What is Bootstrap Programming?

Bootstrap programming, also referred to as “bootstrapping”, refers to the initial piece of code that is executed upon startup. The very first bit of code to run after startup is what the entire operating system depends on in order to work properly. The initial piece of code that is run upon a system’s startup is sometimes referred to as “the bootstrapper”, or index.php, according to Techopedia.

Alternative Definitions

“Bootstrapping” may also be used as a term that applies to the use of an existing system’s parts in order to create a successor variation; the term is also brought up in reference to various forms of auto-updatable or modular software.

The Bootstrapping Process

By nature, bootstrapping doesn’t require any form of outside input for the process to initiate. The operating system can load any software on an as-needed basis instead of bringining everything up automatically, and this is thanks to the software’s fundamentals being embedded into the computer’s memory.

One of the simpletest environments that bootstrapping will apply to is a text editor. Oftentimes, a text editor will be closely paired with an assembler program that can cooperatively build a more technologically sophisticated and powerful text editor. In addition to creating more powerful versions of itself, the parent text editor can also be used to create strong programming languages.

Historical Bootstrapping

Historically, bootstrapping referred to most forms of computer program creation that occured on brand new hardware systems. The origins of bootstrap programming can be traced based to the 1950s. At its advent, bootstrap programming entailed the creation of each program through one of two code variations: either binary or decimal.

Each new computer had a small assembler program specially coded for it; these miniature assembler programs would be tasked with the job of converting a small number of instructions into either decimal code or binary code.

After converting the instructions, the assembler program itself would be rearranged in its assembly language; there would be a number of additional extensions implemented into order to give it a number memorization strategies for the more exhaustive and multilayered operational code bodies. At the end of this process, the reworked assembler would then once again be rearranged with the components of its former variation into a yet another special binary or decimal form.


Under normal circumstances, a user may have to download an entire package of software that includes all of the small components that they may or may not have any particular use for. With a bootstrap executable, the user will only need to have the components of the software that they have a legitimate need for; anything extraneous won’t be included in the executable, which can potentially free up a considerable amount of space and save time.

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Bootstrap programming is still useful for the purposes that it was historically used for, but it has become a fair bit easier to execute with modern programming solutions. When bootstrap programming was still relatively new, there were no compliers, linkers or assemblers to simplify the process. With modern hardware system adjustment solutions today, the process can now be undergone with far less energy being expended thanks to cross-compilers.