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How to install and configure isc-kea

In this guide we show how to install and configure isc-kea in Ubuntu 23.04
or greater. Kea is the DHCP server developed by ISC to replace isc-dhcp. It is newer and designed for more modern network environments.

For isc-dhcp-server instructions, refer to this guide instead.

Install isc-kea

At a terminal prompt, enter the following command to install isc-kea:

sudo apt install kea

This will also install a few binary packages, including

  • kea-dhcp4-server: The IPv4 DHCP server (the one we will configure in this guide).
  • kea-dhcp6-server: The IPv6 DHCP server.
  • kea-ctrl-agent: A REST API service for Kea.
  • kea-dhcp-ddns-server: A Dynamic DNS service to update DNS based on DHCP lease events.

Since the kea-ctrl-agent service has some administrative rights to the Kea
services, we need to ensure regular users are not allowed to use the API
without permissions. Ubuntu does it by requiring user authentication to access
the kea-ctrl-agent API service (LP: #2007312 has more details on this).

Therefore, the installation process described above will get a debconf “high”
priority prompt with 3 options:

  • no action (default);
  • configure with a random password; or
  • configure with a given password.

If there is no password, the kea-ctrl-agent will not start.

The password is expected to be in /etc/kea/kea-api-password, with ownership
root:_kea and permissions 0640. To change it, run dpkg-reconfigure kea-ctrl-agent
(which will present the same 3 options from above again), or just edit the file

Configure kea-dhcp4

The kea-dhcp4 service can be configured by editing /etc/kea/kea-dhcp4.conf.

Most commonly, what you want to do is let Kea assign an IP address from a
pre-configured IP address pool. This can be done with settings as follows:

  "Dhcp4": {
	"interfaces-config": {
  	"interfaces": [ "eth4" ]
	"control-socket": {
    	"socket-type": "unix",
    	"socket-name": "/run/kea/kea4-ctrl-socket"
	"lease-database": {
    	"type": "memfile",
    	"lfc-interval": 3600
	"valid-lifetime": 600,
	"max-valid-lifetime": 7200,
	"subnet4": [
    	"id": 1,
    	"subnet": "",
    	"pools": [
        	"pool": " -"
    	"option-data": [
        	"name": "routers",
        	"data": ""
        	"name": "domain-name-servers",
        	"data": ","
        	"name": "domain-name",
        	"data": "mydomain.example"

This will result in the DHCP server listening on interface “eth4”, giving clients an IP address from the range - It will lease an IP address for 600 seconds if the client doesn’t ask for a specific time frame. Otherwise the maximum (allowed) lease will be 7200 seconds. The server will also “advise” the client to use as the default-gateway and and as its DNS servers.

After changing the config file you can reload the server configuration through kea-shell with the following command (considering you have the kea-ctrl-agent running as described above):

kea-shell --host --port 8000 --auth-user kea-api --auth-password $(cat /etc/kea/kea-api-password) --service dhcp4 config-reload

Then, press ctrl-d. The server should respond with:

[ { "result": 0, "text": "Configuration successful." } ]

meaning your configuration was received by the server.

The kea-dhcp4-server service logs should contain an entry similar to:

DHCP4_DYNAMIC_RECONFIGURATION_SUCCESS dynamic server reconfiguration succeeded with file: /etc/kea/kea-dhcp4.conf

signaling that the server was successfully reconfigured.

You can read kea-dhcp4-server service logs with journalctl:

journalctl -u kea-dhcp4-server

Alternatively, instead of reloading the DHCP4 server configuration through
kea-shell, you can restart the kea-dhcp4-service with:

systemctl restart kea-dhcp4-server

Further reading

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