Basics of DHCP in MAAS

Why DHCP matters

The Dynamic Host Control Protocol or DHCP is a key part of how MAAS is able to manage bare-metal servers. Many issues with MAAS revolve around misunderstanding – or unintentional misuse – of DHCP, so it’s worth it to take an in-depth look. This section will help you learn:

In this comprehensive exploration of DHCP’s role in MAAS, we aim to shed light on its significance, unravel the intricate dance of DORA, dissect DHCP traffic patterns, delve into MAAS’s DHCP management, and ultimately, bridge the network divide with the aid of DHCP relays.

Why do we need DHCP?

In the dynamic realm of networking, DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) emerges as a crucial facilitator. Its role is simple yet indispensable—automate IP address assignments for connected devices.

Imagine the inconvenience of manually configuring IP addresses, subnet masks, gateways, and other network parameters for each device. Not only time-consuming, but this process also invites human errors. DHCP eliminates this hassle.

At its core, DHCP dynamically allocates unique IP addresses to devices as they join a network. This automated allocation saves time and eliminates address conflicts, ensuring smooth network operations.

Moreover, DHCP offers flexibility. Devices frequently join and leave networks. With DHCP, there’s no need for manual adjustments. It seamlessly accommodates device changes, ensuring uninterrupted connectivity.

In essence, DHCP streamlines complex IP address management, enabling effortless device connectivity in our digital world. It silently handles the task, ensuring devices are always ready to communicate on the global network we rely upon daily.

DORA: The dance of DHCP

In the world of networking, DHCP performs a well-orchestrated dance known as the DORA protocol, which stands for Discover, Offer, Request, and Acknowledge. This choreography ensures the seamless allocation of IP addresses to devices on a network.

DORA is a four-step process called: Discover, Offer, Request, Acknowledge. Think of this process as network shouting; it’s mostly carried out via broadcast. After the initial DISCOVER message, each subsequent message payload includes unique addressing information, while the destination IP (DIP) remains at—broadcast mode. Every machine on the network receives the packet but will only act on packets addressed to them:

  • Discover (D): The performance begins with the “Discover” step. When a device connects to a network, it sends out a broadcast request, essentially shouting, “Is there a DHCP server out there?” This broadcast is like a dancer taking the stage, eager to find a partner for the dance. The initial DISCOVER message is unique because it doesn’t contain any destination information in its payload. Essentially, the entire DORA process is carried out in broadcasts, only becoming semi-private with the first OFFER, using message payloads to achieve this.

  • Offer (O): In response, the DHCP server gracefully steps forward and offers an IP address to the requesting device. This is the “Offer” phase, where the server extends its virtual hand and says, “I have an IP address for you.”

  • Request (R): The requesting device acknowledges the offer by sending a “Request.” This step is akin to the dancer accepting the partner’s hand, signifying their willingness to join the dance. The device says, “Yes, I’d like that IP address, please.”

  • Acknowledge (A): Finally, the DHCP server acknowledges the request, completing the dance with an “Acknowledge.” It confirms, “You now have the IP address.” The device has successfully joined the network dance floor.

The dance looks something like this:

Besides the standard DORA sequence, there are additional potential responses such as NACK and DECLINE. A DHCP server sends a NACK when the client takes too long to request, and a DECLINE is used if the offered IP configuration doesn’t suit the client. We can safely ignore these infrequent responses for now.

This elegant choreography ensures that devices receive unique IP addresses, preventing conflicts and enabling efficient communication on the network. Like a well-practised dance, the DORA protocol allows devices to seamlessly waltz onto the network stage, ensuring they are ready for the performance of digital connectivity.

Note: If you’re using MAAS for your DHCP server – and you really should be – it employs the next-server parameter to guide machines to their Network Bootstrap Programme (NBP). This parameter specifies the IP of a TFTP or HTTP boot server capable of providing the NBP. It’s advisable to let MAAS manage your DHCP configuration.

