This article mainly introduces an unusual way to boot up a computer from LAN/network or remote computer/server/desktop/PC. It defines what boot from LAN is and how it works. Also, it uses an example based on MiniTool software. Continue reading for more details!

What Does Boot from LAN Mean?

Booting from LAN (Local Area Network), also known as booting from network, is a process that enables a computer to start up and load an operating system (OS) or other applications directly from the LAN without any local storage device such as CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, USB flash drive, or floppy disk.

What Is Network Boot?

Network booting, shortened as netboot, is the process of booting up a computer from a network instead of a local disk. This booting method can be applied to centrally managed computers (thin clients) like public machines in Internet café or schools, diskless workstations, as well as routers.


Network Booting Use Case

Network boot can be used to centralize the management of hard drive storage, which supporters claim can reduce capital and maintenance expenses. It can also be applied in cluster computing, in which nodes may not have local drives. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, network booting was used to save the cost of a hard drive for a decently sized hard disk would cost thousands of dollars, which is almost the price of a CPU.

Network booting is also used for unattended system installations. In such a situation, a network-booted helper system is used as a platform to execute the script-driven, unattended installation of the intended OS on the target computer. the implementations of that application for Windows and Mac OS X exist as Windows Deployment Service and NetInstall respectively.

Hardware Support of Netboot

Almost all modern desktop and laptop computers offer an option to boot from LAN in their BIOS or UEFI through PXE (Preboot Execution Environment). Post-1998 PowerPC (G3 – G5) Mac systems can also boot from their New World ROM firmware to a network disk via NetBoot. As for the older personal computers that have no network boot firmware, they can rely on a flash drive or floppy disk, which contains software, to boot from network.

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Intel PXE Boot to LAN

On Intel architecture computers, network boot is enabled with the PXE standard. PXE extends the features of BIOS so that it can run the software directly from the LAN. Nowadays, PXE support is so common that you can find it in any modern machine that comes with an Ethernet jack called RJ45, which makes it possible to boot an Intel-based PC from the network without having to burn an EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) on your network card like what you had to do in the past.

How to enable PXE boot for Intel Desktop Boards? On Intel Desktop Boards that support the PXE, you can set the network as a boot device. Now, let’s see how to boot from onboard LAN.

  1. Press F2 continuously when you power up your machine until it enters its BIOS Setup.
  2. Navigate to the Boot menu.
  3. Enable Boot to Network.
  4. Press F10 to save changes and exit the BIOS setup.
  5. Restart your computer and press F12 during POST to boot from a remote server within LAN.
Tip: To use the F12 key during POST, the User Access Level in the Security menu of the BIOS Setup must be set to Full.

How to Boot from LAN?

The process of network booting is like this. The initial software to be run is loaded from a server on the network. For IP networks, usually, this is done using the TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol). The server from which to load the initial software is often found by broadcasting a DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) or Bootstrap Protocol request.

Usually, that initial software isn’t a full image of the OS to be loaded, but a small network boot manager program like PXELINUX that can deploy a boot option menu and then load the full image by invoking the corresponding second-stage bootloader.

Before IP became the primary Layer 3 protocol, IBM’s RIPL (Remote Initial Program Load) and Novell’s NCP (NetWare Core Protocol) were widely used to boot from Internet. Their client implementations also fit into smaller ROM than PXE. Technically, netbooting can be applied over any of resource sharing or file transfer protocols. For instance, NFS (Network File System) is preferred by BSD (Berkeley Software/Standard Distribution) variants.

Next, let’s explain the BIOS boot process in detail.

When the computer powers on and starts running the operating system, it goes through a series of operations before it finally starts the OS. The system is a sophisticated boot program that takes total control over the PC. Yet, a boot program can also be a very simple app such as a memory diagnostics tool.

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Step 1. Computer Powers on

The machine powers on after you press the power button on the host case.

Step 2. Hardware Initialization

Then, the BIOS conducts an inventory of all the components in the computer like CPU, memory, and hard drives.

Step 3. Self-tests

Next, all the components detected by BIOS will go through a self-test procedure to make sure they are working properly. If one of the components fails and it is required for basic operation, your PC will make a series of beeps and stop working. Only when all issues have been solved, the BIOS will move on to the next step to discover additional option ROMs.

Step 4. Computer Stops

If your PC ends up in that state, it will either hang forever or turn itself off, which depends on how it entered that state and how your BIOS is configured to react when it comes across that state.

Step 5. Find Built-in Devices and Option ROMs

During the process, the BIOS will detect all the extensions available, which are often embedded in the firmware of the BIOS or burned into an EEPROM or flash chip on one of your add-on cards. Among those cards, you can see the prompt on the network cards allowing you to decide which type of boot protocol it should support, PXE or RPL (Remote Program Load).

