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Bootstrapping (computing)

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Bootstrapping (computing)

"Bootstrap" redirects here. For a UI web design tool called "Bootstrap", see Bootstrap (front-end framework).
For other uses, see Bootstrapping (disambiguation).

Bootstrapping or booting refers to a group of metaphors which refer to a self-sustaining process that proceeds without external help.

The phrase appears to have originated in the early 19th century United States (particularly in the sense "pull oneself over a fence by one's bootstraps"), to mean an absurdly impossible action, an adynaton.[1][2][3]

Dr. Douglas Engelbart used the term centrally in his work from 1970 to 2010,[4] referring to the process used by lumberjacks to hoist themselves up trees (to cut higher branches) using a strap wrapped around the tree. He founded an institute "The Bootstrap Alliance",[5] focused on "getting better at getting better" embodying the notion of the Bootstrap Circuit, taking in feedback from the output and feeding it back in to improve.


Tall boots may have a tab, loop or handle at the top known as a bootstrap, allowing one to use fingers or a boot hook tool to provide greater force in pulling the boots on. The saying "to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps"[3] was already in use during the 19th century as an example of an impossible task. The idiom dates at least to 1834, when it appeared in the Workingman's Advocate: "It is conjectured that Mr. Murphee will now be enabled to hand himself over the Cumberland river or a barn yard fence by the straps of his boots."[6] In 1860 it appeared in a comment on metaphysical philosophy: "The attempt of the mind to analyze itself [is] an effort analogous to one who would lift himself by his own bootstraps."[7] Bootstrap as a metaphor, meaning to better oneself by one's own unaided efforts, was in use in 1922.[8] This metaphor spawned additional metaphors for a series of self-sustaining processes that proceed without external help.[9]

The term is sometimes attributed to



Software loading and execution

Main article: Booting

Booting is the process of starting a computer, specifically in regards to starting its software. The process involves a chain of stages, in which at each stage a smaller simpler program loads and then executes the larger more complicated program of the next stage. It is in this sense that the computer "pulls itself up by its bootstraps", i.e. it improves itself by its own efforts. Booting is a chain of events that starts with execution of hardware-based procedures and may then hand-off to firmware and software which is loaded into main memory. Booting often involves processes such as performing self-tests, loading configuration settings, loading a BIOS, resident monitors, a hypervisor, an operating system, or utility software.

The computer term bootstrap began as a metaphor in the 1950s. In computers, pressing a bootstrap button caused a hardwired program to read a bootstrap program from an input unit. The computer would then execute the bootstrap program, which caused it to read more program instructions. It became a self-sustaining process that proceeded without external help from manually entered instructions. As a computing term, bootstrap has been used since at least 1953.[10]

Software development

Bootstrapping can also refer to the development of successively more complex, faster programming environments. The simplest environment will be, perhaps, a very basic text editor (e.g., ed) and an assembler program. Using these tools, one can write a more complex text editor, and a simple compiler for a higher-level language and so on, until one can have a graphical IDE and an extremely high-level programming language.

Historically, bootstrapping also refers to an early technique for computer program development on new hardware. The technique described in this paragraph has been replaced by the use of a cross compiler executed by a pre-existing computer. Bootstrapping in program development began during the 1950s when each program was constructed on paper in decimal code or in binary code, bit by bit (1s and 0s), because there was no high-level computer language, no compiler, no assembler, and no linker. A tiny assembler program was hand-coded for a new computer (for example the IBM 650) which converted a few instructions into binary or decimal code: A1. This simple assembler program was then rewritten in its just-defined assembly language but with extensions that would enable the use of some additional mnemonics for more complex operation codes. The enhanced assembler's source program was then assembled by its predecessor's executable (A1) into binary or decimal code to give A2, and the cycle repeated (now with those enhancements available), until the entire instruction set was coded, branch addresses were automatically calculated, and other conveniences (such as conditional assembly, macros, optimisations, etc.) established. This was how the early assembly program SOAP (Symbolic Optimal Assembly Program) was developed. Compilers, linkers, loaders, and utilities were then coded in assembly language, further continuing the bootstrapping process of developing complex software systems by using simpler software.

The term was also championed by Doug Engelbart to refer to his belief that organizations could better evolve by improving the process they use for improvement (thus obtaining a compounding effect over time). His SRI team that developed the NLS hypertext system applied this strategy by using the tool they had developed to improve the tool.


