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DotSlash on Windows

DotSlash itself works great on Windows, but comes with some caveats due to inherent Windows behaviors that might surprise Unix users.


Typically on Unix, DotSlash files are run by calling them directly. This relies on them having an exec bit (i.e. chmod +x) and letting the operating system delegate to dotslash through the file's shebang (i.e.#!/usr/bin/env dotslash). On Windows, this doesn't work because Windows does not use shebangs, and it relies on the file extension to determine executability.

There are different ways of dealing with this limitation.

Explicit Interpreter

The dotslash interpreter can be called directly with the DotSlash file as the first argument:

C:\> dotslash path\to\dotslash_file

This method works on both Windows and Unix. The drawback (besides being verbose) is that if the DotSlash file switches to being anything other than a DotSlash file, then references will have to updated.

Sibling Batch Script

Create a file with the same name as the DotSlash file, but with an additional .bat (or .cmd) extension in the same directory as the DotSlash file. Here is an example node.bat file that would accompany the node DotSlash file:

@dotslash.exe "%~dpn0" %*
  • The @ suppresses echoing the command.
  • The "%~dpn0" expression corresponds to the node DotSlash file.
  • The %* forwards the arguments passed to the batch script.

With this method you have two files:

C:\> type path\to\node
#!/usr/bin/env dotslash
"name": "node-v18.16.0",
"platforms": {
<<< snip >>>

C:\> type path\to\node.bat
@dotslash.exe "%~dpn0" %*

The drawbacks with this method are all the same ones associated with batch scripts and batch script resolution. The nuances of this are outside the scope of this documentation.

DotSlash Windows Shim

This is the preferred method. The DotSlash Windows Shim is a tiny .exe executable that is placed next to the DotSlash file that performs the same function as the batch script above, but is a native executable rather than a batch script. This is the ideal method that allows for easy execution without any of the drawbacks of batch scripts. But this method requires compiling a small executable and keeping it next to the DotSlash file.

The DotSlash Windows Shim will be made available to the public shortly under the windows_shim in the DotSlash GitHub repository.

MAX_PATH limits

DotSlash stores fetched artifacts in a cache directory and they're executed from there. DotSlash tries hard to keep the cache directory path as short as possible, but in rare cases this might not be enough.

Keeping with the node example from above, for the common case, the cache location of node.exe would follow a pattern like:


Where [SHARD] is two characters and [HASH] is 38 characters.

Again, for the common case, where you also have an 8 character username, the node.exe path length is roughly 99 characters. In this case, this is below the typical 260 character MAX_PATH limit. However, it's possible for something like a node_modules directory to reach much larger depths, in which case, the underlying tool must be aware and be able to handle this.

A possible workaround is to set the DOTSLASH_CACHE environment variable to a shallower directory.


On Unix, argv[0] is set to the DotSlash file path. On Windows that's not possible, so argv[0] is the executable in the cache directory.

Long-lived dotslash.exe processes

On Unix, DotSlash uses execv to replace the dotslash process with the underlying tool being delegated to from the cache. On Windows there's no equivalent API, so DotSlash executes the tool but waits for it to exit before exiting itself. This means that while a tool is running, there will also be a dotslash.exe running. The overhead is minimal but this presents a challenge when trying to update DotSlash itself.

On Windows, you can't remove a program that is running. So to update dotslash.exe you have to terminate all existing dotslash.exe processes. This can often be done by running taskkill /f /im dotslash.exe.

UNC and Cygwin paths

DotSlash itself is UNC path aware but the underlying tool might not be. DotSlash tries hard to avoid UNC paths to ensure maximum compatibility.

DotSlash is not Cygwin path aware. Normally translation of a Cygwin path to a Windows path (i.e. /cygdrive/c/path/to/file to C:\path\to\file) is handled by the Cygwin shell executing DotSlash. But through layers of indirection it's possible to lose this. In this case, DotSlash does not attempt to convert the path at all.