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Let's assume the following situation: you have a computer with empty hard disk, and you don't have a CD, floppy, pen drive nearby to boot the computer from. But you have connection to the Internet.

Modern computers support network booting using PXE, but I haven't found anything regarding booting via the internet.

So, is it possible to use PXE to load an image from the internet and boot it? By having a running system (even a minimal Linux) in RAM, it should be possible to install it on the hard disk, and build up a working system from here.

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Give a try to gPXE.

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Welcome to Super User! Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. When recommending software, make sure to also cover how to use it to solve the problem at hand.… – Oliver Salzburg Oct 8 '12 at 10:05
But still need something to load gPXE from. :) Are there BIOS vendors who include it in their default implementation? – Calmarius Oct 8 '12 at 13:00
No, unfortunately. You'd need to find a supported ethernet adaptor and risk flashing it in. – Journeyman Geek Oct 9 '12 at 13:47
gPXE seems to be abandoned and replaced by iPXE but neither of them is able to boot any distro completelly from the Internet. BIOS and distros mostly follow the PXE standard; no extensions. – Pat Oct 9 '12 at 14:11

I have booted both "Clonezilla Live" and ESXi 5.5.0 from a USB thumb drive to system memory. Without a hard drive. You might look on Clonezilla's website, or Linux distro web sites.

I'm most familiar with PXE boot from Clonezilla. Our Clonezilla server is set-up to have to know the MAC of the client computer, in advance. It also creates an IP address for each MAC it knows.

The client gets on the network and announces itself, by MAC, asking if anyone has something for it. Clonewilla can tell the client to boot itself locally, or it can send an all-in-memory-Linux to the client and then use that to download a disk image (Win, Linux, Mac, whatever) that is then booted.

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