This section discusses the initialization of host software across a connected network, or more generally across an Internet path. This is necessary for a diskless host, and may optionally be used for a host with disk drives. For a diskless host, the initialization process is called "network booting" and is controlled by a bootstrap program located in a boot ROM.
To initialize a diskless host across the network, there are two distinct phases:
Diskless machines often have no permanent storage in which to store network configuration information, so that sufficient configuration information must be obtained dynamically to support the loading phase that follows. This information must include at least the IP addresses of the host and of the boot server. To support booting across a gateway, the address mask and a list of default gateways are also required.
During the loading phase, an appropriate file transfer protocol is used to copy the system code across the network from the boot server.
A host with a disk may perform the first step, dynamic configuration. This is important for microcomputers, whose floppy disks allow network configuration information to be mistakenly duplicated on more than one host. Also, installation of new hosts is much simpler if they automatically obtain their configuration information from a central server, saving administrator time and decreasing the probability of mistakes.