An Introduction to DHCP

Posted by B. Hale

DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol. Few people know what it is or even really care. For the average Internet user, suffice it to say that this is the way that the user gets connected to the rest of the Internet world. Every device connected to the Internet must have a unique IP address. That is a numeric Internet address like, or one of the other millions of IP addresses available. That address signifies the user's physical and digital location and allows him or her to communicate with devices at other locations. The user's computer and other devices connecting to the Internet will have its own IP address whenever connected to the Internet. This system makes that possible since it is the system used by an Internet Service Provider's servers to dish out unique IP addresses for every user. So long as the system works, the user can get on the Internet, without calling the ISP.

Benefits offered by DHCP

DHCP provides numerous benefits to Internet users. For instance, it makes the Internet system reliable. With the system in place and operating, a user can always get the IP address needed to communicate over the Internet. The system is dynamic, meaning that addressing details change routinely and constantly, but the user doesn't have to worry. Using this system, an Internet address will always be provided. That's how ISPs make their money!

Not All IP Addresses are Dynamic

Of course, some users must keep and use the same IP address all the time, with a so-called static IP address. That is possible, but where that is done, the dynamic system doesn't enter into addressing. That calls for hands-on IP address management, which is way beyond any typical Internet user. In other words, DHCP makes the Internet easy to use, and it really does. The system makes the administration of Internet use automated. Even the ISP doesn't spend much time bothering over IP address assignment, so long as it continues to function, and the ISP trusts that it will. An Internet user can have the same amount of trust.


That is not to say that the system is foolproof. Errors do occur. For instance, the same IP address might be assigned to two different users. This is the IP Address Conflict, and where it occurs in Windows, Windows will report “Windows has Detected an IP Address Conflict.” This rarely occurs, and where it does occur, usually a reboot will correct the issue. In the dynamic addressing environment, IP address conflicts are rare indeed, but where they occur, simply reboot or issue the ipconfig/renew command. An ISP can also run out of IP addresses, and should this occur, a call to the ISP will probably be needed. IP address management is highly sophisticated today, and ISPs have equipment in place to prevent most or even all errors. An Internet user need not even give these errors any thought.

The Future of DHCP

This system has existed in its current form for over 30 years, preceded by other address management techniques and procedures. It is very complicated and involves the interrelationship between a large variety of equipment and procedures. It is a very interesting topic for discussion but does not in any way require active participation or evaluation by Internet users. So long as it works, then the Internet continues to work, and there is very good reason to expect it to go on working, and even to be improved in coming years.