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Date:      Thu, 16 Mar 1995 19:03:21 -0500
From:      starkhome! (Gene Stark)
To:        "Raoul Medina" <!>
Subject:   Using FreeBSD on a network of diskless PCs
Message-ID:  <>
In-Reply-To: "Raoul Medina"'s message of Thu, 16 Mar 1995 18:31:11 +0100

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>   1) Is FreeBSD free of charge for any institution as it is for any particular ?
>      (particularly for public universities...)


>   2) Is it possible to do a remote boot via ethernet ? Are there any security 
>      problems using this method ? (Could someone boot using a floppy disk and
>      then become root, allowing him to connect to the entire network with these
>      privileges ? )

Yes it is possible.  The "netboot" code that is distributed with the system
works for this.  You put the code in a ROM on the network card.  You also
need to set up a bootp server on the net to issue configuration information
by tftp in response to clients that are trying to boot up.  The kernel itself
is loaded via NFS.

We are currently setting up a lab in which all the clients initially boot
diskless, then reload data to the local disk, if necessary.  I have hacked
the netboot loader to be a 2-stage boot.  Stage 1 goes in the ROM and
won't do anything but load the stage 2 boot off of the server.  The stage 2
boot can be set up to do whatever you want.  Right now we have the option
of booting FreeBSD or doing a normal boot sequence, e.g. A:, C: to load
MSDOS.  Using this scheme, you can prohibit booting from floppy by
having the second stage boot refuse to return to run the normal A:, C:

I have set up the NFS root and the /etc/rc so that the NFS root is
completely read-only, so that a single root can be shared between multiple
clients.  This eases maintenance.  The scheme I devised is somewhat baroque,
but it seems to work.  I can tell you more if you are interested.

If somebody does boot up a floppy, and thereby loads their own kernel,
they can of course become root on that client.  This does not have any
particular security implications that I know of, as long as you have
your NFS servers configured so that they don't give root access to remote
roots, and as long as you don't have any bogus .rhosts or hosts.equiv
files that give out root permissions.  Actually, it is easier to hack NFS
as a normal user than it is as root, because root is treated specially.
So, somebody could become root on a client, but that shouldn't automatically
permit them to be root on a remote server.  However, you do have to keep
in mind that if they are root on a client machine, not only can they write
whatever they want on the local disk, but they can also use the network
card to snoop the net, to discover passwords or whatever.  This may also
be a consideration for you.

>   3) Can we configure the X86Config file in order to take into account the 
>      heterogeneity of monitors and video cards ? Particularly, may we change
>      the X11 manager sources to tell him to search for the right configuration
>      of a PC in a file called (for instance) X86Config.<ip number> ?

Yes, a separate XF86Config file can be provided on the basis of hostname,
I believe.  It should be flexible enough for your purposes.

>      We should also consider that some of the video cards require different
>      XServer (S3, SVGA, etc...). May we change the "startx" sources in order 
>      to select the X.<ip number> as the XServer ?

Usually the server is invoked as simply "X", which is a symbolic link
to the appropriate server.  You could arrange for the symbolic links to
be different on different clients, or you could substitute a shell script
which would apply a greater level of intelligence to determine which
server to run.

							- Gene Stark

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