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Network booting is the process of booting a computer from a network rather than a local drive. This method of booting can be used by routers, diskless workstations and centrally managed computers (thin clients) such as public computers at libraries and schools. Network booting can be used to centralize management of disk storage, which supporters claim can result in reduced capital and maintenance costs. It can also be used in cluster computing, in which nodes may not have local disks.
Contemporary desktop personal computers generally provide an option to boot from the network in their BIOS via the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE). Post-1998 PowerPC (G3 - G5) Mac systems can also boot from their firmware to a network disk via NetBoot. Old personal computers without network boot firmware support can utilize a floppy disk or flash drive containing software to boot from the network.
The initial software to be run is loaded from a server on the network; for IP networks this is usually done using the Trivial File Transfer Protocol. The server from which to load the initial software is usually found by broadcasting a Bootstrap Protocol or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol request. Typically, this initial software is not a full image of the operating system to be loaded, but a small network boot manager program such as PXELINUX which can deploy a boot option menu then load the full image by invoking the corresponding second-stage bootloader .
Network booting is also used for unattended operating system installations. In this case, a network-booted helper operating system is used as a platform to execute the script-driven, unattended installation of the intended operating system on the target machine. Implementations of this for Mac OS X and Windows exist as NetInstall and Windows Deployment Services, respectively.
- PXE specification – The Preboot Execution Environment specification v2.1 published by Intel & SystemSoft
- Remote Boot Protocol Draft – draft of the PXE Client/Server Protocol included in the PXE specification
- NetBoot – NetBoot 2.0: Boot Server Discovery Protocol (BSDP)
- Installing Debian Using Netboot.
- Apple, NetBoot 2.0: Boot Server Discovery Protocol (BSDP)." Apple Corporation.
- Intel, PXE "Preboot execution environment (PXE) specification." Intel Corporation (1999).