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RARP (Reverse Address Resolution Protocol)

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RARP is an Internet protocol that performs the opposite task of ARP (Address Resolution Protocol). It translates a MAC (Medium Access Control) address, which is the address hard-wired into network interface cards, into the IP address that has been assigned to the system with the MAC address. The protocol was originally used to obtain an IP address for Ethernet-connected diskless workstations. Since there is no disk on which to store an IP address, a diskless workstation must obtain the IP address from another source and store it in memory while it is running.

To obtain an IP address, a computer transmits a MAC layer broadcast address (all 1s). A server that supports RARP listens for RARP broadcasts. It reads the source MAC address in the message, and then matches that address in a table with an associated IP address. The server then sends the IP address to the computer.

RARP is outlined in RFC 903 (Reverse Address Resolution Protocol, June 1984). Extensions are covered in RFC 1931 (Dynamic RARP Extensions for Automatic Network Address Acquisition, April 1996).

BOOTP was created at a later time to enhance what RARP provides. BOOTP obtains an IP address, a gateway address, and a name server address from the server running the BOOTP protocol. See BOOTP (BOOTstrap Protocol).

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