Configure a server to handle network boot (PXE)

PXE (Pre-Execution Environment) is a way to boot a computer which can’t boot from a physical drive (CD, DVD, USB). The computer gets an IP address from the network using DHCP and then download a PXE image from a TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol) server. On Linux, Dnsmasq does all the networking stuff and Syslinux provides a PXE image. The LiveCD of any GNU/Linux distribution contains configuration files for Syslinux and a compressed file system which can be used by network boot.


1- Configure the PXE server network (IP address, DNS…) and make it up and running.

2- Uncompress or mount an ISO image of an Ubuntu LiveCD to /tmp/iso. This may work too with other distributions, but this example has only been tested with Ubuntu.

3- Prepare a TFTP directory:

mkdir -p /srv/tftpboot
cp -a /tmp/iso/isolinux/* /srv/tftpboot/
mkdir /srv/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg
mv /srv/tftpboot/isolinux.cfg /srv/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/default

cp -r /tmp/iso/casper /src/tftpboot

# This requires Syslinux to be installed
cp /usr/lib/syslinux/pxelinux.0 /srv/tftpboot

4- Configure DNSMasq to be both a DHCP server and a TFTP one. To do so, edit /etc/dnsmasq.conf:

# Uncomment following line if you want to restrict to one interface

5- (Re)Start Dnsmasq service and enjoy your PXE server !

Debian network installation

Debian provides files on its FTP mirrors which can be used to set up a PXE server to boot Debian netinstall.

On this FTP, only initrd.gz, linux and pxelinux.0 are really useful. pxelinux.cfg/default can be rewritten in a much simpler version:

LABEL linux
    kernel linux
    append vga=normal initrd=initrd.gz --