Linux DHCP server and client: Configuration and deployment

DHCP offers several benefits that you can't get from storing network configuration information in local files. Learn the best practices for a successful Linux-based DHCP server and DHCP client configuration and deployment.

Solution provider's takeaway: Used properly, both the Linux DHCP server and DHCP client can help you with network management in your customers' Linux environments.

Instead of storing network configuration information in local files on each system, DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) enables client systems to retrieve network configuration information each time they connect to the network. A DHCP server assigns IP addresses from a pool of addresses to clients as needed. Assigned addresses are typically temporary, but need not be.

This technique has several advantages over storing network configuration information in local files:

  • A new user can set up an Internet connection without having to deal with IP addresses, netmasks, DNS addresses, and other technical details. An experienced user can set up a connection more quickly.
  • DHCP facilitates assignment and management of IP addresses and related network information by centralizing the process on a server. A system administrator can configure new systems, including laptops that connect to the network from different locations, to use DHCP; DHCP then assigns IP addresses only when each system connects to the network. The pool of IP addresses is managed as a group on the DHCP server.
  • IP addresses can be used by more than one system, reducing the total number of IP addresses needed. This conservation of addresses is important because the Internet is quickly running out of IPv4 addresses. Although a particular IP address can be used by only one system at a time, many enduser systems require addresses only occasionally, when they connect to the Internet. By reusing IP addresses, DHCP lengthens the life of the IPv4 protocol. DHCP applies to IPv4 only, as IPv6 forces systems to configure their IP addresses automatically (called autoconfiguration) when they connect to a network (page 373).

DHCP is particularly useful for administrators who are responsible for maintaining a large number of systems because individual systems no longer need to store unique configuration information. With DHCP, the administrator can set up a master system and deploy new systems with a copy of the master's hard disk. In educational establishments and other open access facilities, the hard disk image may be stored on a shared drive, with each workstation automatically restoring itself to pristine condition at the end of each day.

How DHCP works

The client daemon, dhclient (part of the dhcp package), contacts the server daemon, dhcpd, to obtain the IP address, netmask, broadcast address, nameserver address, and other networking parameters. The server provides a lease on the IP address to the client. The client can request the specific terms of the lease, including its duration; the server can, in turn, limit these terms. While connected to the network, a client typically requests extensions of its lease as necessary so its IP address remains the same. The lease can expire once the client is disconnected from the network, with the server giving the client a new IP address when it requests a new lease. You can also set up a DHCP server to provide static IP addresses for specific clients (refer to "Static Versus Dynamic IP Addresses" on page 368).

DHCP is broadcast based, so both client and server must be on the same subnet (page 371).

DHCP client

A DHCP client requests network configuration parameters from the DHCP server and uses those parameters to configure its network interface.


Install the following package:

  • dhclient

dhclient: The DHCP client

When a DHCP client system connects to the network, dhclient requests a lease from the DHCP server and configures the client's network interface(s). Once a DHCP client has requested and established a lease, it stores information about the lease in a file named dhclient.leases, which is stored in the /var/lib/dhclient directory. This information is used to reestablish a lease when either the server or the client needs to reboot. The DHCP client configuration file, /etc/dhclient.conf, is required only for custom configurations. The following dhclient.conf file specifies a single interface, eth0:

$ cat /etc/dhclient.conf
interface "eth0"
send dhcp-client-identifier 1:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx;
send dhcp-lease-time 86400;

In the preceding file, the 1 in the dhcp-client-identifier specifies an Ethernet network and xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx is the MAC address (page 1092) of the device controlling that interface. See page 454 for instructions on how to display a MAC address. The dhcp-lease-time is the duration, in seconds, of the lease on the IP address. While the client is connected to the network, dhclient automatically renews the lease each time half of the lease is up. A lease time of 86,400 seconds (or one day) is a reasonable choice for a workstation.

DHCP server

The DHCP server maintains a list of IP addresses and other configuration parameters. When requested to do so, the DHCP server provides configuration parameters to a client.


