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How to Run Apache Kafka on Windows

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Is Windows your favorite development environment? Do you want to run Apache Kafka¼ on Windows? Thanks to the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL 2), now you can, and with fewer tears than in the past. Windows still isn’t the recommended platform for running Kafka with production workloads, but for trying out Kafka, it works just fine. Let’s take a look at how it’s done.

Set up your environment

Install Windows Subsystem for Linux 

The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL 2) makes it all possible. Microsoft describes WSL as “a GNU/Linux environment—including most command line tools, utilities, and applications—directly on Windows, unmodified, without the overhead of a traditional virtual machine or dual boot setup.” 

If you already have WSL 2 installed, skip to Install Java.

Make sure you’re running Windows 10 version 21H1 or later, or Windows 11 21H2 or later. To check your version, navigate to Settings > System > About. In the Windows specifications section, find Version. Ensure that you have all updates to your version installed.

If you’re on the Windows Update train, you probably have the latest version and are good to go. If not, you need to update Windows.

When you’re sure that Windows is up to date, follow these instructions to install WSL 2.

Enable WSL 2

To install the WSL 2 feature, open PowerShell as an administrator, and run the following command:

wsl --install

This may take a minute or two. Your output should resemble the following:

PS C:\Windows\system32> wsl --install
Installing: Windows Subsystem for Linux
Windows Subsystem for Linux has been installed.
Installing: Ubuntu
Ubuntu has been installed.
The requested operation is successful. Changes will not be effective until the system is rebooted.
PS C:\Windows\system32>

This command installs the Microsoft Store version of WSL and automatically selects the WSL 2 version. Also, it installs the default Linux distro, which is Ubuntu 22.04 as of this writing.

Tip: If you already have the non-Store version of WSL installed, you can run the wsl –update command to get it.

Reboot your machine.

After the reboot completes, log in. The installation of the default Linux distro continues automatically. The shell terminal opens and displays the following message:

Installing, this may take a few minutes...
Please create a default UNIX user account. The username does not need to match your Windows username.
For more information visit: https://aka.ms/wslusers
Enter new UNIX username:

Enter a username and password to complete the installation. Save them in a secure location, because you will need them when you work with the shell later.

WSL 2 is ready to use. For more information on installing WSL 2, including troubleshooting, see Install Linux on Windows with WSL. For more information on WSL commands, see Basic commands for WSL.

Install Java

Kafka is built with Java and requires the Java runtime to execute. You can use the apt-get package manager to install the latest updates. In the Ubuntu shell window that opened above, run the following commands to install the latest versions of various libraries:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade -y

Tip: Right-click pastes text into the terminal window.

It may take a few minutes to download and install all of the most recent binaries. Once Ubuntu is updated, you can install Java. 

Kafka requires the Java runtime version to be 8, 11, or 17. Java 8 is deprecated, so Java 11 and Java 17 are preferred. Check the Java version in your Linux installation: 

java -version

Your output should resemble this:

openjdk 11.0.17 2022-10-18
OpenJDK Runtime Environment (build 11.0.17+8-post-Ubuntu-1ubuntu220.04)
OpenJDK 64-Bit Server VM (build 11.0.17+8-post-Ubuntu-1ubuntu220.04, mixed mode, sharing)

If Java isn’t installed (likely) or it’s not the right version, install it by using your distribution’s package manager. There are a lot of ways to install Java. On Ubuntu, this is one of the simplest:

sudo apt install openjdk-17-jdk -y

Download Kafka

You can install Kafka by using a package manager, or you can download the tarball and extract it to your local machine directly.

Download the tarball from the Apache Kafka download site. The following command downloads Apache Kafka version 3.5:

wget https://dlcdn.apache.org/kafka/3.5.0/kafka_2.13-3.5.0.tgz

Run the following commands to untar the Kafka archive, and cd to the kafka directory: 

tar -xzf kafka_2.13-3.5.0.tgz
cd kafka_2.13-3.5.0

Run the ls -al command to list the contents of the kafka directory:

total 72
drwxr-xr-x  7 jim jim  4096 Jun  5 02:08 .
drwxr-xr-x 59 jim jim  4096 Aug 16 14:09 ..
-rw-r--r--  1 jim jim 14770 Jun  5 02:03 LICENSE
-rw-r--r--  1 jim jim 28184 Jun  5 02:03 NOTICE
drwxr-xr-x  3 jim jim  4096 Jun  5 02:08 bin
drwxr-xr-x  3 jim jim  4096 Jun  5 02:08 config
drwxr-xr-x  2 jim jim  4096 Aug 16 14:09 libs
drwxr-xr-x  2 jim jim  4096 Jun  5 02:08 licenses
drwxr-xr-x  2 jim jim  4096 Jun  5 02:08 site-docs

Start the Kafka cluster

Run the kafka-storage.sh script to generate a cluster ID:

KAFKA_CLUSTER_ID="$(bin/kafka-storage.sh random-uuid)"

Run the kafka-storage.sh script again to format the log directories:

bin/kafka-storage.sh format -t $KAFKA_CLUSTER_ID -c config/kraft/server.properties

Your output should resemble:

Formatting /tmp/kraft-combined-logs with metadata.version 3.5-IV2.