The development of compilers for new programming languages first developed in an existing language but was then rewritten in the new language and compiled by itself, is another example of the bootstrapping notion. Using an existing language to bootstrap a new language is one way to solve the "chicken or the egg" causality dilemma.


During the installation of computer programs it is sometimes necessary to update the installer or package manager itself. The common pattern for this is to use a small executable bootstrapper file (e.g. setup.exe) which updates the installer and starts the real installation after the update. Sometimes the bootstrapper also installs other prerequisites for the software during the bootstrapping process.

Overlay networks

Main article: Bootstrapping node

A bootstrapping node, also known as a rendezvous host,[11] is a node in an overlay network that provides initial configuration information to newly joining nodes so that they may successfully join the overlay network.[12][13]

Discrete event simulation

A type of computer simulation called discrete event simulation represents the operation of a system as a chronological sequence of events. A technique called bootstrapping the simulation model is used, which bootstraps initial data points using a pseudorandom number generator to schedule an initial set of pending events, which schedule additional events, and with time, the distribution of event times approaches its steady state—the bootstrapping behavior is overwhelmed by steady-state behavior.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

Bootstrapping is a technique used to iteratively improve a classifier's performance. Seed AI is a hypothesized type of strong artificial intelligence capable of recursive self-improvement. Having improved itself, it would become better at improving itself, potentially leading to an exponential increase in intelligence. No such AI is known to exist, but it remains an active field of research.

Seed AI is a significant part of some theories about the technological singularity: proponents believe that the development of seed AI will rapidly yield ever-smarter intelligence (via bootstrapping) and thus a new era.


Bootstrapping is a database searching technique. One may perform an inexact search (using keywords, for instance) and retrieve numerous "hits", some of which will be on-target. When the researcher looks at a relevant document that comes through in the mix, subject headings will be located within the document. The researcher can then execute a new search using authorized subject headings that will yield more focused, pinpointed results.


Bootstrapping is a resampling technique used to obtain estimates of summary statistics.


Bootstrapping in business means starting a business without external help or capital. Such startups fund the development of their company through internal cash flow and are cautious with their expenses.[14] Generally at the start of a venture, a small amount of money will be set aside for the bootstrap process.[15] Bootstrapping can also be a supplement for econometric models.[16] Bootstrapping was also expanded upon in the book Bootstrap Business, by Richard Christiansen.

  • Startups can grow by reinvesting profits in its own growth if bootstrapping costs are low and return on investment is high.
  • Leveraged buyouts, or highly leveraged or "bootstrap" transactions, occur when an investor acquires a controlling interest in a company's equity and where a significant percentage of the purchase price is financed through leverage, i.e., borrowing
  • Bootstrapping in finance refers to the method to create the spot rate curve
  • Operation Bootstrap (Operación Manos a la Obra) refers to the ambitious projects that industrialized Puerto Rico in the mid-20th century


Richard Dawkins in his book River Out of Eden[17] used the computer bootstrapping concept to explain how biological cells differentiate: "Different cells receive different combinations of chemicals, which switch on different combinations of genes, and some genes work to switch other genes on or off. And so the bootstrapping continues, until we have the full repertoire of different kinds of cells."


Bootstrapping analysis gives a way to judge the strength of support for clades on phylogenetic trees. A number is written by a node, which reflects the percentage of bootstrap trees which also resolve the clade at the endpoints of that branch.[18]


Main article: Bootstrapping (law)

Bootstrapping is a rule preventing the admission of hearsay evidence in conspiracy cases.


Bootstrapping is a theory of language acquisition.


Main article: Bootstrap model

Bootstrapping is using very general consistency criteria to determine the form of a quantum theory from some assumptions on the spectrum of particles.


Bootstrapping is a form of positive feedback in analog circuit design.

Power stations

A black start is the process of restoring a power station to operation without relying on the external electric power transmission network. In the absence of grid power, a so-called black start needs to be performed to bootstrap the power grid into operation.

Cellular networks

A Bootstrapping Server Function (BSF) is an intermediary element in cellular networks which provides application independent functions for mutual authentication of user equipment and servers unknown to each other and for 'bootstrapping' the exchange of secret session keys afterwards. The term 'bootstrapping' is related to building a security relation with a previously unknown device first and to allow installing security elements (keys) in the device and the BSF afterwards.

See also


External links

  • Pull straps for boots
  • entries for Bootstrap
  • entries for Bootstrapes:Bootstrapping (negocios)
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