Install the following package:

  • dhcp

Run chkconfig to cause dhcpd to start when the system enters multiuser mode:

# /sbin/chkconfig dhcpd on

Start dhcpd:

# /sbin/service dhcpd start

dhcpd: The DHCP daemon

A simple DHCP server allows you to add clients to a network without maintaining a list of assigned IP addresses. A simple network, such as a home LAN sharing an Internet connection, can use DHCP to assign a dynamic IP address to almost all nodes. The exceptions are servers and routers, which must be at known network locations to be able to receive connections. If servers and routers are configured without DHCP, you can specify a simple DHCP server configuration in /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf (FEDORA) or /etc/dhcpd.conf (RHEL):

$cat /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf
default-lease-time 600;
max-lease-time 86400;

option subnet-mask;
option broadcast-address;
option routers;
option domain-name-servers;

subnet netmask {

The preceding configuration file specifies a LAN where the router and DNS are both located on The default-lease-time specifies the number of seconds the dynamic IP lease will remain valid if the client does not specify a duration. The max-lease-time is the maximum time allowed for a lease.

The information in the option lines is sent to each client when it connects. The names following the word option specify what the following argument represents. For example, the option broadcast-address line specifies the broadcast address of the network. The routers and domain-name-servers options can be followed by multiple values separated by commas.

The subnet section includes a range line that specifies the range of IP addresses that the DHCP server can assign. If you define multiple subnets, you can define options, such as subnet-mask, inside the subnet section. Options defined outside all subnet sections are global and apply to all subnets.

The preceding configuration file assigns addresses in the range between and The DHCP server starts at the bottom (FEDORA) or top (RHEL) of this range and attempts to assign a new IP address to each new client. Once the DHCP server reaches the top/bottom of the range, it starts reassigning IP addresses that have been used in the past, but are not currently in use. If you have fewer systems than IP addresses, the IP address of each system should remain fairly constant. You cannot use the same IP address for more than one system at a time.

Once you have configured a DHCP server, you can start (or restart) it by using the dhcpd init script:

#/sbin/service dhcpd restart

Once the server is running, clients configured to obtain an IP address from the server using DHCP should be able to do so.

Static IP addresses

As mentioned earlier, routers and servers typically require static IP addresses. While you can manually configure IP addresses for these systems, it may be more convenient to have the DHCP server provide them with static IP addresses.

When a system that requires a specific static IP address connects to the network and contacts the DHCP server, the server needs a way to identify the system so the server can assign the proper IP address to the system. The DHCP server uses the MAC address (page 1092) of the system's Ethernet card (NIC) as an identifier. When you set up the server, you must know the MAC address of each system that requires a static IP address.

Displaying a MAC address

You can use ifconfig to display the MAC addresses of the Ethernet cards (NICs) in a system. In the following example, the MAC addresses are the colon-separated series of hexadecimal number pairs following HWaddr:

$ /sbin/ifconfig | grep -i hwaddr
eth0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr BA:DF:00:DF:C0:FF
eth1 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr 00:02:B3:41:35:98

Run ifconfig on each system that requires a static IP address. Once you have determined the MAC address of each of these systems, you can add a host section to the /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf file for each system, instructing the DHCP server to assign a specific address to the system. The following host section assigns the address to the system with the MAC address of BA:DF:00:DF:C0:FF:

$ cat /etc/dhcp/dhcpd.conf
host router {
hardware ethernet BA:DF:00:DF:C0:FF;
option host-name router;

The name following host is used internally by dhcpd. The name specified after option host-name is passed to the client and can be a hostname or an FQDN.

After making changes to dhcpd.conf, restart dhcpd using the service utility and the dhcpd init script (page 453).

About the book

This chapter excerpt on System Administration: Core Concepts (download PDF) is taken from A Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (5th Edition). Solution providers will get information and analysis on Fedora 12 and RHEL 5, including topics such as the Linux command line, new GUIs and desktop customization. Learn best practices for system/network administration tasks, including new coverage of network monitoring with Cacti.

Mark G. Sobell has more than 20 years of experience working with Unix and Linux. President of Sobell Associates Inc., Sobell is the author of A Practical Guide to Ubuntu Linux (3rd edition).

This excerpt is from Mark Sobell's A Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (5th Edition), published by Prentice Hall Professional. For more information, visit:

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