Pixie Bits

Even among network professionals there are some protocols that remain a bit of voodoo. One of those is the PXE aka Preboot Execution Environment which is pronouced pixie. Developed as part of a larger initiative in the 1990s to make PCs easier to manage PXE sees only minimal use. Along with Wake on LAN (WoL) technology PXE could remotely start a PC and install a drive image regardless of the current state of the system. In another scenario PXE could be used to boot and operate diskless workstations allowing PCs to operate somewhere between a dumb terminal and a standalone PC. Many Linux distributions also support installation via PXE.

Despite all of these uses PXE remains a bit of a mystery, even to the IT professional. Part of that mystery lies in the misunderstandings and complexity of PXE which primarily stem from the use of several other existing technologies such as DHCP and TFTP in the boot process. Back in February Computerworld ran an article that attempts to demystify the PXE boot process. If you’re at all interested in getting to know just a little more about this interesting technology I suggest reading their article.


  1. All the PCs at my last job were PXE capable units; this lead to a better time for all, especially when GHOSTing a machine. Pricelss tech that most people don’t know about.