A personal computer or workstation which has neither a hard disk nor floppy disk drive and which performs all file access via a local area network connection to a file server. The lowest level bootstrap code is stored in non-volatile storage. This uses a simple protocol such as BOOTP to request and download more sophisticated boot code and eventually, the operating system.
The archtypal product was the 3Station developed by Bob Metcalfe at 3Com. Another example was the Sun 3/50.
Diskless workstations are ideal when many users are running the same application. They are small, quiet, more reliable than products with disks, and help prevent both the theft of data and the introduction of viruses since the software and data available on them is controlled by the network administrator or system administrator. They do however rely on a server which becomes a disadvantage if it is heavily loaded or down.
See also breath-of-life packet.