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How to change DHCP lease time

Brock Bingham candid headshot
Brock Bingham|Updated April 22, 2024
Illustration of computer desk and monitor with PDQ logo
Illustration of computer desk and monitor with PDQ logo

Imagine you've got a bunch of machines in your network, quietly doling out IP addresses like candy. But life's full of surprises, and one day, you might need to tweak some of those Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) settings. Thankfully, changing the lease time on a DHCP server is pretty easy using Server Manager.

Let's say you've got a team of creative minds who are always on the move, laptops in tow, or maybe you've got those solid desktop warriors who never stray from their desks. Remember, each scope deserves a little TLC. Oh, and here's the secret sauce: There's no one-size-fits-all for DHCP lease time — longer for the desk champs, snappier for the roadies, and super snappy for the always-on-the-go. Just keep an eye on those IP addresses as you work your DHCP wizardry. 

Step-by-step guide to changing DHCP lease time 

On your DHCP server, usually one of your domain controllers, go to Tools > DHCP.

Change DHCP lease time step 1

Now, click on DHCP

Change DHCP lease time step 2

Let’s expand IPv4 and choose our scope. 

Change DHCP lease time step 3

Right-click and select Properties. Now we can set the lease time for this scope. Don’t forget to hit Okay or Apply when you're done. 

Change DHCP lease time step 4

DHCP lease time best practices 

DHCP lease time best practices are a bit tricky. There's no one-size-fits-all solution that works for every organization. You should consider many factors, including the types of devices on the network, device mobility, IP address availability, etc. However, here are some general guidelines to help you choose a lease time that works best for your network.

Lengthen DHCP lease time for nonmobile fleets 

It's common to lengthen the DHCP lease time on networks consisting primarily of nonmobile devices, such as workstations. In these scenarios, an 8-day lease period is pretty standard. This helps reduce unnecessary DHCP network traffic.

Shorten DHCP lease time depending on some environments

Mobile fleet 

If your network includes a large number of mobile devices, you may want to leave your DHCP lease period to 1 day or perhaps shorten it to about 8 hours. Shortening the lease period ensures that mobile devices only periodically on the network don't retain IP addresses for an extended period.

Publicly accessible network 

If you provide publicly accessible network connectivity, consider setting your DHCP lease duration to 1 hour or even 30 minutes. Devices that constantly join and leave the network quickly consume available IP addresses in these environments. A short lease period ensures IP addresses are reclaimed quickly.

Limited range of IP addresses 

Another reason to shorten your lease length is if your network has a limited range of IP addresses available. If you can't increase the size of your subnet to add more IP addresses, a shorter lease period helps ensure IP addresses remain available.

DHCP lease time FAQ 

What is a DHCP server?

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) is a networking protocol designed to automate the distribution of network configuration settings to devices. A DHCP server distributes IP addresses from a pool of available addresses and leases them to hosts.

Back in the '70s, when personal computers were first becoming a thing, users had to manually configure their devices’ network settings. As you can imagine, this presented problems as companies acquired larger numbers of devices. To accommodate this growth, Bootstrap Protocol (BOOTP) was introduced in the '80s. BOOTP servers automatically assigned network configuration information to devices, but they required a lot of administration. For a host to receive its network configuration settings, an administrator had to manually add its MAC address to the BOOTP server's database. Additionally, the configuration information sent was static and couldn't be updated dynamically.

Jump to the '90s, and DHCP was developed, bringing many quality-of-life improvements, including dynamically assigning network addresses, nonpermanent address leases, and the ability to reclaim expired address leases. It also removed the need to maintain MAC address listings on the server. In fact, DHCP was so awesome that it really hasn't drastically changed since it was first developed.

What are DHCP lease times?

The DHCP lease time is the mechanism that allows DHCP servers to reclaim IP addresses, preventing a host from permanently retaining an IP address. When a DHCP server sends an IP address to a device, it also sends a lease time. The lease time is the amount of time before the DHCP server reclaims an IP address. Once an IP address is reclaimed, it can be reassigned to another host. 

What happens if a DHCP lease expires?

When a DHCP lease expires, the DHCP server reclaims the IP address assigned to the device. To combat the lease expiration, the device must then request a lease renewal to continue using the same IP address. If the lease renewal is unsuccessful, or if the device doesn't communicate with the DHCP server, the IP address becomes available for assignment to another device on the network.

Why is DHCP lease time important?

DHCP lease time determines how long an IP address is allocated to a device on a network. It's crucial for optimizing IP address utilization and managing network resources. A well-balanced lease time prevents addresses from being tied up unnecessarily, ensures efficient IP address allocation, and helps maintain a healthy network environment.

Can I change DHCP lease times for different devices on the same network?

Yes, you can set different DHCP lease times based on the needs of different devices or user groups within your network. For instance, you might assign longer lease times to desktop computers that remain connected, while assigning shorter lease times to mobile devices that frequently connect and disconnect. Customizing lease times helps optimize IP address allocation for various usage patterns. 

Is there a DHCP best practice to follow in terms of lease duration?

Yes, there’s one DHCP best practice I recommend following in terms of lease duration. I suggest lengthening the lease time for nonmobile fleets and shortening the lease time if your environment is largely mobile, hosted on a publicly accessible network, or contains a limited range of IP addresses. A longer lease time on nonmobile devices reduces unnecessary DHCP network traffic. A shorter lease time for the scenarios described above helps free IP addresses for other devices to use. 

What happens if two devices attempt to use the same IP address? 

When two devices try to use the same IP address, we run into an issue called IP address conflict. An IP address conflict usually results in one (or both) devices being unable to connect to the network. It’s like witnessing two siblings fight over the same ice cream cone. They play tug-of-war with it only to drop it in the end, with neither sibling getting the cone. 

Changing your DHCP lease time is very straightforward. However, finding the best lease time for your network may take more work. Play around with your lease schedule until you find what works best for your organization, and while you're adjusting these settings, keep an eye on your available IP addresses for each subnet. It's always best to keep a healthy amount of IP addresses available if possible.

And while you’re looking for ways to optimize your environment, take advantage of a free 14-day trial of PDQ. Our tools give you insight into your environment and next-level control of your patch management and software deployment processes

Brock Bingham candid headshot
Brock Bingham

Born in the '80s and raised by his NES, Brock quickly fell in love with everything tech. With over 15 years of IT experience, Brock now enjoys the life of luxury as a renowned tech blogger and receiver of many Dundie Awards. In his free time, Brock enjoys adventuring with his wife, kids, and dogs, while dreaming of retirement.

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