Usually, option ROMs should do nothing fancy at that point except initialize the hardware, run self-tests, and set up boot service (BBS) entry point. And, you will be permitted to select which boot service to try first by pressing a hotkey that varies from manufacturers. F12 is the most common one.

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Step 6. Start the First Boot Service

Now, the application indicated by the boot service entry point is started. At this moment, control passes to the boot service that starts its discovery process for a boot program.

Step 7. Boot Service Discovers Boot Program

Different boot services look for the boot tools in different ways. As for the network card using the PXE standard, it will perform a DHCP request to find its IP address and location of boot software. If a location is advertised, a TFTP request is performed to fetch the boot program, commonly referred to as a network boot program (NBP).

Step 8. Remove First Boot Service or Put It at the Bottom of the Boot List

If the boot service fails to find a valid boot app, the boot service will exit, and control returns to the BIOS. The BIOS will cycle to the next boot service in its list. Whether the BIOS will remove the failed boot device or put it to the end of the list depends on BIOS vendors.

Step 9. Figure out Additional Available Boot Services

If there are more boot services available, the next one in the boot list will be started. If not, the computer will stop.

Step 10. Start Boot Program

Now, the boot program controls the computer completely. It will start doing whatever it’s supposed to do. Once the boot program has done all the tasks it should do, it will hand over the control to a system kernel. A boot program that conducts that work is known as a bootloader.

Then, the OS kernel will perform a complete discovery of the hardware attached to the system and start doing whatever it is designed to do.

Boot from LAN with MiniTool ShadowMaker PXE

MiniTool ShadowMaker is a professional and reliable backup software that also enables you to boot client computers within LAN from a host PC using its PXE feature. Let’s see how it works.

MiniTool ShadowMaker TrialClick to Download100%Clean & Safe

1. Download, install, and launch MiniTool ShadowMaker on the host machine.

2. If it asks for purchase, click the Keep Trial option.

3. Then, it will enter into its main user interface (UI). There, move to the Tools tab.

4. In the Tools tab, select PXE.

select PXE in MiniTool ShadowMaker

5. In the next PXE Client window, click the Start button to start the PXE service.

PXE service is runningr

6. You can use the Settings button to specify the start IP address of the clients, how many clients can be started from this boot service, the router IP, as well as the mask.

PXE boot service settings

7. Boot the client computer within the same LAN as the host machine into BIOS and change its first boot service to PXE.

change boot option to PXE

8. Reboot the client and it will start up from LAN into the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) with MiniTool ShadowMaker included. And, it will automatically open MiniTool ShadowMaker after the timer counts down for 15 seconds. If you don’t want to launch the program, just click Cancel.

initializing to boot from PXE

9. Finally, you will arrive at the screen of the MiniTool PE Loader. There, you can launch MiniTool ShadowMaker, reboot your PC, turn off your PC, load drivers, use the command console, and launch Microsoft iSCSI Initiator.

successfully boot from MiniTool PXE into MiniTool PE Loader

10. Go to boot up other clients with the same instruction starting from step 7.

Return to the host computer, you will see how many clients have been booted up from this PXE service and their temporary IP addresses and ports.

PXE clients condition

How to Install OS Through Network Boot?

If the client computer is bare mental or its original system is damaged, you can rely on network booting to install systems on it. The following guide applies to Windows 7/8/8.1/10/11.

If you have a Windows installation media, just connect it to the target client computer, boot it from LAN, and install the operating system on the client with the installation media.

If you don’t have an installation disk, you can create a system backup with MiniTool ShadowMaker on a working computer and save the backup image into a portable disk. Then, connect the portable disk to the client and boot up the client with the MiniTool ShadowMaker PXE service following the steps above. Finally, on the destination client, restore the system to its hard disk using the Universal Restore utility of MiniTool ShadowMaker.

universal restore

MiniTool ShadowMaker TrialClick to Download100%Clean & Safe

Wake on LAN Boot

Wake-on-LAN (WoL) is an Ethernet or Token Ring computer networking standard that enables a computer to be awakened or turned on by a network message. typically, the message is sent to the target computer by a program executed on a device connected to the same LAN. It is also possible to initiate the message from another network using subnet-directed broadcasts on a WoL gateway service.

Equivalent terms include wake up on LAN, power up by LAN, power on by LAN, resume on LAN, resume by LAN, remote wake-up, and wake on WAN (Wide Area Network). If the PC being awakened is communicating via Wi-Fi, a supplementary standard called Wake on Wireless LAN (WoWLAN) must be employed.

Both WoL and WoWLAN standards are usually supplemented by vendors to offer protocol-transparent on-demand services such as the Apple Bonjour wake-on-demand (Sleep Proxy) function.

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