from the internet as needed during installation. You can also select “Download without Installing” if you want to just fetch the packages for later offline installation.

Step 2: Select Root Install Directory

Next, choose the root folder where Cygwin will be installed:

Select Root Directory

The default is C:\cygwin64 for 64-bit systems and C:\cygwin for 32-bit. You can change this if you want to use a custom location.

Note: This root folder will contain the binaries, libraries, documentation and other Cygwin files. Make sure you have adequate disk space.

Click Next once you‘ve chosen the root install directory.

Step 3: Choose User Access Type

Here you can select whether Cygwin will be installed for:

  • All users that have access to this Windows machine
  • Just your own Windows user account

If you want to restrict access only to yourself choose “Just Me”. For more widely shared systems, use “All Users”.

Click Next to continue.

Step 4: Select Local Package Directory

This next screen allows you to specify the folder where Cygwin will cache downloaded installer files:

Select Package Directory

The default location is C:\cygwin\var\cache\setup which is usually fine to use. Having a package cache prevents redownloading files every time you run the installer.

Hit Next once you‘ve chosen your package cache location.

Step 5: Choose Internet Connection

Here you get options related to Internet access for grabbing Cygwin installation files:

Choose Internet Connection

The defaults work fine in most cases. Here’s what they mean:

  • Direct Connection – Downloads files directly without any proxy
  • System Proxy Settings – Uses proxy configs defined at the system level

Select your preference and click Next.

Step 6: Select Download Site Mirror

Cygwin relies on a number of mirror sites to host installation files. You can pick one geographically closer to you for faster downloads:

Select Download Mirror

I prefer using the main Cygwin site in the default URL:

http://cygwin.mirror.constant.com

But feel free to test out others mirrors that are local to your country or region for potentially faster transfers.

Hit Next once you select your chosen mirror.

Step 7: Select Packages to Install

One of the most important screens is selecting which Cygwin packages to install:

Select Packages to Install

By default, only the base essential packages are selected.

📝 Tip – Use the “View” button for subsets like “Base” , “Devel” etc to filter down packages by category.

Here are some of the more popular ones I would recommend selecting:

  • curl – command line web requester tool
  • vim – text editor
  • wget – command line downloader
  • openssh – ssh connectivity tools
  • rsync – remote sync utility
  • python – Python programming language
  • pip – Python package manager
  • Any other favorite Linux tools you want!

Choose the packages you want installed and click Next.

Step 8: Confirm Installation Selections

A summary screen now displays the packages you‘ve chosen to install:

Confirm Installation Selections

Review and make sure everything looks good. To change selections, use the Back button to jump to previous screens.

If you‘re OK with all items, click Next to begin installing!

Step 9: Install Packages

Cygwin will now start downloading and installing the requested packages:

Install Selected Packages

As you can see from the status bar, this process can take a while depending on your internet speed. But grab a cup of coffee and the required files will all get fetched and set up!

The whole thing from start to end took around 15 minutes for me on a 50 Mbps connection.

After all packages are installed, you‘ll get the final "Completing the Cygwin Installation" screen.

Step 10: Finish Setup

The last step allows you to have desktop or start menu shortcuts created for launching Cygwin easily:

Completing Cygwin Setup

I normally uncheck both options as I prefer launching Cygwin directly from the install directory which gets added automatically to the system PATH.

But feel free to enable shortcuts if you prefer having icon access instead.

With that, click Finish to complete the Cygwin installation process!

Congratulations, you now have a Linux-like environment living directly on your Windows machine! 🎉

In the next sections we‘ll cover using Cygwin effectively for your workflow.

Launching the Cygwin Terminal

With setup complete, there are a couple of ways you can access the Cygwin terminal:

From Install Folder

Navigate to the bin subfolder within the root Cygwin folder, for example:

C:\cygwin64\bin

Then launch the mintty.exe file. This drops you into a Bash shell terminal window that has full access to all the Cygwin tools!