Unravelling DHCP traffic patterns

Let’s take a brief look at a typical DHCP packet exchange, which plays a pivotal role in dynamically assigning IP addresses and network configuration. This process typically unfolds as follows:

# DHCP Discover
Ethernet Header: DA=FF-FF-FF-FF-FF-FF, SA=<Client MAC>
IP Header: SIP=, DIP=
DHCP Payload: Client MAC=<Client MAC>

# DHCP Offer
Ethernet Header: DA=FF-FF-FF-FF-FF-FF, SA=<DHCP Server MAC>
IP Header: SIP=<DHCP Server IP>, DIP=
DHCP Payload: Offered IP=<Offered IP>, Client MAC=<Client MAC>,
Subnet Mask=<Subnet Mask>, Router IP=<Router IP>, 
DNS=<DNS Server 1 IP, DNS Server 2 IP>, IP Lease Time=<Time>s,
DHCP Server Identifier=<DHCP Server IP>

# DHCP Request
Ethernet Header: DA=FF-FF-FF-FF-FF-FF, SA=<Client MAC>
IP Header: SIP=, DIP=
DHCP Payload: Client MAC=<Client MAC>, 
Requested IP Address=<Offered IP>, 
DHCP Server Identifier=<DHCP Server IP>

# DHCP Ack
Ethernet Header: DA=FF-FF-FF-FF-FF-FF, SA=<DHCP Server MAC>
IP Header: SIP=<DHCP Server IP>, DIP=
DHCP Payload: Offered IP=<Offered IP>, Client MAC=<Client MAC>,
Subnet Mask=<Subnet Mask>, Router IP=<Router IP>, 
DNS=<DNS Server 1 IP, DNS Server 2 IP>, IP Lease Time=<Time>s,
DHCP Server Identifier=<DHCP Server IP>

A couple of key insights will shed light on this intricate dance:

  • In both the OFFER and the ACK messages, the DHCP server generously provides all necessary configuration parameters. This includes the client’s IP address, subnet mask, router location, DNS server IPs, lease time, and the identity of the DHCP server itself. The client receives a complete package, ready to operate independently on the network.

  • It’s worth noting that the requesting client refrains from utilising the offered IP address until it receives the ACK message. Even in the DHCP Request, where the client knows the offered IP, the Source IP (SIP) remains until confirmation is received.

With this fundamental understanding of DHCP in place, we can delve into the intriguing world of managing DHCP for MAAS.

How MAAS manages DHCP

Within the context of MAAS (Metal as a Service), DHCP, or the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, plays a pivotal role in orchestrating the provisioning and management of networked devices. It’s not merely a network protocol but a key instrument within the comprehensive MAAS toolkit, facilitating efficient network traffic management.

In the realm of MAAS, the DHCP dance involves two key players: the MAAS server itself and the network clients. However, clients wishing to engage in this orchestrated performance must meet specific prerequisites. They must implement an instance of the DHCP protocol stack, which empowers them with the knowledge needed to craft DHCP messages, interpret responses, and effectively navigate the DHCP orchestration.

In the MAAS environment, this “DHCP protocol stack” refers to a device’s capability to handle the following standard DHCP message types:

  • DHCPDiscover: This broadcast message acts as a beacon, signalling the presence of a DHCP server within the MAAS-managed network. Clients initiate this discovery to locate the MAAS DHCP server, a critical step in the provisioning process. Notably, if a client does not receive a DHCP response, it may resort to assigning itself an Automatic Private IPv4 address (APIPA), preserving the integrity of the network.

  • DHCPOffer: The MAAS DHCP server responds to the discovery with an Offer message, extending an IPv4 address lease that goes beyond just the IP address itself. As we’ve explored in previous MAAS discussions, this lease encompasses a rich array of configuration parameters, ensuring that clients are fully equipped for network operation.

  • DHCPRequest: The DHCP exchange within MAAS continues to build, much like a snowball rolling downhill. In this phase, the client responds to the Offer with a formal Request, accepting the offered lease and solidifying its role in the network.

  • DHCPAcknowledgment: If all criteria align when the Request reaches the MAAS DHCP server, it responds with an Acknowledgement. This signifies that the client can lease the provided IP address and associated configuration parameters for a specified duration.

  • DHCPNak: In situations where the client experiences delay or if a different DHCP server has already claimed the offered IP address, the MAAS DHCP server may issue a Nak. This prompts the client to begin the orchestration anew, returning to the Discover stage to ensure network integrity.

  • DHCPDecline: Should a client discover that the offered lease contains configuration settings incompatible with its needs, it retains the option to Decline the offer. This triggers a fresh start, commencing from the Discovery phase.

  • DHCPRelease: When a client concludes its use of an IP address within the MAAS-managed network, it can gracefully exit by sending a Release message. This informs the MAAS DHCP server, enabling it to reclaim the released IP address for future assignments.

  • DHCPInform: In a relatively recent addition, the DHCPInform message allows clients with existing IP addresses to efficiently obtain additional configuration parameters related to their address from the MAAS DHCP server. This feature enhances the flexibility and adaptability of MAAS-managed networks.

