DHCP clients and servers both construct DHCP messages by filling in fields in the fixed format section of the message and appending tagged data items in the variable length option area. The options area includes first a four-octet 'magic cookie' (which was described in section 3), followed by the options. The last option must always be the 'end' option.
DHCP uses UDP as its transport protocol. DHCP messages from a client to a server are sent to the 'DHCP server' port (67), and DHCP messages from a server to a client are sent to the 'DHCP client' port (68). A server with multiple network address (e.g., a multi-homed host) MAY use any of its network addresses in outgoing DHCP messages.
The 'server identifier' field is used both to identify a DHCP server in a DHCP message and as a destination address from clients to servers. A server with multiple network addresses MUST be prepared to to accept any of its network addresses as identifying that server in a DHCP message. To accommodate potentially incomplete network connectivity, a server MUST choose an address as a 'server identifier' that, to the best of the server's knowledge, is reachable from the client. For example, if the DHCP server and the DHCP client are connected to the same subnet (i.e., the 'giaddr' field in the message from the client is zero), the server SHOULD select the IP address the server is using for communication on that subnet as the 'server identifier'. If the server is using multiple IP addresses on that subnet, any such address may be used. If the server has received a message through a DHCP relay agent, the server SHOULD choose an address from the interface on which the message was recieved as the 'server identifier' (unless the server has other, better information on which to make its choice). DHCP clients MUST use the IP address provided in the 'server identifier' option for any unicast requests to the DHCP server.
DHCP messages broadcast by a client prior to that client obtaining its IP address must have the source address field in the IP header set to 0.
If the 'giaddr' field in a DHCP message from a client is non-zero, the server sends any return messages to the 'DHCP server' port on the BOOTP relay agent whose address appears in 'giaddr'. If the 'giaddr' field is zero and the 'ciaddr' field is nonzero, then the server unicasts DHCPOFFER and DHCPACK messages to the address in 'ciaddr'. If 'giaddr' is zero and 'ciaddr' is zero, and the broadcast bit is set, then the server broadcasts DHCPOFFER and DHCPACK messages to 0xffffffff. If the broadcast bit is not set and 'giaddr' is zero and 'ciaddr' is zero, then the server unicasts DHCPOFFER and DHCPACK messages to the client's hardware address and 'yiaddr' address. In all cases, when 'giaddr' is zero, the server broadcasts any DHCPNAK messages to 0xffffffff.
If the options in a DHCP message extend into the 'sname' and 'file' fields, the 'option overload' option MUST appear in the 'options' field, with value 1, 2 or 3, as specified in RFC 1533. If the 'option overload' option is present in the 'options' field, the options in the 'options' field MUST be terminated by an 'end' option, and MAY contain one or more 'pad' options to fill the options field. The options in the 'sname' and 'file' fields (if in use as indicated by the 'options overload' option) MUST begin with the first octet of the field, MUST be terminated by an 'end' option, and MUST be followed by 'pad' options to fill the remainder of the field. Any individual option in the 'options', 'sname' and 'file' fields MUST be entirely contained in that field. The options in the 'options' field MUST be interpreted first, so that any 'option overload' options may be interpreted. The 'file' field MUST be interpreted next (if the 'option overload' option indicates that the 'file' field contains DHCP options), followed by the 'sname' field.
The values to be passed in an 'option' tag may be too long to fit in the 255 octets available to a single option (e.g., a list of routers in a 'router' option ). Options may appear only once, unless otherwise specified in the options document. The client concatenates the values of multiple instances of the same option into a single parameter list for configuration.
DHCP clients are responsible for all message retransmission. The client MUST adopt a retransmission strategy that incorporates a randomized exponential backoff algorithm to determine the delay between retransmissions. The delay between retransmissions SHOULD be chosen to allow sufficient time for replies from the server to be delivered based on the characteristics of the internetwork between the client and the server. For example, in a 10Mb/sec Ethernet internetwork, the delay before the first retransmission SHOULD be 4 seconds randomized by the value of a uniform random number chosen from the range -1 to +1. Clients with clocks that provide resolution granularity of less than one second may choose a non-integer randomization value. The delay before the next retransmission SHOULD be 8 seconds randomized by the value of a uniform number chosen from the range -1 to +1. The retransmission delay SHOULD be doubled with subsequent retransmissions up to a maximum of 64 seconds. The client MAY provide an indication of retransmission attempts to the user as an indication of the progress of the configuration process.
The 'xid' field is used by the client to match incoming DHCP messages with pending requests. A DHCP client MUST choose 'xid's in such a way as to minimize the chance of using an 'xid' identical to one used by another client. For example, a client may choose a different, random initial 'xid' each time the client is rebooted, and subsequently use sequential 'xid's until the next reboot. Selecting a new 'xid' for each retransmission is an implementation decision. A client may choose to reuse the same 'xid' or select a new 'xid' for each retransmitted message. Normally, DHCP servers and BOOTP relay agents attempt to deliver DHCPOFFER, DHCPACK and DHCPNAK messages directly to the client using uicast delivery. The IP destination address (in the IP header) is set to the DHCP 'yiaddr' address and the link-layer destination address is set to the DHCP 'chaddr' address. Unfortunately, some client implementations are unable to receive such unicast IP datagrams until the implementation has been configured with a valid IP address (leading to a deadlock in which the client's IP address cannot be delivered until the client has been configured with an IP address).
A client that cannot receive unicast IP datagrams until its protocol software has been configured with an IP address SHOULD set the BROADCAST bit in the 'flags' field to 1 in any DHCPDISCOVER or DHCPREQUEST messages that client sends. The BROADCAST bit will provide a hint to the DHCP server and BOOTP relay agent to broadcast any messages to the client on the client's subnet. A client that can receive unicast IP datagrams before its protocol software has been configured SHOULD clear the BROADCAST bit to 0. The BOOTP clarifications document discusses the ramifications of the use of the BROADCAST bit .
A server or relay agent sending or relaying a DHCP message directly to a DHCP client (i.e., not to a relay agent specified in the 'giaddr' field) SHOULD examine the BROADCAST bit in the 'flags' field. If this bit is set to 1, the DHCP message SHOULD be sent as an IP broadcast using an IP broadcast address (preferably 0xffffffff) as the IP destination address and the link-layer broadcast address as the link-layer destination address. If the BROADCAST bit is cleared to 0, the message SHOULD be sent as an IP unicast to the IP address specified in the 'yiaddr' field and the link-layer address specified in the 'chaddr' field. If unicasting is not possible, the message MAY be sent as an IP broadcast using an IP broadcast address (preferably 0xffffffff) as the IP destination address and the link- layer broadcast address as the link-layer destination address.