Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP)

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Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP) is a TCP/IP protocol and service that allows diskless workstations to obtain their IP address and their boot image file from a server.

What is BOOTP (Bootstrap protocol)?

BOOTP stands for Bootstrap protocol, is a TCP/IP protocol and service that allows diskless workstations to obtain their IP address, other TCP/IP configuration information, and their boot image file from a bootstrap protocol (BOOTP) server.

The network interface card (NIC) on these diskless workstations contains a programmable read-only memory (PROM) chip containing code necessary to initialize the client.

How does BOOTP Work?

When a BOOTP client is started, it has no IP address, so it broadcasts a message containing its MAC address onto the network. This message is called a “BOOTP request,” and it is picked up by the BOOTP server, which replies to the client with the following information that the client needs:

  • The client’s IP address, subnet mask, and default gateway address
  • The IP address and host name of the BOOTP server
  • The IP address of the server that has the boot image, which the client needs to load its operating system

When the client receives this information from the BOOTP server, it configures and initializes its TCP/IP protocol stack, and then connects to the server on which the boot image is shared. The client loads the boot image and uses this information to load and start its operating system.

The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) was developed as an extension of BOOTP. BOOTP is defined in Request for Comments (RFC) 951 and 1084.

Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP)
Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP)

The term “bootstrap protocol”

The term “bootstrap protocol” (or “boot protocol”) comes from the idea of lifting yourself up by your own bootstraps—something that is obviously difficult to do. In other words, how does a client machine start up when it initially has neither an IP address nor an operating system? BOOTP makes this difficult task possible.

Windows NT doesn’t support BOOTP

Microsoft Windows NT supports DHCP but not BOOTP. Windows NT Service Pack 3 and later provides some support for BOOTP clients, as does Microsoft Windows 2000. See the readme.txt file for Service Pack 3 for more details.