It’s crucial to note that, shortly before a lease expires, most DHCP clients within MAAS proactively renew their leases. This typically involves a streamlined exchange between the client and the MAAS DHCP server, usually without a full DORA sequence. Importantly, this renewal process occurs directly between the client and the server, bypassing network-wide broadcasts and ensuring network stability within the MAAS ecosystem.

DHCP IP address allocation in MAAS

In the realm of MAAS, dynamic IP address assignment is a critical aspect of network management. MAAS employs DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) for this purpose, providing three distinct methods of IP address allocation to requesting clients:

  1. Manual or Static Allocation:

    • In this method, the DHCP server, integrated into MAAS, assigns a specific, user-defined IP address to a client.
    • The assigned IP address remains constant until the client actively releases it, ensuring predictability for certain devices within the network.
  2. Dynamic Allocation:

    • MAAS dynamically allocates IP addresses from a defined pool or scope. These addresses can change over time, depending on network dynamics and availability within the scope.
    • Clients may receive different IP addresses during subsequent DHCP requests, offering flexibility and efficient use of available addresses.
  3. Automatic Allocation:

    • This method combines elements of both static and dynamic allocation. MAAS assigns an IP address from its defined scope but maintains a record of the client-to-IP address mapping.
    • When a client initiates a new request, the MAAS DHCP server aims to reassign the same IP address to that specific client, promoting consistency in addressing.

Regardless of the allocation method chosen, the DHCP server’s scope, which defines the range of IP addresses under its control and available for assignment, must be meticulously configured by the user within the MAAS environment.

DHCP, operating within the MAAS ecosystem, operates in a “connectionless” manner, primarily utilising UDP (User Datagram Protocol) for communication. Typically, DHCP messages are transmitted as broadcast packets, targeting no specific device initially. However, these messages rapidly transition to targeted communications. The payload of these messages contains critical information, including the IP address of the DHCP server and the MAC address of the requesting client. This efficient approach reduces the processing burden on other network devices by avoiding the need for complete decoding of every DHCP message. Note that for specific targeting of a UDP packet at a particular server, unicast message types can be employed.

For a DHCP client within MAAS, the prospect of acquiring its previous IP address upon a new request hinges on several factors, including scope, allocation method, network topology, and server authority:

  • Scope Size: A larger scope of addresses within the DHCP server increases the likelihood of the requested address being available again.

  • Allocation Method: The allocation method used by the DHCP server also plays a pivotal role. Static allocation guarantees the same address, automatic allocation makes it highly likely, while dynamic allocation introduces variability that makes predictability impossible.

  • Topology: Network topology is a critical consideration. If the MAAS DHCP server relies on DHCP relays to manage some or all of its addresses, the probability of reusing the same IP address diminishes.

  • Authority: The authority of the DHCP server affects the probability of address reassignment. An authoritative DHCP server, such as the one within MAAS, will respond to any unanswered DHCPDiscover messages but will allocate addresses only from its defined scope.

In the dynamic landscape of MAAS-powered networks, understanding these DHCP allocation methods and their intricacies is paramount to efficient IP address management and network operation.


In conclusion, DHCP within the MAAS ecosystem serves as a finely-tuned orchestra conductor, ensuring the seamless provisioning and management of devices. This orchestration ensures that MAAS clients can confidently step onto the network stage, equipped with the essential configurations they need to perform effectively within the network’s ensemble.

Clash of titans: Multiple DHCP servers

In the realm of network management, the coexistence of multiple DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) servers on the same network segment can resemble the clash of titans. Surprisingly, when well-managed, this arrangement can function harmoniously, avoiding conflicts, dropped packets, or IP address request failures. However, the successful operation of multiple DHCP servers within the MAAS ecosystem hinges on understanding and configuring IP address scopes effectively. Let’s delve into this intriguing arena.

IP address scopes: Three configurations to consider

  1. Adjacent Scopes:

    • In this setup, IP addresses are allocated from segments of the same subnet. For instance, one server may oversee the range –, while another manages –
    • This is the most common and reliable approach when dealing with multiple DHCP servers in close proximity.
  2. Heterogeneous Scopes:

    • Here, DHCP servers operate on different subnets, such as – .253 for one server and – .98 for another.
    • While feasible, this configuration poses significant setup challenges and complexities in management.
  3. Overlapping Scopes:

    • In this scenario, multiple servers can offer the same IP address, necessitating intricate coordination between DHCP servers to prevent conflicts.
    • Typically, it’s advisable to avoid overlapping scopes in most MAAS applications due to potential complexities.

Adjacent and heterogeneous scopes essentially function similarly. These servers operate independently, serving clients on a first-come, first-served basis from their respective IP address pools.

