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I find at least there are two start mode of an ethernet interface, on boot and auto. What is the difference between the two? Where I can find a formal document that covers this topic?

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You missed some things. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Oct 25 '11 at 10:22
Please explain which distribution you're using and where you set this mode. I believe you're referring to initialization scripts which are not standardized across distros. – Kristof Provost Oct 25 '11 at 10:27
I'm using SUSE11, and you can find STARTMODE in /etc/sysconfig/network/ifcg-eth0, for example – HaiYuan Zhang Oct 25 '11 at 10:53

As other comments have stated, network configuration differs between Linux distribution, but normally onboot or static in the configuration file is used for setting up a static interface configuration whereas auto defers the configuration which will then be performed by a DHCP client program like dhclient or NetworkManager.

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