WTF Is Booting? Why is It Called Booting?

You’ve heard it before.


It’s a strange term.


I’m going to boot my computer.

My computer needs rebooting.

Damn piece of junk keeps freezing during boot.


But what exactly is booting?  Why is it called booting?  What does this have to do with Linux?

What Exactly is Booting?

Booting = Starting.  To boot one’s computer is to start it.

There’s a lot that goes on to start a computer.  You push the power button on the front, a bunch of gibberish and logos flash by for a while.  Then, BAM!  You’re in your operating system.

Well, that gibberish and those logos are all visual evidence of the computer boot process.


Whenever someone says boot with regards to a computer, think start.

Reboot = Restart

Locked up during boot = Locked up during start

Slow boot = Slow start

… and so on.

Why Is It Called Booting?

Booting is strange.  I mean why not something simple like “start.”  Or “go.”  Or “allons-y” to make us Doctor Who fans happy (I vote for this one).


Well, first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page by asking a more fundamental question.


What is Bootstrapping?

Well, first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page by asking a more fundamental question.


What Does It Mean to Pull Oneself Up By The Bootstraps?

Well, first, let’s make sure we’re…  HA HA!  Got you!  You thought I was going to do it again!  But I’m not!


“Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” is an American phrase originating sometime in the 19th century.

Effectively, it means to lift yourself up and over an obstacle only by pulling on your shoelaces.  An absurd proposition and blatant violation of Newton’s Third Law.

It is used to describe overcoming a very difficult obstacle relying solely on oneself.  Typically by breaking the task into many small, manageable steps.

Back to bootstrapping.  Bootstrapping is a shortened term that takes the place of pull oneself up by the bootstraps.

I think it’s ironic that saying a short phrase describing working hard is too much work to say.  But such is life.


Bootstrapping was adopted by early computer scientists in the 1950s to refer to the start-up process of a computer.  The computer accomplishes the monumental task of starting by self-executing small steps that build on each other until the job is finished.  They thought of it as the computer pulling itself up by the bootstraps.

So the process was called bootstrapping.

And now, back to booting.  In another astounding victory for us lazy folks, bootstrapping was deemed too difficult to say, and it was shortened to booting.

My hope is one day we’ll win again, remove the ‘t’, and it will shorten to booing.  It will certainly make computer talk more entertaining.

  • “My computer takes forever to boo!”
  • “Damnit, it locked up again.  Now I need to re-boo it.”
  • “Okay class.  Welcome to Computer Science 101.  I’d like everyone to begin by booing their computers.”

Oh, where was I.  Right, booting.  Booting refers to the gargantuan task of starting a computer.  Since the computer drags itself through numerous small challenges that culminate in the computer being fully started, early computer scientists likened this to bootstrapping.  Which was shortened to booting.

What Does This Have To Do With Linux?

Booting is an operating system agnostic concept.  Every computer boots.  Linux computers aren’t special in this regard.

But Linux has many opportunities and tools for controlling some of the boot process.  And being well-versed in booting is crucial to understanding those opportunities and tools.

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