DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and is used to assign IP addresses dynamically to network cards. DHCP works at the application layer. DHCP is used to assign IP addresses to hosts or workstations on the network. Usually a DHCP server on the network performs this function. Basically the DHCP server "leases" out address for specific times to the various hosts. If a host does not use a given address for some period of time, that IP address can then be assigned to another machine by the DHCP server. When assignments are made or changed, the DHCP server must update the information in the DNS server.

As with BOOTP, DHCP uses the machine's or NIC ethernet (MAC) or hardware address to determine IP address assignments. The DHCP protocol is built on BOOTP and replaces BOOTP. DHCP extends the vendor specific area in BOOTP to 312 bytes from 64.

DHCP RFCs are 1533, 1534, 1541, and 1542. Configuration information sent from DHCP server includes:

  • IP address
  • Netmask
  • Default Gateway address
  • DNS server addresse(s)
  • NetBIOS Name server (NBNS) address(es).
  • Lease period in hours
  • IP address of DHCP server.

DHCP Lease Stages

  1. Lease Request - The client sends a broadcast requesting an IP address.
  2. Lease Offer - The server sends the above information and marks the offered address as unavailable. The message sent is a DHCPOFFER broadcast message.
  3. Lease Acceptance - The first offer received by the client is accepted. The acceptance is sent from the client as a broadcast (DHCPREQUEST message) including the IP address of the DNS server that sent the accepted offer. Other DHCP servers retract their offers and mark the offered address as available and the accepted address as unavailable.
  4. Server lease acknowledgement - The server sends a DHCPACK or a DHCPNACK if an unavailable address was requested.

DHCP discover message - The initial broadcast sent by the client to obtain a DHCP lease. It contains the client MAC address and computer name. This is a broadcast using as the destination address and as the source address. The request is sent, then the client waits one second for an offer. The request is repeated at 9, 13, and 16 second intervals with additional 0 to 1000 milliseconds of randomness. The attempt is repeated every 5 minutes thereafter.

DHCP uses ports 67 and 68.

DHCP Lease Renewal

After 50% of the lease time has passed, the client will attempt to renew the lease with the original DHCP server that it obtained the lease from using a DHCPREQUEST message. Any time the client boots and the lease is 50% or more passed, the client will attempt to renew the lease. At 87.5% of the lease completion, the client will attempt to contact any DHCP server for a new lease. If the lease expires, the client will send a request as in the initial boot when the client had no IP address. If this fails, the client TCP/IP stack will cease functioning.