The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) provides configuration parameters to Internet hosts. DHCP consists of two components: a protocol for delivering host-specific configuration parameters from a DHCP server to a host and a mechanism for allocation of network addresses to hosts.
DHCP is built on a client-server model, where designated DHCP server hosts allocate network addresses and deliver configuration parameters to dynamically configured hosts. Throughout the remainder of this document, the term "server" refers to a host providing initialization parameters through DHCP, and the term "client" refers to a host requesting initialization parameters from a DHCP server.
A host should not act as a DHCP server unless explicitly configured to do so by a system administrator. The diversity of hardware and protocol implementations in the Internet would preclude reliable operation if random hosts were allowed to respond to DHCP requests. For example, IP requires the setting of many parameters within the protocol implementation software. Because IP can be used on many dissimilar kinds of network hardware, values for those parameters cannot be guessed or assumed to have correct defaults. Also, distributed address allocation schemes depend on a polling/defense mechanism for discovery of addresses that are already in use. IP hosts may not always be able to defend their network addresses, so that such a distributed address allocation scheme cannot be guaranteed to avoid allocation of duplicate network addresses.
DHCP supports three mechanisms for IP address allocation. In "automatic allocation", DHCP assigns a permanent IP address to a client. In "dynamic allocation", DHCP assigns an IP address to a client for a limited period of time (or until the client explicitly relinquishes the address). In "manual allocation", a client's IP address is assigned by the network administrator, and DHCP is used simply to convey the assigned address to the client. A particular network will use one or more of these mechanisms, depending on the policies of the network administrator.
Dynamic allocation is the only one of the three mechanisms that allows automatic reuse of an address that is no longer needed by the client to which it was assigned. Thus, dynamic allocation is particularly useful for assigning an address to a client that will be connected to the network only temporarily or for sharing a limited pool of IP addresses among a group of clients that do not need permanent IP addresses. Dynamic allocation may also be a good choice for assigning an IP address to a new client being permanently connected to a network where IP addresses are sufficiently scarce that it is important to reclaim them when old clients are retired. Manual allocation allows DHCP to be used to eliminate the error-prone process of manually configuring hosts with IP addresses in environments where (for whatever reasons) it is desirable to manage IP address assignment outside of the DHCP mechanisms.
The format of DHCP messages is based on the format of BOOTP messages, to capture the BOOTP relay agent behavior described as part of the BOOTP specification [7, 21] and to allow interoperability of existing BOOTP clients with DHCP servers. Using BOOTP relay agents eliminates the necessity of having a DHCP server on each physical network segment.