As shown in Figure 1, DHCPv4 works in a client/server mode. When a client communicates with a DHCPv4 server, the server assigns or leases an IPv4 address to that client. The client connects to the network with that leased IP address until the lease expires. The client must contact the DHCP server periodically to extend the lease. This lease mechanism ensures that clients that move or power off do not keep addresses that they no longer need. When a lease expires, the DHCP server returns the address to the pool where it can be reallocated as necessary.

Lease Origination

When the client boots (or otherwise wants to join a network), it begins a four step process to obtain a lease. As shown in Figure 2, a client starts the process with a broadcast DHCPDISCOVER message with its own MAC address to discover available DHCPv4 servers.


The DHCPDISCOVER message finds DHCPv4 servers on the network. Because the client has no valid IPv4 information at bootup, it uses Layer 2 and Layer 3 broadcast addresses to communicate with the server.


When the DHCPv4 server receives a DHCPDISCOVER message, it reserves an available IPv4 address to lease to the client. The server also creates an ARP entry consisting of the MAC address of the requesting client and the leased IPv4 address of the client. As shown in Figure 3, the DHCPv4 server sends the binding DHCPOFFER message to the requesting client. The DHCPOFFER message is sent as a unicast, using the Layer 2 MAC address of the server as the source address and the Layer 2 MAC address of the client as the destination.


When the client receives the DHCPOFFER from the server, it sends back a DHCPREQUEST message as shown in Figure 4. This message is used for both lease origination and lease renewal. When used for lease origination, the DHCPREQUEST serves as a binding acceptance notice to the selected server for the parameters it has offered and an implicit decline to any other servers that may have provided the client a binding offer.

Many enterprise networks use multiple DHCPv4 servers. The DHCPREQUEST message is sent in the form of a broadcast to inform this DHCPv4 server and any other DHCPv4 servers about the accepted offer.

DHCP Acknowledgment (DHCPACK)

On receiving the DHCPREQUEST message, the server verifies the lease information with an ICMP ping to that address to ensure it is not being used already, creates a new ARP entry for the client lease, and replies with a unicast DHCPACK message as shown in Figure 5. The DHCPACK message is a duplicate of the DHCPOFFER, except for a change in the message type field. When the client receives the DHCPACK message, it logs the configuration information and performs an ARP lookup for the assigned address. If there is no reply to the ARP, the client knows that the IPv4 address is valid and starts using it as its own.

Lease Renewal


As shown in Figure 6, when the lease has expired, the client sends a DHCPREQUEST message directly to the DHCPv4 server that originally offered the IPv4 address. If a DHCPACK is not received within a specified amount of time, the client broadcasts another DHCPREQUEST so that one of the other DHCPv4 servers can extend the lease.

DHCP Acknowledgment (DHCPACK)

On receiving the DHCPREQUEST message, the server verifies the lease information by returning a DHCPACK, as shown in Figure 7.