Using Cygwin effectively with Windows

Cygwin is not a full operating system, and so must rely on Windows for accomplishing some tasks. For example, Cygwin provides a POSIX view of the Windows filesystem, but does not provide filesystem drivers of its own. Therefore part of using Cygwin effectively is learning to use Windows effectively. Many Windows utilities provide a good way to interact with Cygwin's predominately command-line environment. For example, ipconfig.exe provides information about network configuration, and net.exe views and configures network file and printer resources. Most of these tools support the /? switch to display usage information.

Unfortunately, no standard set of tools included with all versions of Windows exists. Generally, the younger the Windows version, the more complete are the on-board tools. Additionally, many independent sites such as,, and Microsoft's own Sysinternals provide quite useful command-line utilities, as far as they are not already provided by Cygwin. A few Windows tools, such as find.exe, link.exe and sort.exe, may conflict with the Cygwin versions make sure that you use the full path (/usr/bin/find) or that your Cygwin bin directory comes first in your PATH.


Windows programs do not understand POSIX pathnames, so any arguments that reference the filesystem must be in Windows (or DOS) format or translated. Cygwin provides the cygpath utility for converting between Windows and POSIX paths. A complete description of its options and examples of its usage are in cygpath(1), including a shell script for starting Windows Explorer in any directory. The same format works for most Windows programs, for example

notepad.exe "$(cygpath -aw "Desktop/Phone Numbers.txt")"

A few programs require a Windows-style, semicolon-delimited path list, which cygpath can translate from a POSIX path with the -p option. For example, a Java compilation from bash might look like this:

javac -cp "$(cygpath -pw "$CLASSPATH")"

Since using quoting and subshells is somewhat awkward, it is often preferable to use cygpath in shell scripts.

Cygwin and Windows Networking

Many popular Cygwin packages, such as ncftp, lynx, and wget, require a network connection. Since Cygwin relies on Windows for connectivity, if one of these tools is not working as expected you may need to troubleshoot using Windows tools. The first test is to see if you can reach the URL's host with ping.exe, one of the few utilities included with every Windows version since Windows 95. If you chose to install the inetutils package, you may have both Windows and Cygwin versions of utilities such as ftp and telnet. If you are having problems using one of these programs, see if the alternate one works as expected.

There are a variety of other programs available for specific situations. If your system does not have an always-on network connection, you may be interested in rasdial.exe for automating dialup connections. Users who frequently change their network configuration can script these changes with netsh.exe. For proxy users, the open source NTLM Authorization Proxy Server or the no-charge Hummingbird SOCKS Proxy may allow you to use Cygwin network programs in your environment.

Creating shortcuts

By default, Cygwin does not create symlinks as .lnk files, but there's an option to do that, see the section called “The CYGWIN environment variable”. These symlink .lnk files are compatible with Windows-created .lnk files, but they are still different. They do not include much of the information that is available in a standard Microsoft shortcut, such as the working directory, an icon, etc. The cygutils package includes a mkshortcut utility for creating standard native Microsoft .lnk files from the command line.

But here's the problem. If Cygwin handled these native shortcuts like any other symlink, you could not archive Microsoft .lnk files into tar archives and keep all the information in them. After unpacking, these shortcuts would have lost all the extra information and would be no different than standard Cygwin symlinks. Therefore these two types of links are treated differently. Unfortunately, this means that the usual Unix way of creating and using symlinks does not work with native Windows shortcuts.


There are several options for printing from Cygwin, including the lpr found in cygutils-extra (not to be confused with the native Windows lpr.exe). The easiest way to use cygutils-extra's lpr is to specify a default device name in the PRINTER environment variable. You may also specify a device on the command line with the -d or -P options, which will override the environment variable setting.

A device name may be a UNC path (\\server_name\printer_name), a reserved DOS device name (prn, lpt1), or a local port name that is mapped to a printer share. Note that forward slashes may be used in a UNC path (//server_name/printer_name), which is helpful when using lpr from a shell that uses the backslash as an escape character.

lpr sends raw data to the printer; no formatting is done. Many, but not all, printers accept plain text as input. If your printer supports PostScript, packages such as a2ps and enscript can prepare text files for printing. The ghostscript package also provides some translation from PostScript to various native printer languages. Additionally, a native Windows application for printing PostScript, gsprint, is available from the Ghostscript website.