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DHCP | Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol


dhcpDHCP - The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is an autoconfiguration protocol used on IP networks. Computers that are connected to IP networks must be configured before they can communicate with other computers on the network. DHCP allows a computer to be configured automatically, eliminating the need for intervention by a network administrator. It also provides a central database for keeping track of computers that have been connected to the network. This prevents two computers from accidentally being configured with the same IP address.


The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is an automatic configuration protocol used on IP networks. Computers that are connected to non-DHCP equipped IP networks must be configured before they can communicate with other computers on the network. DHCP allows a computer to be configured automatically, eliminating the need for intervention by a network administrator. It also provides a central database for keeping track of computers that have been connected to the network. This prevents two computers from accidentally being configured with the same IP address.

In the absence of DHCP, hosts may be manually configured with an IP address. Alternatively IPv6 hosts may use stateless address autoconfiguration to generate an IP address. IPv4 hosts may use link-local addressing to achieve limited local connectivity.

In addition to IP addresses, DHCP also provides other configuration information, particularly the IP addresses of local caching DNS resolvers. Hosts that do not use DHCP for address configuration may still use it to obtain other configuration information.

There are two versions of DHCP, one for IPv4 and one for IPv6. While both versions bear the same name and perform much the same purpose, the details of the protocol for IPv4 and IPv6 are sufficiently different that they can be considered separate protocols.

DHCP was first defined as a standards track protocol in RFC 1531 in October 1993, as an extension to the Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP). The motivation for extending BOOTP was that BOOTP required manual intervention to add configuration information for each client, and did not provide a mechanism for reclaiming disused IP addresses.

Many worked to clarify the protocol as it gained popularity, and in 1997 RFC 2131 was released, and remains as of 2011 the standard for IPv4 networks. DHCPv6 is documented in RFC 3315. RFC 3633 added a DHCPv6 mechanism for prefix delegation. DHCPv6 was further extended to provide configuration information to clients configured using stateless address autoconfiguration in RFC 3736.

The BOOTP protocol itself was first defined in RFC 951 as a replacement for the Reverse Address Resolution Protocol RARP. The primary motivation for replacing RARP with BOOTP was that RARP was a data link layer protocol. This made implementation difficult on many server platforms, and required that a server be present on each individual network link. BOOTP introduced the innovation of a relay agent, which allowed the forwarding of BOOTP packets off the local network using standard IP routing, thus one central BOOTP server could serve hosts on many IP subnets.

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol automates network-parameter assignment to network devices from one or more DHCP servers. Even in small networks, DHCP is useful because it makes it easy to add new machines to the network.

When a DHCP-configured client (a computer or any other network-aware device) connects to a network, the DHCP client sends a broadcast query requesting necessary information from a DHCP server. The DHCP server manages a pool of IP addresses and information about client configuration parameters such as default gateway, domain name, the name servers, other servers such as time servers, and so forth. On receiving a valid request, the server assigns the computer an IP address, a lease (length of time the allocation is valid), and other IP configuration parameters, such as the subnet mask and the default gateway. The query is typically initiated immediately after booting, and must complete before the client can initiate IP-based communication with other hosts.

Depending on implementation, the DHCP server may have three methods of allocating IP-addresses:

    dynamic allocation: A network administrator assigns a range of IP addresses to DHCP, and each client computer on the LAN is configured to request an IP address from the DHCP server during network initialization. The request-and-grant process uses a lease concept with a controllable time period, allowing the DHCP server to reclaim (and then reallocate) IP addresses that are not renewed.

    automatic allocation: The DHCP server permanently assigns a free IP address to a requesting client from the range defined by the administrator. This is like dynamic allocation, but the DHCP server keeps a table of past IP address assignments, so that it can preferentially assign to a client the same IP address that the client previously had.

    static allocation: The DHCP server allocates an IP address based on a table with MAC address/IP address pairs, which are manually filled in (perhaps by a network administrator). Only requesting clients with a MAC address listed in this table will be allocated an IP address. This feature (which is not supported by all DHCP servers) is variously called Static DHCP Assignment (by DD-WRT), fixed-address (by the dhcpd documentation), Address Reservation (by Netgear), DHCP reservation or Static DHCP (by Cisco/Linksys), and IP reservation or MAC/IP binding (by various other router manufacturers).

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