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The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is a network protocol that is used to configure network devices so that they can communicate on an IP network. A DHCP client uses the DHCP protocol to acquire configuration information, such as an IP address, adefault route and one or more DNS server addresses from a DHCP server. The DHCP client then uses this information to configure its host. Once the configuration process is complete, the host is able to communicate on the internet.

The DHCP server maintains a database of available IP addresses and configuration information. When it receives a request from a client, the DHCP server determines the network to which the DHCP client is connected, and then allocates an IP address or prefix that is appropriate for the client, and sends configuration information appropriate for that client.

Because the DHCP protocol must work correctly even before DHCP clients have been configured, the DHCP server and DHCP client must be connected to the same network link. In larger networks, this is not practical. On such networks, each network link contains one or more DHCP relay agents. These DHCP relay agents receive messages from DHCP clients and forward them to DHCP servers. DHCP servers send responses back to the relay agent, and the relay agent then sends these responses to the DHCP client on the local network link.

DHCP servers typically grant IP addresses to clients only for a limited interval. DHCP clients are responsible for renewing their IP address before that interval has expired, and must stop using the address once the interval has expired, if they have not been able to renew it.

DHCP is used for IPv4 and IPv6. While both versions serve much the same purpose, the details of the protocol for IPv4 and IPv6 are sufficiently different that they may be considered separate protocols.

Hosts that do not use DHCP for address configuration may still use it to obtain other configuration information. Alternatively, IPv6 hosts may use stateless address auto configuration. IPv4 hosts may use link-local addressing to achieve limited local connectivity.

DHCP uses the same two ports assigned by IANA for BOOTP: destination UDP port 67 for sending data to the server, and UDP port 68 for data to the client. DHCP communications areconnectionless in nature.

DHCP operations fall into four basic phases: IP discovery, IP lease offer, IP request, and IP lease acknowledgement. These points are often abbreviated as DORA (Discovery, Offer, Request, Acknowledgement).

DHCP clients and servers on the same subnet communicate via UDP broadcasts, initially. If the client and server are on different subnets, a DHCP Helper or DHCP Relay Agent may be used. Clients requesting renewal of an existing lease may communicate directly via UDP unicast, since the client already has an established IP address at that point.

DHCP discovery

The client broadcasts messages on the physical subnet to discover available DHCP servers. Network administrators can configure a local router to forward DHCP packets to a DHCP server from a different subnet. This client-implementation creates a User Datagram Protocol (UDP) packet with the broadcast destination of 255.255.255.255 or the specific subnet broadcast address.

A DHCP client can also request its last-known IP address . If the client remains connected to a network for which this IP is valid, the server may grant the request. Otherwise, it depends whether the server is set up as authoritative or not. An authoritative server will deny the request, making the client ask for a new IP address immediately. A non-authoritative server simply ignores the request, leading to an implementation-dependent timeout for the client to give up on the request and ask for a new IP address.

DHCP offer

When a DHCP server receives an IP lease request from a client, it reserves an IP address for the client and extends an IP lease offer by sending a DHCPOFFER message to the client. This message contains the client’s MAC address, the IP address that the server is offering, the subnet mask, the lease duration, and the IP address of the DHCP server making the offer.

The server determines the configuration based on the client’s hardware address as specified in the CHADDR (Client Hardware Address) field.

DHCP request

In response to the DHCP offer, the client replies with a DHCP request, unicast to the server, requesting the offered address. A client can receive DHCP offers from multiple servers, but it will accept only one DHCP offer. Based on the Transaction ID field in the request, servers are informed whose offer the client has accepted. When other DHCP servers receive this message, they withdraw any offers that they might have made to the client and return the offered address to the pool of available addresses. In some cases DHCP request message is broadcast, instead of being unicast to a particular DHCP server, because the DHCP client has still not received an IP address. Also, this way one message can let all other DHCP servers know that another server will be supplying the IP address without missing any of the servers with a series of unicast messages

DHCP acknowledgement

When the DHCP server receives the DHCP REQUEST message from the client, the configuration process enters its final phase. The acknowledgement phase involves sending a DHCPACK packet to the client. This packet includes the lease duration and any other configuration information that the client might have requested. At this point, the IP configuration process is completed.
The protocol expects the DHCP client to configure its network interface with the negotiated parameters.

After the client obtains an IP address, the client may use the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) to prevent IP conflicts caused by overlapping address pools of DHCP servers

DHCP information

A DHCP client may request more information than the server sent with the original DHCPOFFER. The client may also request repeat data for a particular application. For example, browsers use DHCP Inform to obtain web proxy settings via WPAD.

DHCP releasing

The client sends a request to the DHCP server to release the DHCP information and the client deactivates its IP address. As client devices usually do not know when users may unplug them from the network, the protocol does not mandate the sending of DHCP Release.

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