Diskless NetBSD HOW-TO

This guide is intended to help you set up the server(s) necessary to boot a NetBSD workstation over the network. The steps this HOW-TO describe do not require you to have any OS installed on your client machine, or even a hard drive on that machine (thus the name diskless). The intent is to run NetBSD on a machine without any local storage (e.g., hard drive), although the directions in this document describe how to netboot a machine to the point where you can install NetBSD on a hard drive if you do not have any OS currently on your machine. This HOW-TO does not describe the actual install procedure, only the steps leading up to running the install tools. This HOW-TO is intended as a supplement to the official installation notes. You should read those before attempting to use this HOW-TO.

If you have a small hard drive, it is still probably worthwhile to install the bootloader, a small root partition, and a small swap partition on it, as it will boot and run significantly faster than over the network.

This HOW-TO is rather long in the attempt to cover as many permutations of hardware and OS as possible. If you're impatient, you may try reading the diskless(8) man page. Read the introduction page(s) to determine if your hardware and boot rom version are capable of booting off a LAN.

  1. Introduction
  2. Setting up the platform-specific bootloader
  3. Setting up the daemons to transfer the kernel
  4. Setting up the NFS server
  5. Setting up the filesystem
  6. Finishing up your installation

If you are interested in helping this document cover other NetBSD ports, or have any other comments or suggestions, please contact Michael Wolfson , or the NetBSD WWW group. A quick run-down of what's necessary for a new client architecture is available.

Finally, even if you do not have another Unix system available for serving the diskless machine, you can use a Windows PC as a BOOTP/TFTP/NFS/FTP server. Most of the platform-dependent information in this HOW-TO still applies if you do it that way.


The initial version of this HOW-TO and the hp300 section were written by Michael Wolfson.

Most of the information in these pages were derived from emails sent to the NetBSD/hp300 mailing list. In particular, thanks go to:

  • Jason Thorpe, for writing all of the diskless software on the NetBSD/hp300 end of things (and for being the NetBSD/hp300 port maintainer);
  • YAMAMORI Takenori, for porting rbootd to SunOS, Solaris, NEWS-OS, HP-UX, and a few other OSes and for leaving a trail of documentation in his wake;
  • Peter Maydell, for porting rbootd to Linux and providing copious documentation on the process;
  • Klaus Klein, Rainer Kopietz, Stan Brown, and Peter Radcliffe, for figuring out how to get the NetBSD rbootd to work under FreeBSD;
  • Wes Brown, for hints on how to configure HP-UX to use rbootd;
  • Peter Radcliffe for additional FreeBSD and Solaris info, as well as proofreading;
  • Lazaro Daniel Salem, for suggestions on clustering to save disk space;
  • Curt Sampson, for writing the alpha netboot documentation;
  • Bob Lantz, Dan Mcmahill, Reiner Buehl for detailed pmax information;
  • And, Brian Chase, author of The VAX Network Booting HOWTO on which much of this HOW-TO is based.

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