Obtaining a Block of Addresses

Obtaining a Block of Addresses

In order to get a block of IP addresses for use within an organization's subnet, a network administrator might first contact its ISP. which would provide  addresses from a larger block of addresses that had already been assigned to the ISP. For instance, the ISP may itself have been assigned the address  block The ISP, in turn, could divide its address block into eight equal-sized contiguous address blocks and give one of these address blocks out to each of up to eight organizations that are supported by this ISP, as shown below. (We have underlined the subnet part of these addresses for your convenience.)

While obtaining a set of addresses from an ISP is one way to get a block of addresses, it is not the only way. Clearly, there must also be a way for the ISP itself to get a block of addresses, is there a global authority that has ultimate responsibility for managing the IP address space and allocating address blocks to ISPs and other organizations? Indeed there is! IP addresses are managed under the authority of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) [ICANN 2009], based on guidelines set forth in [RFC 2050]. The role of the nonprofit ICANN organization [NTIA 1998] is not only to allocate IP addresses, but also to manage the DNS root servers. It also has the very contentious job of assigning domain names and resolving domain name disputes. The ICANN allocates addresses to regional Internet registries (for example, ARIN, RIPE, APNIC. and LACNIC, which together form the Address Supporting Organization of ICANN [ASO-ICANN 2009], and handle the allocation / management of addresses within their regions.

Obtaining a Host Address: the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol

Once an organization has obtained a block of addresses, it can assign individual IP addresses to the host and router interfaces in its organization. A system administrator will usually manually configure the IP addresses into the router (often remotely, with a network management tool). Host addresses can also be configured manually, but more often this task is now done using the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). DHCP allows a host to obtain (be allocated) an IP address automatically. A network administrator can configure DHCP so that a given host receives the same IP address each time it connects to the network, or a host may be assigned a temporary IP address that will be different each time the host connects to the network. In addition to host IP address assignment, DHCP also allows a host to learn additional information, such as its subnet mask, the address of its first-hop router (often called the default gateway), and the address of its local DNS server.

Because of DHCP's ability to automate the network-related aspects of connecting a host into a network, it is often referred to as a plug-and-play protocol. 'This capability makes it very attractive to the network administrator who would otherwise have to perform these tasks manually! DHCP is also enjoying widespread use in residential Internet access networks and in wireless LANs, where hosts join and leave the network frequently. Consider, for example, the student who carries a laptop from a dormitory room to a library to a classroom. It is likely that in each location, the student will be connecting into a new subnet and hence will need a new IP address at each location. DHCP is ideally suited to this situation, as there are many users coming and going, and addresses are needed for only a limited amount of time. DHCP is similarly useful in residential ISP access networks. Consider, for example, a residential ISP that has 2,000 customers, but no more than 400 customers are ever online at the same time. In this case, rather than needing a block of 2,048 addresses, a DHCP server that assigns addresses dynamically needs only a block of 512 addresses (for example, a block of the form a.b.c.d/23). As the hosts join and leave, the DHCP server needs to update its list of available IP addresses. Each time a host joins, the DHCP server allocates an arbitrary address from its current pool of available addresses; each time a host leaves, its address is returned to the pool.

DHCP is a client-server protocol. A client is typically a newly arriving host wanting to obtain network configuration information, including an IP address for itself. In the simplest case, each subnet (in the addressing sense of "IPv4 Addressing" Figure 3) will have a DHCP server. If no server is present on the subnet, a DHCP relay agent (typically a router) that knows the address of a DHCP server for that network is needed. Figure 1 shows a DHCP server attached to subnet 223.1.2/24, with the router serving as the relay agent for arriving clients attached to subnets 223.1.1/24 and 223.1.3/24. In our discussion below, well assume that a DHCP server is available on the subnet.

For a newly arriving host, the DHCP protocol is a four-step process, as shown in Figure 2 for the network setting shown in Figure 1. In this figure, yiaddr (as in "your Internet address") indicates the address being allocated to the newly arriving client. The four steps are:  
● DHCP server discovery. The first task of a newly arriving host is to find a DHCP server with which to interact. This is done using a DHCP discover message, which a client sends within a UDP packet to port 67. The UDP packet is encapsulated in an IP datagram. But to whom should this datagram be sent? The host doesn't even know the IP address of the network to which it is attaching, much

DHCP client-server scenario

less the address of a DHCP server for this network. Given this, the DHCP client creates an IP datagram containing its DHCP discover message along with the broadcast destination IP address of and a "this host" source IP address of The DHCP client passes the IP datagram to the link layer, which then broadcasts this frame to all nodes attached to the subnet (we will cover the details of link-layer broadcasting in "Link-Layer Addressing").

● DHCP server offer(s). A DHCP server receiving a DHCP discover message responds to the client with a DHCP offer message that is broadcast to all nodes on the subnet, again using the IP broadcast address of (You might want to think about why this server reply must also be broadcast). Since several DHCP servers can be present on the subnet, the client may find itself in the enviable position of being able to choose from among several offers.  Each server offer message contains the transaction ID of the received discover message, the proposed IP address for the client, the network mask, and an IP address lease time - the amount  of time for which the IP address will be valid. It is common for the server to set the lease time to several hours or days [Droms 2002].

DHCP client-server interaction

●  DHCP request. The newly arriving client will choose from among one or more server offers and respond to its selected offer with a DHCP request message, echoing back the configuration parameters.

●  DHCP ACK. The server responds to the DHCP request message with a DHCP ACK message, confirming the requested parameters.

Once the client receives the DHCP ACK, the interaction is complete and the client can use the DHCP-allocated IP address for the lease duration. Since a client may want to use its address beyond the lease's expiration, DHCP also provides a mechanism that allows a client to renew its lease on an IP address.

The value of DHCP's plug-and-play capability is clear, considering the fact that the alternative is to manually configure a host's IP address. Consider the student who moves from classroom to library to dorm room with a laptop, joins a new subnet, and thus obtains a new IP address at each location. It is unimaginable that a system administrator would have to reconfigure laptops at each location, and few students (except those taking a computer networking class) would have the expertise to configure their laptops manually. From a mobility aspect, however, DHCP does have shortcomings. Since a new IP address is obtained from DHCP each time a node connects to a new subnet, a TCP connection to a remote application cannot be maintained as a mobile node moves between subnets. In Chapter 6, we will examine mobile IP - a recent extension to the IP infrastructure that allows a mobile node to use a single permanent address as it moves between subnets. Additional details about DHCP can be found in [Droms 2002] and [dhc 2009]. An open source reference implementation of DHCP is available from the Internet Systems Consortium [ISC 2009].


subnet, dhcp discover message, dhcp offer message, dhcp request message

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