Intro to Networking – Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)


 This article gives a basic explanation of what DHCP is and how it works.

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  1. What is DHCP?
  2. Related Articles

What is DHCP?

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The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) runs on UDP ports 66 & 67 and allows for automatic IP configuration of many different parameters (called “Options”) in addition to the requested IP address, including:

  1. Subnet Mask (Option 1 – e.g.,
  2. Router Address (Option 3 – e.g.,
  3. DNS Address (Option 6 – e.g.,
  4. Vendor Class Identifier (Option 43 – e.g., ‘unifi’ = ##where unifi = controller)

DHCP is based on a client-server model. A Host running a DHCP client (e.g., laptop) forwards Layer-2 Broadcast frames with its Source MAC address in order for the DHCP server to reserve the offered IP address for the respective DHCP client.

  1. Discovery – DHCP host broadcasts to find local DHCP server
  2. Offer – DHCP server advertises address lease via unicast
  3. Request – DHCP host broadcasts requesting the address
  4. ACK – DHCP server reserves the address, sending acknowledgment

DHCP pools typically “lease” IP addresses, that is, temporarily reserve IP addresses, after which, the IP address may be re-used. A common DHCP lease time is 86400 seconds (or, 1 day).

Not unlike a network handshake, the DHCP Offer is summarized in four steps where Client broadcasts and Server unicasts.


Related Articles

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Read our other introductory networking articles in the Intro to Networking section.

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