Run the kafka-server-start.sh script to start the Kafka server:

bin/kafka-server-start.sh config/kraft/server.properties

There will be a lot of output, and Kafka Server will be ready in a short time, typically around a second or two.

Your output should resemble the following screenshot:

Kafka Server running on Ubuntu and WSL 2

Produce and consume some messages

In this step, you open two terminal windows, one to run a producer and another to run a consumer.

Open another terminal session and run the kafka-topics command to create a Kafka topic named demo-messages:

cd kafka_2.13-3.5.0
bin/kafka-topics.sh --create --topic demo-messages --bootstrap-server localhost:9092

Run the kafka-console-producer command to start producing events to the topic:

bin/kafka-console-producer.sh --topic demo-messages --bootstrap-server localhost:9092

When you’re prompted, type a few lines of text to produce some events:

>first message
>second message
>third message

Open another terminal session and run the following command to start consuming events:

cd kafka_2.13-3.5.0
bin/kafka-console-consumer.sh --topic demo-messages --from-beginning --bootstrap-server localhost:9092

Your output should resemble this:

first message
second message
third message

Arrange the producer and consumer terminal windows to be side by side. In the producer terminal, type a few more messages, and watch as they appear in the consumer terminal.

Stop Kafka

When you’re done experimenting with Kafka, follow these steps to exit the Kafka environment:

  1. Stop the consumer and producer clients with Ctrl+C

  2. Stop the Kafka Server with Ctrl+C

  3. Run the following command to clean up:

    rm -rf /tmp/kafka-logs /tmp/zookeeper /tmp/kraft-combined-logs
    

Kafka and Windows: The good, the bad, and the ugly

There are lots of Kafka-on-Windows tutorials, but most make the mistake of running Kafka directly on the JVM on Windows. Superficially, this appears to work, but there are limitations: Kafka uses specific features of POSIX to achieve high performance, so emulations—which happen on WSL 1—are insufficient. For example, the broker will crash when it rolls a segment file. Always run Kafka on Windows in a Linux environment backed by WSL 2.

Another approach that works well is to run Kafka in Docker containers. Docker Desktop for Windows has been updated to use the WSL 2 back end, so Docker works exactly as it does on native Linux, without needing to spin up an entire VM. If you want to give this approach a go, try it out using the Confluent Platform demo.

Apache Kafka and Confluent Platform running in Docker containers on Ubuntu and WSL 2

You’re just getting started!

Although Kafka provides an event streaming platform to build your applications on, you’ll want to take advantage of the broader ecosystem of components—like ksqlDB, Confluent Schema Registry, and Confluent Control Center—all provided as part of Confluent Platform. At the moment, Confluent Platform is supported for experimentation only on Windows, not for production or development environments.

Now that you have Kafka installed, you’ll want to learn more about it, try out the numerous tutorials, and join the community! Don’t forget that Apache Kafka has many APIs—including the producer and consumer but also Kafka Streams and Kafka Connect.


Kafka on Windows? What made this possible?

You may recall a time when Linux was anathema to Microsoft. Back in 2001, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously called Linux a “malignant cancer,” but he has since come around to “loving” it. Microsoft’s current CEO Satya Nadella seems intent on making it a first-class citizen in the Microsoft ecosystem, which means that a new era has arrived for software developers on the Windows platform.

When the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL 1) was released in 2016, it became possible to run a real Linux dev environment in a Linux shell, while retaining the familiar Windows UX around the shell. Even File Explorer was integrated nicely with the Linux file system.

The big drawbacks are that WSL 1 emulates a Linux kernel, and it runs in a full VM. The first means processes that require a native kernel, like Docker, can’t run. The second means that WSL 1 consumes a lot of resources. WSL 1 was not sufficient to run Kafka reliably.

But Microsoft delivered WSL 2 in 2019, and it’s a whole new world. They fixed the two biggest limitations, so WSL 2 runs a real Linux kernel, and the kernel runs on a subset of Hyper-V features, not in a full VM. For details, see Comparing WSL 1 and WSL 2. Now the path is clear for devs to build Kafka and Kafka Streams apps on Windows.


✍ Editor's note: This blog post was originally published by Jim Galasyn on December 9, 2020. As of September 7, 2023, the content has been updated with the latest information and best practices.

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    • Jim Galasyn is a technical writer at Confluent, working on Kafka Streams and ksqlDB. He came to Confluent after a stint at Docker, and before that, 14 years at Microsoft writing developer documentation. Even after four years of working in Silicon Valley companies, he still prefers Windows.

    The DevX Newsletter

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    Learn the basics of Apache Kafka in our Confluent Developer course.

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