Booting over the network to install the system (improved, with iPXE, installing Debian GNU/kFreeBSD)

I improved my improved, with iPXE instead of PXE, setup to boot over the network to install the system so it works also with Debian GNU/kFreeBSD. It simply uses the grub2pxe file provided by debian-installer. Check my PXE git directory.


Booting over the network to install the system (improved, with iPXE instead of PXE)

A few month ago, I provided my setup using pxelinux, isc-dhcpd and tftdp-hpa in order to make possible boot on lan. I improved this setup to chainload iPXE instead. I’m not interested in overwrite ROMs of ethernet devices I have so I still use PXE but only in order to get to iPXE that is way more powerful, as it allows direct access over http and much more.

The README in the my PXE directory explains the whole (quite short actually) install from scratch process. If you had the previous version running, note that the DHCPD configuration and update script changed (and the case of subdirectories changed too).

Booting over the network to install the system

Do you still have CD/DVD players installed on your boxes? Well, I mostly don’t; why would I anyway?

Actually, apart from system installation or access to the rescue mode of the system installation, there’s nothing you cannot do without and nothing is not best to do without (nothing is slower and noisier onĀ  nowadays computers). But that’s not even really true anymore, now most mainboards include an ethernet card capable of network booting even if hidden behind confusing names like NVDIA Boot Agent for instance.

Usually, it supports the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE) which combines DHCP and TFTP. That’s nice because it’s then easy with GNU/Linux to ran DHCP and TFTP servers. So here comes my PXE setup, using ISC DHCPD and TFTPD-HPA, both shipped by Debian.

As described in the README, on the server (you have a home server, right? *plonk*), put this PXE directory somewhere clever, like /srv/pxe for instance (yes, that’s what I did; but you can put it in /opt/my/too/long/path/i/cannot/remember if you really really want).

Run the gnulinux/ script to get kernels and initrds. By default, it fetches debian and ubuntu stuff. If it went well, you should have several *-linux and *-initrd.gz files in gnulinux/ plus a generated config file named default inside pxelinux.cfg/
You may add a symlink to this script inside /etc/cron.monthly so you keep stuff up-to-date.

Then, you must install a “Trivial FTP Daemon” on you local server which will, in the context of PXE (Preboot Execution Environment), serve these files you just got:

apt-get install tftpd-hpa
update-rc.d tftpd-hpa defaults

Edit /etc/default/tftpd-hpa, especially TFTP_DIRECTORY setting (you know, /opt/my/what/the/…).

Finally, you must update your DHCP Daemon so it advertises we’re running PXE (filename and next-server options). With ISC dhcpd, in /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf, for my subnet, I have now:

subnet netmask {

  # PXE / boot on lan
  filename "pxelinux.0";

Obviously, you wont forget to do:

invoke-rc.d isc-dhcp-server restart
invoke-rc.d tftpd-hpa start

That’s all. Now on your client, go in the BIOS, look for “boot on lan” and whatever crap it may be called (it varies greatly), activate it. Then boot. It’ll do some DHCP magic to find the path to the PXE and the menu should be printed on your screen at some point.

We can actually do plenty of things with this simple stuff. We could, for instance, use it to boot diskless terminals on a specifically designed distro.