~tore Tore Anderson's technology blog

IPv6 network boot with UEFI and iPXE

Here at Redpill Linpro we make extensive use of network booting to provision software onto our servers. Many of our servers don’t even have local storage - they boot from the network every time they start up. Others use network boot in order to install an operating system to local storage. The days when we were running around in our data centres with USB or optical install media are long gone, and we’re definitively not looking back.

Our network boot infrastructure is currently built around iPXE, a very flexible network boot firmware with powerful scripting functionality. Our virtual servers (using QEMU/KVM) simply execute iPXE directly. Our physical servers, on the other hand, use their standard built-in PXE ROMs in order to chainload an iPXE UNDI ROM over the network.

IPv6 PXE was first included in UEFI version 2.3 (Errata D), published five years ago. However, not all servers support IPv6 PXE yet, including the ageing ones in my lab. I’ll therefore focus on virtual servers for now, and will get back to IPv6 PXE on physical servers later.

Enabling IPv6 support in iPXE

At the time of writing, iPXE does not enable IPv6 support by default. This default spills over into Linux distributions like Fedora. I’m trying to get this changed, but for now it is necessary to manually rebuild iPXE with IPv6 support enabled.

This is done by downloading the iPXE sources and then enabling NET_PROTO_IPV6 in src/config/general.h. Replace #undef with #define so that the full line reads #define NET_PROTO_IPV6.

At this point, we’re ready to build iPXE. For the virtio-net driver used by our QEMU/KVM hypervisors, the correct command is make -C /path/to/ipxe/src bin/1af41000.rom. To build a UEFI image suitable for chainloading, run make -C /path/to/ipxe/src bin-x86_64-efi/ipxe.efi instead.

On RHEL7-based hypervisors, upgrading iPXE is just a matter of replacing the default 1af41000.rom file in /usr/share/ipxe with the one that was just built.

Network configuration

The network must be set up with both ICMPv6 Router Advertisements (RAs) and DHCPv6. RAs are necessary in order to provision the booting nodes with a default IPv6 router, while DHCPv6 is the only way to advertise IPv6 network boot options.

When it comes to the assignment of IPv6 addresses, you can use either SLAAC or DHCPv6 IA_NA. iPXE supports both approaches. Avoid using both at the same time, though, as doing so may trigger a bug which could lead to the boot process getting stuck halfway through.

You’ll probably want to provision the nodes with an IPv6 DNS server. This can be done both using DHCPv6 and ICMPv6 RAs. iPXE supports both approaches, so either will do just fine. That said, I recommend enabling both at the same time. It might very well be that some UEFI implementation only supports one of them.

ICMPv6 Router Advertisement configuration

protocol radv {
  # Use Google's public DNS server.
  rdnss {
    ns 2001:4860:4860::8888;
  interface "vlan123" {
    managed no;       # Addresses (IA_NA) aren't found in DHCPv6
    other config yes; # "Other Configuration" is found in DHCPv6 
    prefix 2001:db8::/64 {
      onlink yes;     # The prefix is on-link
      autonomous yes; # The prefix may be used for SLAAC

The configuration above is for BIRD. It is all pretty standard stuff, but pay attention to the fact that the other config flag is enabled. This is required in order to make iPXE ask the DHCPv6 server for the Boot File URL Option.

DHCPv6 server configuration

option dhcp6.user-class code 15 = string;
option dhcp6.bootfile-url code 59 = string;
option dhcp6.client-arch-type code 61 = array of unsigned integer 16;

option dhcp6.name-servers 2001:4860:4860::8888;

if exists dhcp6.client-arch-type and
   option dhcp6.client-arch-type = 00:07 {
    option dhcp6.bootfile-url "tftp://[2001:db8::69]/ipxe.efi";
} else if exists dhcp6.user-class and
          substring(option dhcp6.user-class, 2, 4) = "iPXE" {
    option dhcp6.bootfile-url "http://boot.ipxe.org/demo/boot.php";

subnet6 2001:db8::/64 {}

The config above is for the ISC DHCPv6 server. The first paragraph declares the various necessary DHCPv6 options and their syntax. For some reason, ISC dhcpd does not appear to have any intrinsic knowledge of these, even though they’re standardised.

The second paragraph ensures the server can advertise an IPv6 DNS server to clients. In this example I’m using Google’s Public DNS; you’ll probably want to replace it with your own IPv6 DNS server.

The if/else statement ensures two things:

  1. If the client is an UEFI firmware performing IPv6 PXE, then we just chainload an UEFI-compatible iPXE image. (As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t been able to fully test this config due to lack of lab equipment supporting IPv6 PXE.)
  2. If the client is iPXE, then we give it an iPXE script to execute. In this example, I’m using the iPXE project’s demo service, which boots a very basic Linux system.

Finally, I declare the subnet prefix where the IPv6-only VMs live. Without this, the DHCPv6 server will not answer any requests coming from this network. Since I’m not using stateful address assignment (DHCPv6 IA_NA), I do not need to configure an IPv6 address pool.


Thanks to iPXE and UEFI, network boot can be made to work just as well over IPv6 as over IPv4. The only real remaining problem is that many server models still lack support for IPv6 PXE, but I am assuming this will become less of an issue over time as they upgrade their UEFI implementations to version 2.3 (Errata D) or newer.

In virtualised environments, nothing is missing. Apart from the somewhat annoying requirement to rebuild iPXE to enable IPv6 support, it Just Works. This is evident from by the boot log below, which shows a successful boot of a QEMU/KVM virtual machine residing on an IPv6-only network.

[root@kvmhost ~]# virsh create /etc/libvirt/qemu/v6only --console
Domene v6only opprettet fra /etc/libvirt/qemu/v6only
Connected to domain v6only
Escape character is ^]

Google, Inc.
Serial Graphics Adapter 06/09/14
SGABIOS $Id: sgabios.S 8 2010-04-22 00:03:40Z nlaredo $ (mockbuild@) Mon Jun  9 21:33:48 UTC 2014
4 0

SeaBIOS (version seabios-1.7.5-8.el7)
Machine UUID ebe11d4a-11d4-4ae8-b249-390cdf7c79ec

iPXE (http://ipxe.org) 00:03.0 CA00 PCI2.10 PnP PMM+7FF979E0+7FEF79E0 CA00

Booting from Hard Disk...
Boot failed: not a bootable disk

Booting from ROM...
iPXE (PCI 00:03.0) starting execution...ok
iPXE initialising devices...ok

iPXE 1.0.0+ (f92f) -- Open Source Network Boot Firmware -- http://ipxe.org

net0: 00:16:3e:c2:16:b7 using virtio-net on PCI00:03.0 (open)
  [Link:up, TX:0 TXE:0 RX:0 RXE:0]
Configuring (net0 00:16:3e:c2:16:b7).................. ok
net0: fe80::216:3eff:fec2:16b7/64
net0: 2001:db8::216:3eff:fec2:16b7/64 gw fe80::21e:68ff:fed9:d156
Filename: http://boot.ipxe.org/demo/boot.php
http://boot.ipxe.org/demo/boot.php.......... ok
boot.php : 127 bytes [script]
/vmlinuz-3.16.0-rc4... ok
/initrd.img... ok
Probing EDD (edd=off to disable)... ok

iPXE Boot Demonstration

Linux (none) 3.16.0-rc4+ #1 SMP Wed Jul 9 15:44:09 BST 2014 x86_64 unknown

Congratulations!  You have successfully booted the iPXE demonstration
image from http://boot.ipxe.org/demo/boot.php

See http://ipxe.org for more ideas on how to use iPXE.