Today is World IPv6 Day – why it matters

When you want to call somebody over the phone – or maybe even using Skype or other VoIP services – you connect to them by dialling or having something dial their phone number, right? Every house, business and mobile phone around the world has their own, unique phone number; and all the numbers in the same area are decided by the phone company in charge and distributed supposedly at random based on the rules they’ve defined for that area. But what if a phone company runs out of numbers for the area? The simple solution is to make more numbers, by coming up with a new area code or even a new rule for generating numbers so that they can have a whole new bank to draw from.

The internet works in a similar way. Every device that connects to the internet – whether a computer, an iPod, a smart phone, a games console, or anything really – has its own “number”, known as an IP address, to identify it. To connect one thing to another across the internet, the two devices use their IP addresses to “call” each other and make a connection. So that people don’t have to remember these numbers themselves, DNS Resolvers attach website domains to IPs, so that when you type in the address to a website on an internet browser, the device does the hard work for you.

Like phone numbers, IPs are mostly randomly assigned, but they’re defined by a strict set of rules; and controlled by a regulator (ICANN) who set rules as to what IPs can be given out in different parts of the world and when, which they usually do in blocks to give web hosts in different regions a bank of IPs to use before they need to request more. The current rules are known as “IPv4”, and state that IPs are made up of four numbers, separated by dots, with each number allowed to be between 0 and 255 – making over 4.29 billion number combinations.

Amazingly, over the relatively short span of the Internet’s life so far, the net has grown at such a rapid pace that we’re now almost at 4.2 billion unique devices on the internet at any one time; and so the numbers left have almost run out. If they run out, it’ll become difficult for anything new to come to the internet. So we need to make more numbers. Luckily, computer boffins realised this possibility some years ago and designed a new standard, known as IPv6. This uses new rules to make numbers which allow for larger chains and more numbers in each part, potentially allowing for more than 340 billion billion billion BILLION addresses – several hundred times more than what we have now.

Problem solved, right?

Sadly, actually implementing IPv6 is a technical difficulty in itself, with servers needing to be reworked; equipment needing software updates and in some cases older equipment even needing to be replaced to take advantage of it. It’s estimated only 5% of the internet uses IPv6 and, until most places start using it, we can’t yet fully take advantage of it.

Today, World IPv6 Launch day, is an attempt to change that: today, internet providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, as well as major internet properties like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, are all turning on IPv6 in an attempt to push forward this future of networking and hopefully keep the internet growing for many more years to come. Turning on IPv6 today does not mean that IPv4 will simply disappear: While its use will gradually diminish, there’s still millions more servers to switch and tons of equipment to update. But this first step will hopefully encourage others to also pick up the pace and get us moving forward soon.

You can rest a little easier now 🙂

Comments are closed.