FreeBSD diskless workstation and over the network installation via PXE

Erik Norgaard norgaard at
Sat Feb 23 10:45:58 UTC 2008

vincenzo romero wrote:
> Hello,
> Am new to FreeBSD and relatively new to linux;  I have a CentOS 5.1
> PXE/tftpd/dhcpd server; I'd like it to be the build/PXE server where a
> bunch of 1U clients could PXE boot and run:
> 1.  diskless over NFS-Root
> In googling, seems like there is a clone script that preps and lets
> you generate a root file system structure and let your clients boot
> off the network.

I found the docs I could find on the internet way obsolete back in 2005 
when I played with it, and I am not aware that these has been updated.

I wrote my own guide to make up for this, however, this may now also be 
obsolete as it's been some time since I played with this.

My main problem with diskless is that FreeBSD mounts memory backed 
filesystems for /var and /tmp which waste a lot of precious RAM if you 
have restricted memory. And a feature, useless in diskless operation, 
prevents mounting /var and /tmp from a server.

> I checked the Free BSD Handbook (Chapter 29) where extensive
> documentation on setup is outlined, but it assumes that the
> PXE/TFTP/NFS/DHCPd servers are FreeBSD;  mine is a CentOS; just want
> to support diskless PXE boot for my clients.
> Section 9Usning a Non-FreeBSD server - just indicates that
> do a tar/cpio of root; but ensure that special files in /dev are taken
> care of ...

There is no problem serving files from a non-FreeBSD server, however 
things are easier, as you need to build all applications served via NFS 
for FreeBSD. This mainly affects you if you want diskless clients, you 
need to keep these updated. For installation this is not a concern.

The /dev is not a problem, the diskless client mounts a /dev locally, it 
is not a real file system.

> - does anyone have this type of scenario setup?  if so, can you please
> share with me your insights/cheat-sheet-how to?

> - i'd be interested in understanding the setup of how you handled
> copying the /dev files into your exported ROOT directorty ...
> Are there any other recommendations ?

If you want to do network installation rather than diskless, avoid NFS, 
it is much easier to set up installation over ftp.

Cheers, Erik
Erik Nørgaard
Ph: +34.666334818                 

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