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Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is a protocol used by networked devices (clients) to obtain the parameters necessary for operation in an Internet Protocol network. This protocol reduces system administration workload, allowing devices to be added to the network with little or no manual configuration.

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol is a way to manage network parameter assignment from a single DHCP server, or a group of DHCP servers arranged in a fault-tolerant manner. Even in small networks, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol is useful because it can make it easy to add new machines to the local network.

DHCP is also recommended even in the case of servers whose addresses rarely change, so that if a server needs to be readdressed (RFC2071), changes can be made in as few places as possible. For devices such as routers and firewalls that should not use DHCP, it can be useful to put Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) or SSH servers on the same machine that runs DHCP, which also serves to centralize administration.

DHCP can be used to assign addresses directly to servers and desktop machines, and, through a Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) proxy, to dialup and broadband on-demand hosts, as well as for residential Network address translation (NAT) gateways

DHCP emerged as a standard protocol in October 1993 as defined in RFC 1531, seceding the BOOTP protocol. The next update, RFC 2131 released in 1997 is the current DHCP definition. The latest proposed standard for DHCP over IPv6 (DHCPv6) can be found in RFC 3315

Basic protocol operation
The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) automates the assignment of IP addresses, subnet masks, default gateway, and other IP parameters. [1]

When a DHCP-configured client (be it a computer or any other network-aware device) connects to a network, the DHCP client sends a broadcast query requesting necessary information from a DHCP server. The DHCP server manages a pool of IP addresses and information about client configuration parameters such as the default gateway, the domain name, the DNS servers, other servers such as time servers, and so forth. Upon receipt of a valid request the server will assign the computer an IP address, a lease (the length of time for which the allocation is valid), and other IP configuration parameters, such as the subnet mask and the default gateway. The query is typically initiated immediately after booting and must be completed before the client can initiate IP-based communication with other hosts.

DHCP provides four modes for allocating IP addresses. The best-known mode is dynamic, in which the client is provided a "lease" on an IP address for a period of time. Depending on the stability of the network, this could range from hours (a wireless network at an airport) to months (for desktops in a wired lab). At any time before the lease expires, the DHCP client can request renewal of the lease on the current IP address. A properly-functioning client will use the renewal mechanism to maintain the same IP address throughout its connection to a single network, otherwise it may risk losing its lease while still connected, thus disrupting network connectivity while it renegotiates with the server for its original or a new IP address.

The other modes for allocation of IP addresses are automatic , in which the address is permanently assigned to a client, and manual, in which the address is selected by the client (manually by the user or any other means) and the DHCP protocol messages are used to inform the server that the address has been allocated.

The automatic and manual methods are generally used when finer-grained control over IP address is required (typical of tight firewall setups), although typically a firewall will allow access to the range of IP addresses that can be dynamically allocated by the DHCP server.

The process of address allocation is known as ROSA. Request, Offer, Send, Accept.

[edit] Security
Having been standardized before network security became a significant issue, the basic DHCP protocol includes no security features, and is potentially vulnerable to two types of attacks:[2]

Unauthorized DHCP Servers: as you cannot specify the server you want, an unauthorized server can respond to client requests, sending client network configuration values that are beneficial to the attacker. As an example, a hacker can hijack the DHCP process to configure clients to use a malicious DNS server or router (see also DNS cache poisoning).
Unauthorized DHCP Clients: By masquerading as a legitimate client, an unauthorized client can gain access to network configuration and an IP address on a network it should otherwise not be allowed to use. Also, by flooding the DHCP server with requests for IP addresses, it is possible for an attacker to exhaust the pool of available IP addresses, disrupting normal network activity (a denial of service attack).
To combat these threats RFC 3118 ("Authentication for DHCP Messages") introduced authentication information into DHCP messages allowing clients and servers to reject information from invalid sources. Although support for this protocol is widespread, a large number of clients and servers still do not fully support authentication, thus forcing servers to support clients that do not support this feature. As a result, other security measures are usually implemented around the DHCP server (such as IPsec) to ensure that only authenticated clients and servers are granted access to the network.

Wherever possible, DHCP-assigned addresses should be dynamically linked to a secure DNS server, to allow troubleshooting by name rather than by a potentially unknown address. Effective DHCP-DNS linkage requires having a file of either MAC addresses or local names that will be sent to DNS that uniquely identifies physical hosts, IP addresses, and other parameters such as the default gateway, subnet mask, and IP addresses of DNS servers from a DHCP server. The DHCP server ensures that all IP addresses are unique, i.e., no IP address is assigned to a second client while the first client's assignment is valid (its lease has not expired). Thus IP address pool management is done by the server and not by a network administrator.
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