Zero-Touch Provisioning for Cisco IOS

Vincent Bernat

The official documentation to automatically upgrade1 and configure on first boot a Cisco switch running on IOS, like a Cisco Catalyst 2960-X Series switch, is scarce on details. This note explains how to configure the ISC DHCP Server for this purpose.


When booting for the first time, Cisco IOS sends a DHCP discover request on all ports:

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (Discover)
    Message type: Boot Request (1)
    Hardware type: Ethernet (0x01)
    Hardware address length: 6
    Hops: 0
    Transaction ID: 0x0000117c
    Seconds elapsed: 0
    Bootp flags: 0x8000, Broadcast flag (Broadcast)
    Client IP address: 0.0.0.0
    Your (client) IP address: 0.0.0.0
    Next server IP address: 0.0.0.0
    Relay agent IP address: 0.0.0.0
    Client MAC address: Cisco_6c:12:c0 (b4:14:89:6c:12:c0)
    Client hardware address padding: 00000000000000000000
    Server host name not given
    Boot file name not given
    Magic cookie: DHCP
    Option: (53) DHCP Message Type (Discover)
    Option: (57) Maximum DHCP Message Size
    Option: (61) Client identifier
        Length: 25
        Type: 0
        Client Identifier: cisco-b414.896c.12c0-Vl1
    Option: (55) Parameter Request List
        Length: 12
        Parameter Request List Item: (1) Subnet Mask
        Parameter Request List Item: (66) TFTP Server Name
        Parameter Request List Item: (6) Domain Name Server
        Parameter Request List Item: (15) Domain Name
        Parameter Request List Item: (44) NetBIOS over TCP/IP Name Server
        Parameter Request List Item: (3) Router
        Parameter Request List Item: (67) Bootfile name
        Parameter Request List Item: (12) Host Name
        Parameter Request List Item: (33) Static Route
        Parameter Request List Item: (150) TFTP Server Address
        Parameter Request List Item: (43) Vendor-Specific Information
        Parameter Request List Item: (125) V-I Vendor-specific Information
    Option: (255) End

It requests several options, including the Bootfile name option 67, the TFTP server address option 150, and the Vendor-Identifying Vendor-Specific Information Option 125—or VIVSO. Option 67 provides the name of the configuration file located on the TFTP server identified by option 150. Option 125 includes the name of the file describing the Cisco IOS image to use to upgrade the switch. This file only contains the name of the tarball embedding the image.2

Configuring the ISC DHCP Server to answer with the TFTP server address and the name of the configuration file is simple enough:

filename "ob2-p2.example.com";
option tftp-server-address 172.16.15.253;

However, if you want to also provide the image for upgrade, you have to specify a hexadecimal-encoded string:3

option vivso 00:00:00:09:24:05:22:63:32:39:36:30:2d:6c:61:6e:62:61:73:65:6b:39:2d:74:61:72:2e:31:35:30:2d:32:2e:53:45:31:31:2e:74:78:74;

Having a large hexadecimal-encoded string inside a configuration file is quite unsatisfying. Instead, the ISC DHCP Server allows you to express this information in a more readable way using the option space statement:

# Create option space for Cisco and encapsulate it in VIVSO/vendor space
option space cisco code width 1 length width 1;
option cisco.auto-update-image code 5 = text;
option vendor.cisco code 9 = encapsulate cisco;

# Image description for Cisco IOS ZTP
option cisco.auto-update-image = "c2960-lanbasek9-tar.150-2.SE11.txt";

# Workaround for VIVSO option 125 not being sent
option vendor.iana code 0 = string;
option vendor.iana = 01:01:01;

Without the workaround mentioned in the last block, the ISC DHCP Server would not send back option 125. With such a configuration, it returns the following answer, including a harmless additional enterprise 0 encapsulated into option 125:

Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (Offer)
    Message type: Boot Reply (2)
    Hardware type: Ethernet (0x01)
    Hardware address length: 6
    Hops: 0
    Transaction ID: 0x0000117c
    Seconds elapsed: 0
    Bootp flags: 0x8000, Broadcast flag (Broadcast)
    Client IP address: 0.0.0.0
    Your (client) IP address: 172.16.15.6
    Next server IP address: 0.0.0.0
    Relay agent IP address: 0.0.0.0
    Client MAC address: Cisco_6c:12:c0 (b4:14:89:6c:12:c0)
    Client hardware address padding: 00000000000000000000
    Server host name not given
    Boot file name: ob2-p2.example.com
    Magic cookie: DHCP
    Option: (53) DHCP Message Type (Offer)
    Option: (54) DHCP Server Identifier (172.16.15.252)
    Option: (51) IP Address Lease Time
    Option: (1) Subnet Mask (255.255.248.0)
    Option: (6) Domain Name Server
    Option: (3) Router
    Option: (150) TFTP Server Address (172.16.15.252)
    Option: (125) V-I Vendor-specific Information
        Length: 49
        Enterprise: Reserved (0)
        Enterprise: ciscoSystems (9)
            Length: 36
            Option 125 Suboption: 5
                Length: 34
                Data: 63323936302d6c616e626173656b392d7461722e3135302d…
    Option: (255) End

On the same topic, do not override option 43 “VSIO.” See “Zero-Touch Provisioning for Juniper devices.”


  1. Automatic upgrade only works from IOS 15 onwards. ↩︎

  2. The reason for this indirection is still puzzling me. I suppose it could be because updating the image name directly in option 125 is quite a hassle. ↩︎

  3. It contains the following information:

    • 0x00000009: Cisco’s Enterprise Number,
    • 0x24: length of the enclosed data,
    • 0x05: Cisco’s auto-update sub-option,
    • 0x22: length of the sub-option data, and
    • filename of the image description (c2960-lanbasek9-tar.150-2.SE11.txt).
    ↩︎

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