Tux on the Windows 10 default background.
Larry Ewing and The GIMP

If you’re dual-booting Windows and Linux, you’ll probably want to access files on your Linux system from Windows at some point. Linux has built-in support for Windows NTFS partitions, but Windows can’t usually read Linux partitions without third-party software.

We’ve rounded up some third-party software to help. This list is focused on applications that support the Ext4 file system, which most new Linux distributions use by default. These applications all support Ext2 and Ext3, too — and one of them even supports ReiserFS.

Update, 9/8/22: This article previously recommended Ext2Fsd as one of these three options. Ext2fsd is still available on GitHub and SourceForge, and currently functions, but everything indicates that the project has been abandoned. You can use it for the present, but there is no telling if it will continue to work in the future without updates. We’ve swapped our recommendations to include only software that has been updated recently (or whose developers are still active), and we’ve confirmed works on Windows 10 and Windows 11.

What About WSL2?

You can also use the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL2) to mount Ext4 drives, but the drive with the Ext4 filesystem must be a different physical drive from your NTFS drive.

Additionally, Windows 10 doesn’t support the feature. Microsoft has gradually stopped pushing new WSL features to Windows 10, and that includes the mountcommand necessary for that method.

DiskInternals Linux Reader

Linux Reader is a freeware application from DiskInternals, developers of data recovery software. In addition to the Ext file systems, Linux Reader also supports ReiserFS and Apple’s HFS and HFS+ file systems. It’s read-only, so it can’t damage your Linux file system.

Linux Reader doesn’t provide access via a drive letter — instead, it’s a separate application you launch to browse your Linux partitions.

The Linux Reader main page showing all of the drives attached to the example PC.

Linux Reader shows previews of your files, making it easy to find the right one.

Linux Reader showing the only folder on the Ext4-partitioned drive.

If you want to work with a file in Windows, you’ll have to save the file from your Linux partition to your Windows file system with the Save option. You can also save entire directories of files.

There are several ways to save a file from Linux Reader.

Ext2explore

Update: Ext2explore hasn’t been updated since 2012, but as of September 2022, it works perfectly. Performance might be slow if you’re dealing with large (a few terabytes or bigger) hard drives, but it will get the job done.

We’ve covered Ext2explore in the past. It’s an open-source application that works similarly to DiskInternals Linux Reader — but only for Ext4, Ext3, and Ext2 partitions. It also lacks file previews, but it has one advantage: it doesn’t have to be installed; you can just download the .exe and run it.

The Ext2explore.exe program must be run as administrator, though, or you’ll get an error. Extract the executable from the ZIP file using a file archiving program or File Explorer first. Then right-click the executable to access the context menu and click “Run as Administrator.”

You can enable the “Run This Program As An Administrator” to save some time in the future.

Right-click the executable, ext2explore.exe, then click “Properties.” Click on the “Compatibility” tab, tick the box next to “Run This Program As An Administrator,” then click “Apply.”

There is a good chance Ext2explore won’t detect any Ext4 partitions or drives when you first run the application. The fix is simple: click on “File” in the top-left-hand corner, then select “Rescan System” from the drop-down menu.

Ext2explore basically works like every other file explorer. You have a hierarchy view in the left pane and folder view on the right. You navigate around it just like you would on Windows, Linux, or macOS.

The files and folders on the Ext4 partitioned drive.

As with Linux Reader, you’ll have to save a file or directory to your Windows system before you can open it in other programs.

Linux File Systems For Windows

Linux File Systems for Windows by Paragon Software is significantly newer than the previous two options. It supports reading and writing to Ext2, Ext3, and Ext4, and supports Btrfs and XFS in read-only mode.

Note: Linux File Systems for Windows isn’t open source or freeware — it costs $20 dollars for a license. Whether that’s worth it will depend on your needs, but we’ve tested it and it works very well.

After the installation is complete, any Linux partitions attached to your system will be detected and mounted automatically. It also adds itself to the startup programs — that basically enables plug and play with any Ext2, Ext3, or Ext4 formatted external drives you might connect.

Of course, if you don’t want a a drive to mount automatically, you can always disable that functionality. You can also disable “Mount in Read/Write Mode” if you’re concerned about accidentally corrupting your data.

Warning: Linux File System for Windows also has a tool to format partitions built-in. Formatting a partition will completely wipe all data stored on it, so don’t click “Format” unless you’re sure you’re ready to do that. If you do use it, be sure to change the default format from “Ext2” to “Ext4.” 

The Linux File Systems for Windows main screen.

If it fails to detect your drive, click on the three dots in the middle, and then click “Restart the Service.”

Paragon’s Linux File Systems for Windows mounts your Linux partitions in File Explorer just like any other internal or external storage device and assigns it a letter correspondingly. It isn’t a necessary feature, but it is extremely convenient.

It means that you can interact with anything on your Linux partition seamlessly, using all of the usual Windows controls and shortcuts.

The Ext4 partitioned drive mounted as a regular drive in File Explorer.

RELATED:It's Time to Stop Dual-Booting Linux and Windows

Whether the $20 IS worthwhile really depends on how often you need to work with a Linux partition in Windows. If you’re just going to interact with a Linux partition from Windows once, then it probably isn’t worth spending the money. If it is something you’re going to do regularly — especially if you’ll be reading and writing to the Linux partition on a PC with Linux— then $20 is a fairly compelling value.

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Profile Photo for Chris HoffmanChris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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Profile Photo for Nick LewisNick Lewis
Nick Lewis is a staff writer for How-To Geek. He has been using computers for 20 years --- tinkering with everything from the UI to the Windows registry to device firmware. Before How-To Geek, he used Python and C++ as a freelance programmer. In college, Nick made extensive use of Fortran while pursuing a physics degree.
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