DHCP uses the connectionless protocol for its transport mechanism — UDP. The DHCP server listens on UDP port 67. The client uses UDP port 68 as its source port for its DHCP conversations with the server.
DHCP operations fall into four phases:
- Server discovery
- IP lease offer
- IP request
- IP lease acknowledgement
These stages are often abbreviated as DORA for discovery, offer, request and acknowledgement.
1. DHCP Discovery
The client broadcasts messages on the network subnet using the destination address 255.255.255.255 or the specific subnet broadcast address. A DHCP client may also request its last-known IP address. If the client remains connected to the same network, the server may grant the request. Otherwise, it depends whether the server is set up as authoritative or not. An authoritative server denies the request, causing the client to issue a new request. A non-authoritative server simply ignores the request, leading to an implementation-dependent timeout for the client to expire the request and ask for a new IP address.
2. DHCP Offer
When a DHCP server receives a DHCPDISCOVER message from a client, which is an IP address lease request, the server reserves an IP address for the client and makes a lease offer by sending a DHCPOFFER message to the client. This message contains the client’s MAC address, the IP address that the server is offering, the subnet mask, and the lease duration.
The server determines the configuration based on the client’s hardware address as specified in the CHADDR (client hardware address) field. Here the server, 192.168.1.1, specifies the client’s IP address in the YIADDR (your IP address) field.
3. DHCP Request
In response to the DHCP offer, the client replies with a DHCP request, broadcast to the server, requesting the offered address. A client can receive DHCP offers from multiple servers, but it will accept only one DHCP offer. Based on required server identification option in the request and broadcast messaging, servers are informed whose offer the client has accepted. When other DHCP servers receive this message, they withdraw any offers that they might have made to the client and return the offered address to the pool of available addresses.
4. DHCP Acknowledgement
When the DHCP server receives the DHCPREQUEST message from the client, the configuration process enters its final phase. The acknowledgement phase involves sending a DHCPACK packet to the client. This packet includes the lease duration and any other configuration information that the client might have requested. At this point, the IP configuration process is completed.
The protocol expects the DHCP client to configure its network interface with the negotiated parameters.
After the client obtains an IP address, it should probe the newly received address with ARP (Address Resolution Protocol) to prevent address conflicts caused by overlapping address pools of DHCP servers.
A DHCP client may request more information than the server sent with the original DHCPOFFER. The client may also request repeat data for a particular application. For example, browsers use DHCP Inform to obtain web proxy settings via WPAD.
The client sends a request to the DHCP server to release the DHCP information and the client deactivates its IP address. As client devices usually do not know when users may unplug them from the network, the protocol does not mandate the sending of DHCP Release.