Today is the day! It’s World IPv6 Launch day, which means that it is the day that major sites have committed to rolling out IPv6, which is replacing IPv4. So just what is IPv6? Well, if you have heard about the Internet running out of room – being full – which really means that we were running out of IP (Internet Protocol) space, or, more precisely, IP addresses, that is what IPv6 was created to address.
IP addresses are analagous to telephone numbers, only instead of the telephone number telling the telephone system which telephone to ring, an IP address tells the Internet system which computer or device to route something to.
If you are old enough to remember when area codes needed to be split, with new area codes being set up, because a particular area code ran out of numbers, then you have a good idea of why we need IPv6.
An IP address, under the old system (IPv4), is a string of digits, divided into four sections (known as octets) with a period, or “dot”, between each section. So they take the form of WWW.XXX.YYY.ZZZ, where each letter actually represents a number.
For example, the IP address of the website server on which you are reading this right now is 220.127.116.11
It should be pretty clear, however, that the possible number of IP addresses under this system is finite. Hence the problem. Enter IPv6.
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Not to get too geeky, but in an IPv4 IP address there are 8 bits between each dot (hence the name “octet”), and an entire IPv4 address consists of 32 bits (4 times 8). IPv6, instead of having octets, has “fields”, each field consists of 16 bits, and so an IPv6 IP address has 128 bits total.
Moreover, IPv6 IP addresses are not limited to digits, but also contain letters.
Here is a sample IPv6 address:
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This is a vast oversimplifcation of a pretty complex subject, but the point is, with IPv6, the odds are pretty good that the Internet will not run out of IP addresses. In fact, the number of possible IPv6 addresses has been calculated to be, and we quote, “340 trillion trillion trillion”. Yes, that is a finite number and so, yes, it’s possible that at some point in the distant future we could run out of IP addresses under IPv6, but we suspect that if things have burgeoned to the point of needing more than 340 trillion trillion trillion IP addresses on the Internet, we’ll already have more pressing problems than that.
Most importantly for you, the reader, however, is that you need to know that for the vast majority (and we do mean the vast majority) of people on earth, you do not need to give IPv6 a second thought. Any more than you ever gave IPv4 a thought. If you have a website or an online busines, you will probably want to check with your Internet host to make sure they are rolling out IPv6. But unless you run your own Internet servers, you probably don’t need to worry about it beyond that.
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