Network Boot Disk


Creating a Network boot disk.


Article written by: Jay Fougere

When I started pursuing my MCSE, I had almost no experience with Windows NT and happened to enroll in the first Windows 2000 class available at the school that I was attending. The very first day of class, we booted our machines with what appeared to be some sort of DOS boot disk that allowed us access to a GHOST image of an operating system on a server. GHOST is a disk imaging utilty available from Norton's. That had to be the coolest install that I had seen to date. 800 MegaBytes worth of an operating system (Windows 2000 Server is quite large) installed over 100Mbps ethernet and booting in about 15 minutes.

It was about a month later (when I decided I wanted to play with network boot disks on my network at home) that I discovered how the disk was made. It was made with a utility included with Windows NT Server called Network Client Administrator. I also found out that Microsoft felt as though this utility was not important enough to include with Windows 2000. Microsoft had apparently assumed that anyone using Windows 2000 would have PXE enabled NICs (NICs that have a ROM chip that allow them to boot to the network).

I did a little research on an NT server and found the executable associated with Network Client Administrator. It was located in the \WINNT\System32 folder and is named ncadmin.exe. There is also a help file named ncadmin in the same directory. The executable, ncadmin.exe, is tiny, approximately 147 Kb. I then conducted an experiment. I simply copied ncadmin.exe to my Windows 2000 Server and ran it. (I wasn't expecting much; experiments such as this usually have bad results. I do, however, learn a lot doing these things :) It worked perfectly! I have tried this successfully on both Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 2000 server.

If you want to try this, there are a few things that you will need. First of all, research the NICs that you will be using and find the DOS drivers for them. Unless you are using older NICs, Network Client Administrator will probably not have the drivers you will need. In some instances, if you cannot find the drivers for your particular NIC, you may try drivers for an NE2000 NIC. There is no guarantee that this will work but it is worth a shot.

You will also need a basic DOS boot disk. Simply do a "format a:/s" on a DOS, Win95, or Win98 box. (assuming, of course, that your floppy drive is a:) Do not make a regular Windows 9x boot disk. It will put many files that you do not need on the disk, leaving you inadequate free space on the disk. If you do not have access to a Win9x or DOS box, you can find images for boot disks on the Internet that will extract to a floppy. If you need to use one of these, be sure to delete all files on the disk except for command.com.

Next you will need a Windows NT Server CD (or network share to the files on the disk, specifically those found in the "CLIENTS" folder on the root of the CD).

Now, all that you have to do is run "ncadmin.exe". If this is the first time that you have run this you will need to create the shared client-based tools folder on your hard drive. This is done by selecting "Copy Client-Based Network Administration Tools" from the first dialog box and then press "continue". You will be prompted for the source and destination directories on the next dialog box. If you are using the Windows NT Server CD and want to install these files to the default location (which is "clients" on the root of your C: drive), all that you have to do is press "OK".

Once you have created the shared folder, you are ready to make a network boot disk. Simply run ncadmin.exe and select "Make Network Installation Startup Disk". Insert the DOS boot disk that you already have into the drive and press "OK". This is where this utility shows its age. I am assuming most of you will select "Drive A: is 3.5" not "Drive A: is 5.25". Select "Network Client for DOS and Windows" and select your NIC driver (if your NIC is available), then press "OK". If your driver is not listed, simply press "OK" anyway.
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On the next dialog box you will be prompted for such things as username and computername, etc. It is pretty self-explanatory, so I won't bore you with the gory details.

If you were lucky enough to have your NIC driver listed, you are done. Try to boot to the network to verify the disk's functionality. You should have use of all of your "Net" commands. With those you can map a network drive so that you will have access to an Image to install from. For a review of a few "Net" commands, check out: http://www.NetworkNewz.com/2001/0312.html.

On the chance that your drivers were not listed, but you have them, you can use the drivers that you have with some minor modifications to a couple of files on the disk. First of all, copy the drivers that you have to the "net" directory on the bootdisk. Next, with a text editor, open "system.ini". Where you see the line "netcard=xxxxx.dos" replace "xxxx.dos" with the name of your device driver. If you look closely, you will see that you can also modify username, computername, workgroup, domain, etc. In other words, once you have made one disk, you can modify it for use with many computers on many domains simply by modifying the system.ini file. You will then have to similarly modify the driver settings in "protocol.ini".

If you look at the bottom section of "protocol.ini", you will see where you can modify the IP address and subnet mask and enable/disable DHCP. This is helpful if you simply want to copy the disk to use with many machines. Simply set up your addressing as necessary and then modify machine name, etc., in the "system.ini" file.

Keywords: Creating a Network boot disk.