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Big IPv6 Shakeup

The Big IPv6 Shakeup – Addressing the Issue

November 23, 2010

A more technical post this afternoon, but extremely noteworthy.

The Internet has become a significant part of everyday life, and continues to grow at a blistering pace.  As a result of this growth, critical changes to the way Internet communications work will become essential over the next couple of years.  The reason for this is that the scheme by which connections are identified over the web, their IP address, is fast becoming outdated.  The system used by the vast majority of web users today, IP version 4, uses addresses like this:


All IPv4 addresses are in this form, and the theoretical number available for use based on the range to is around 4 billion.  It is estimated that this entire address space will be used up by the end ot 2012.

To address this issue, a new address scheme has been developed, IPv6.  Whilst the old system dating back to the 70’s was able to accommodate the Internet then, it is far from suitable in a society where just a single person might be connected to the net through their iPhone, home computer, work computer, games console and eBook reader.  In contrast, IPv6 (under which addresses look like this: 2001:0DB8:AC10:FE01:0000:0000:0000) should be sufficient for at least the immediate future, allowing (theoretically) as it does for 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 addresses…

 The managing director of Ripe NCC, which allocates IP addresses in Europe, said of the approaching crisis “Ten years ago we said it would happen far in the future, now we are all running around with iPhones, we’re in that future.”

IPv4 addresses are being allocated at a rate of knots, and urgency is mounting for people to switch to the new version.  Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers of the Internet’ explains that “[the switch] has to happen or the Internet will stop growing, or will not be growable.”  Businesses are dragging their feet, and Cerf is resolute that “the business community needs to understand that this is an infrastructure they are relying on and it needs to change for them to continue to grow and to rely on it”.

It is worrying that even the most tech-savvy companies will not necessarily find it an easy transition.  Google took 3 years to make the change, and for those businesses that lag behind, there is a chance that parts of the Internet will become inaccessible.

As Cerf highlights, this is just one of a series of major changes that are set to shape the next iteration of the mechanics which underly the Internet: “The biggest set of changes in the history of the internet are happening today.  The change in the address space, the change in domain name languages, the introduction of digital signatures in the domain name system, the introduction of end-to-end cryptography in accessing internet-based services.  This is a huge change in the net.”