Through Desktop Shortcut

If you chose to create a Desktop shortcut during installation, double click that to open the Cygwin terminal.

From Start Menu

Access the Cygwin Bash Shell item from the Start menu list if enabled:

Start Menu Cygwin

Inside CMD or Powershell

You can also just type bash from CMD, Powershell or other shells to enter the Cygwin environment.

📝 Pro Tip – Add the C:\cygwin64\bin folder path to your system or user PATH variable to be launch Cygwin from anywhere!

Once successfully up and running, your Cygwin terminal should look something like this:

Cygwin Terminal Running

Notice the familiar $ Unix prompt indicating you‘re now in a Bash Linux shell environment running atop Windows!

Using the Cygwin Terminal

The Cygwin terminal gives you a nicely integrated Linux-style shell experience right on Windows.

You can take advantage of common Bash commands like:

  • cd – change directory
  • ls – list folder contents
  • mkdir – create new folder
  • rm – delete files
  • cat – display file contents
  • vim/nano – text editors
  • grep/curl/wget– linux tools

Plus run various shell scripts and linux binaries.

Here are some tips for making effective use of the terminal:

Access Windows drives

Cygwin automatically mounts your Windows drives under /cygdrive.

So for example, C:\ becomes /cygdrive/c within Cygwin. You can access any subfolders on Windows drives using this prefix.

Use Windows paths

Want to directly access a Windows folder like C:\Projects\automation ?

No problem, just use the full path as is from the Cygwin terminal and it will work. The paths get translated appropriately.

Install more tools

Use the setup-x86_64.exe file to re-run the installer wizard. This allows you to select and install additional Cygwin packages you may need.

You can also use apt-cyg which is a package manager for Cygwin that works like apt on Linux distributions.

This makes it very easy to find and install useful new capabilities!

Tips and Tricks

Here are some handy tips for leveling up your Cygwin terminal usage:

Customize Bash Shell

You can tweak and change shell behavior by editing .bashrc and .bash_profile under home folder. For example set your own prompt string, change file formats, add aliases etc.

Open Windows Files

To open files directly from terminal in associated Windows programs, use cygstart command.

For example: cygstart mydoc.docx opens Word with that file.

Use Notepad++ as Default Editor

Set environmental variable EDITOR to path to notepad++.exe.

Then you can do $EDITOR myfile.txt to open files for editing!

Enable Copy/Paste

You may notice copy-paste doesn‘t work initially within Cygwin terminal.

Fix this by typing:

$ export TERM=xterm

Now you have access to familiar keyboard shortcuts for cut/copy/paste etc.

Setup SSH Access

Install the OpenSSH server package via Cygwin installer to allow SSH access into your Windows system!

You can then remotely login and run commands through SSH which is very handy.

For tons of other tips and recommendations, check out the excellent Cygwin User Guide.

Troubleshooting Issues

While Cygwin generally works well, you may occasionally run into quirks or issues.

Here are some commonly reported problems and suggested fixes:

  • Text File Line Endings: CRLF vs LF causes problems – use dos2unix and unix2dos converters
  • Executable Fails to Run: Requires DLLs unavailable on Windows – use ldd to check
  • Weird Path Related Errors: Fix by using full Windows-style paths
  • Packages Not Found: Ensure you re-run installer/setup to install missing capabilities

The Cygwin Problems and Solutions page also has useful troubleshooting tips.

For additional help, use the Cygwin Mailing List to join the community.

Next Steps and Resources

With Cygwin installed, you now have a great Linux-style environment available directly in Windows.

Some suggested next steps:

  • Explore commonly used Bash commands and Linux terminal workflows
  • Install curl, wget, git and other dev tools
  • Setup key Linux text processing utilties like grep, sed, awk
  • Learn shell scripting to automate tasks
  • Use SSH to remotely access machines
  • Mount drives and set permissions using POSIX access logic
  • Develop applications running on Cygwin

Here are additional Cygwin resources for leveling up your skills:

Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions!

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