A relay agent is a small program that relays DHCP/BOOTP messages between clients and servers on different subnets. DHCP/BOOTP relay agents are part of the DHCP and BOOTP standards and function according to the Request for Comments (RFCs), standard documents that describe protocol design and related behavior.
In TCP/IP networking, routers are used to interconnect hardware and software used on different physical network segments called subnets and forward IP packets between each of the subnets. To support and use DHCP service across multiple subnets, routers connecting each subnet should comply with DHCP/BOOTP relay agent capabilities described in RFC 1542.
To be compliant with RFC 1542 and provide relay agent support, each router must be able to recognize BOOTP and DHCP protocol messages and process (relay) them appropriately. Because routers interpret DHCP messages as BOOTP messages (such as a UDP message sent through the same UDP port number and containing shared message structure), a router with BOOTP-relay agent capability typically relays DHCP packets and any BOOTP packets sent on the network.
If a router cannot function as a DHCP/BOOTP relay agent, each subnet must have either its own DHCP server or another computer that can function as a relay agent on that subnet. In cases where it is impractical or impossible to configure routers to support DHCP/BOOTP relay, you can configure a computer running Windows Server® 2008 to act as a relay agent by installing the DHCP Relay Agent service.
In most cases, routers support DHCP/BOOTP relay. If your routers do not, contact your router manufacturer or supplier to find out if a software or firmware upgrade is available to support this feature.