Understanding the DHCP dance

In this choreography, a DHCP client initiates a DHCPRequest, and one or both servers may respond based on factors like server load and available IP addresses. There’s also the possibility that neither server responds if both have exhausted their address pools. However, with meticulous network planning and designating one server as authoritative, these situations can be minimised or eradicated.

The Solution: Server Conflict Detection (SCD)

In some DHCP implementations, an invaluable feature called Server Conflict Detection (SCD) emerges as the saviour in the clash of titans. SCD leverages ICMP Echo messages (pings) to ascertain whether an IP address is in use before leasing it to a client. When all DHCP servers on a subnet employ SCD, IP address scope overlap becomes a non-issue.

Strikingly, the creators of DHCP themselves recommended ping checks on both ends—in RFC 2131, it’s stated: “As a consistency check, the allocating server SHOULD probe the reused address before allocating the address, e.g., with an ICMP echo request, and the client SHOULD probe the newly received address, e.g., with ARP.”

Despite this, DHCP servers often operate in a loosely-coupled manner, with each server and client independently verifying IP address availability. From an architectural perspective, it might seem logical for DHCP servers to collaborate and coordinate IP address assignments. However, this level of coordination is usually unattainable within a MAAS networking environment, where an external DHCP source beyond the MAAS administrator’s control is often present.

The battle against competing DHCP servers in MAAS

In the world of MAAS, the clash of DHCP servers is a recurring challenge. Instances of multiple DHCP servers on the same subnet, utilising identical scopes or overlapping scopes, can lead to collisions, thwarting devices’ ability to obtain IP addresses. Typically, this manifests as machines that can power on but fail to complete the commissioning process due to DHCP-related IP address conflicts.

MAAS acknowledges this concern and incorporates conflict detection mechanisms. For instance, if MAAS manages a non-empty subnet, it can detect existing IPs and avoid duplicate assignments. However, a couple of caveats exist: when a previously-assigned NIC is inactive, or when at least one rack controller lacks access to the IP-assigned machine, detection may not occur before IP duplication.

Additionally, MAAS monitors the subnet ARP cache’s capacity, rechecking the oldest IPs in the cache to identify available addresses.

Embracing SCD for a smoother experience

To enhance configuration performance, enabling Server Conflict Detection (SCD) across all DHCP providers on the network is beneficial. SCD imposes minimal overhead and offers a significant advantage in preventing DHCP conflicts. In the realm of large, bare-metal networks, DHCP conflicts need not be one of the issues plaguing network administrators. Properly configured and coordinated DHCP servers can facilitate smoother network operation, fostering an environment where the clash of DHCP titans is tamed, and devices obtain IP addresses seamlessly.

Bridging the network divide with DHCP relays

In the intricate dance of network management, DHCP relays emerge as specialised routers, wielding the power to bridge divides and ensure the seamless flow of communication. Much like their router counterparts, DHCP relays play a vital role in manipulating source and destination addresses of packets traversing their domain, ensuring that messages reach their intended destinations without hindrance.

However, the standout feature that sets DHCP relays apart is their intimate knowledge of the DHCP server’s IP address. This knowledge forms the linchpin of their operation, facilitating the orchestration of DHCP transactions across segmented networks.

When a DHCPRequest embarks on its journey, originating from a requesting client and reaching the DHCP relay, a transformation unfolds. The DHCP relay intercepts the broadcast packet with finesse and embarks on a mission of transformation. In its capable hands, the broadcast packet morphs into a routed unicast packet, skilfully directed towards the DHCP server’s waiting arms. This transition is a pivotal moment in the DHCP relay’s role, ensuring that the DHCP server receives the client’s request with pinpoint accuracy.

But the DHCP relay’s duties don’t end there. As the response, often in the form of a DHCPOffer, wings its way back from the DHCP server to the eager client, the relay takes on yet another transformative act. With precision, it converts the DHCPOffer back into a broadcast packet, heralding the client’s newfound network configuration to all interested parties.

In essence, DHCP relays serve as the invisible bridge that spans network divides. They facilitate communication between requesting clients and DHCP servers separated by segmented networks, orchestrating a symphony of packet transformations to ensure that every player receives their cues. This behind-the-scenes role is pivotal in the realm of network management, allowing for the efficient allocation of IP addresses and network configurations even in complex, segmented environments.

As we delve deeper into the intricacies of DHCP relays, their role becomes increasingly clear, and their contribution to network orchestration unmistakable. In a world where networks are divided by design or necessity, these specialised routers step up to ensure that the show goes on without a hitch, bridging the gap and facilitating the dance of DHCP with finesse.

Last updated a month ago.