Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)

The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is a client-server networking protocol that enables devices to automatically obtain IP addresses and other network configuration parameters. DHCP streamlines the network setup process, eliminating the need for manual configuration of each individual device on the network.


DHCP operates on a four-step process referred to as DORA:

  • Discover (D): A DHCP client device broadcasts a DHCPDISCOVER message on the network to locate available DHCP servers.
  • Offer (O): DHCP servers on the network hearing the discover message respond with a DHCPOFFER message. This message contains an available IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, lease duration, and the server's IP address.
  • Request (R): The client may receive offers from multiple DHCP servers. It selects one and broadcasts a DHCPREQUEST message, explicitly requesting the offered IP address and implicitly declining other offers.
  • Acknowledgment (A): The selected DHCP server reserves the chosen IP address, sends a DHCPACK message to the client to confirm the configuration, and includes any additional network parameters.


  • Centralized Configuration: DHCP provides a centralized way to manage IP addresses and configuration settings, leading to a more organized and efficient network.
  • Reduced Errors: Automated IP address assignment significantly decreases the potential for human errors that can occur during manual configuration.
  • IP Address Conservation: DHCP servers maintain a pool of available IP addresses. Addresses not in use are released, allowing for greater IP address resource efficiency.
  • Mobility: DHCP supports mobile devices. As a device moves between subnets, it can automatically obtain new IP configuration appropriate for the new location.

DHCP Options

DHCP can provide much more than just basic IP addressing. DHCP options extend its functionality by supplying devices with additional network information, such as:

  • Router (Default Gateway): The IP address of the router devices use to communicate with hosts on other networks.
  • Domain Name System (DNS): IP addresses of DNS servers for translating domain names into IP addresses.
  • Network Time Protocol (NTP): IP addresses of time servers for clock synchronization.

Security Considerations

  • Rogue DHCP Servers: Unauthorized DHCP servers can be introduced to a network, potentially distributing incorrect configuration information to disrupt connectivity or perform attacks.
  • DHCP Starvation Attacks: A malicious client flooding the network with DHCP requests can exhaust the available IP address pool, denying IP resources to legitimate devices.


DHCP server software is readily available. Popular implementations include:

  • ISC DHCP Server
  • Windows Server DHCP Service
  • Dnsmasq (often used in home routers)

Most operating systems on desktops, laptops, smartphones, and network-enabled devices include a built-in DHCP client.