I fight with computers

Finding your Operating System version programmatically

Usually if you ask "how do I find out what software I'm running on?", the answer is "don't."

If you're a web application, you shouldn't care if you're in Chrome, Safari, Firefox, on Mac, Linux, Windows, a 32-bit machine... you really really don't need to know.

The same usually goes for native applications. If you need an API that was only introduced in a particular version, you can usually check for if that API exists. This is commonly referred to as "Feature Availability" - instead of your code's flow going along the lines of "if I am Windows 10 then do X", it should say "if X is available then do X."

However, sometimes you do really need to know. Two cases in particular that I've recently encountered:

So if you really absolutely pinky-swear need to know your OS version, how can you go about finding it?


In order to find Linux distribution information, you should shell out to lsb_release -a, or ingest /etc/lsb-release which is a plain text file. This is defined by the Linux Standard Base.

Note that under the Windows Subsystem for Linux, this appears to be a pure Ubuntu installation. See uname below for differentiating Microsoft Ubuntu from Ubuntu.


On macOS you can either use Gestalt(), an old Carbon API which has since been deprecated, or if you can invoke Objective-C or Swift code you can use [[NSProcessInfo processInfo] operatingSystemVersion].

This allows you to obtain the major, minor and patch versions of macOS (e.g. 10.12.4).

I'm not sure how to get the build number (e.g. 16E195).

Linux and macOS (POSIX)

On any POSIX-compliant operating system, you can call uname(2). This shows quite a bit of differentiation between OSs. Using the following sample code:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <sys/utsname.h>

int main(int argc, const char * argv[])  
    struct utsname details;

    int ret = uname(&details);

    if (ret == 0)
        printf("sysname: %s\n", details.sysname);
        printf("nodename: %s\n", details.nodename);
        printf("release: %s\n", details.release);
        printf("version: %s\n", details.version);
        printf("machine: %s\n", details.machine);

    return ret;

Note: nodename is the machine's hostname.

These are the values I got on a proper Ubuntu installation:

sysname: Linux  
nodename: Kallus-Ubuntu  
release: 4.10.0-19-generic  
version: #21-Ubuntu SMP Thu Apr 6 17:04:57 UTC 2017  
machine: x86_64  

Here's what I got under the Windows Subsystem for Linux. Fortunately it says Microsoft right there so you can troubleshoot these cases easily.

sysname: Linux  
nodename: Atollon  
release: 4.4.0-43-Microsoft  
version: #1-Microsoft Wed Dec 31 14:42:53 PST 2014  
machine: x86_64  

This also works on macOS. As a bonus, you can translate fairly easily between Darwin kernel versions and macOS release versions.

sysname: Darwin  
nodename: Eadu.local  
release: 16.5.0  
version: Darwin Kernel Version 16.5.0: Fri Mar  3 16:52:33 PST 2017; root:xnu-3789.51.2~3/RELEASE_X86_64  
machine: x86_64  


Windows is a different beast.

Windows used to have GetVersion and GetVersionEx, but the behaviour of this was altered in Windows 8.1. It still has those functions, but they no longer do what you want them to do.

If you're running Windows 8 or below, these functions will returns the current version, e.g. 6.0 for Vista, 6.1 for 7, and so on.

If you're running Windows 8.1 or above, then this function will return 6.2 unless your Application Manifest explicitly declares that your application is compatible with the current Windows version - 8.1 or 10.0.

If you're running a Windows driver - or if you like to live dangerously - you can instead use the kernel-mode RtlGetVersion function, which will return the exact version that Windows is running. This is inside the Windows kernel, so it's only accessible from 32-bit applications on 32-bit Windows, or 64-bit applications on 64-bit Windows.

While writing this blog post (but not when I originally did this research for work 🙁) I also came across another version of RtlGetVersion. This one is in ntdll.dll so, unlike the kernel call above, this one works in 32-bit applications on 64-bit Windows.

The official way, however, to do version checking, is to use VerifyVersionInfo. If this look daunting, there are a whole bunch of helper functions such as IsWindows10OrGreater(), IsWindowsServer() and so on. This only lets you find out if you're running Windows greater than X, or less than X, or equal to X. It doesn't tell you outright what you're running on.

Note: these helper functions are defined in the Windows SDK as inline functions, they are not standalone functions in Windows DLLs. This means that you can't invoke them as native calls from .NET or any other dynamic runtime, you have to re-implement them as the same thin wrappers over VerifyVersionInfo.

The solution I ended up using was to turn to the Windows Registry. There are 3 keys you can use that only exist in Windows 10, which are:

As a bonus, you can also get the Windows Release Id, more commonly known as the Windows 10 Version, from the same section of the registry:

Do not use HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\CurrentVersion as a primary source, because although it says 6.3 on Windows 8.1, it still says 6.3 on Windows 10. Only use it if you know you're on a version of Windows older than Windows 10.

  1. Symlinks in Windows 10!

  2. Today's Consistency Award goes to Microsoft for their excellence in both naming and typing.