This is the history of bootstrapping or booting which began in the 1880s as a leather strap and evolved into a group of metaphors that share a common meaning, a self-sustaining process that proceeds without external help.

Straps for leather boots

Tall boots may have a tab, loop or handle at the top known as a bootstrap, allowing one to use fingers or a tool to provide better leverage in pulling the boots on. The saying "to pull yourself up by your bootstraps" was already in use during the 1800s as an example of an impossible task. Bootstrap as a metaphor, meaning to better oneself by one's own unaided efforts, was in use in 1922. This metaphor spawned additional metaphors for a series of self-sustaining processes that proceed without external help.



The computer term bootstrap began as a 1950s metaphor derived from using a strap to pull on leather boots without outside help. In computers, pressing a bootstrap button caused a hardwired program to read a bootstrap program from an input unit and then execute the bootstrap program which became a self-sustaining process that proceeded without external help. As a computing term, bootstrap has been used since at least 1958.

The bootstrap concept was used in the IBM 701 computer (1952-1956) which had a "load button" which initiated reading of the first 36-bit word from a punched card in a card reader, or from a magnetic tape unit, or drum unit (predecessor of the harddisk drive). The left 18-bit half-word was then executed as an instruction which read additional words into memory.

  • See Bootstrapping (compilers), writing a compiler for a computer language using the computer language itself to code the compiler.
  • See Bootstrapping (computing), a summary of the process of a simple computer system activating a more complicated computer system

Business and finance

Bootstrapping in business is to start a business without external help/capital.

  • See Startup company, a startup company can grow by reinvesting profits in its own growth, if its bootstrapping costs are low and return on investment is high.
  • See Bootstrapping (finance), the method to create the spot rate curve.
  • See Operation Bootstrap ("Operación Manos a la Obra"), ambitious projects which industrialized Puerto Rico in the mid-20th century.


Richard Dawkins in his book River Out of Eden 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."


In law, bootstrapping is a rule preventing hearsay in conspiracy cases.


In linguistics, bootstrapping is a theory of language acquisition.


In statistics, bootstrapping is a resampling technique used to obtain estimates of summary statistics.

Machine learning

In machine learning, bootstrapping is a technique used to iteratively improve a classifier performance.


In physics, bootstrapping is using very general consistency criteria to determine the form of a quantum theory from some assumptions on the spectrum of particles


In electronics, bootstrapping is a form of positive feedback in analog circuit design.

Personal name

Bootstrap Bill Turner is a character from Pirates Of The Carribbean.

Science fiction

The term bootstrap was used in Robert A. Heinlein's 1941 short story By His Bootstraps about recursive time travel.

See also

Conceptual metaphor


External links

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