In terms of a network of computers, this address is the unique identifier that is assigned to each computer. Such addresses are known as the IP addresses and they are responsible for identifying computers and devices for effective communication between them via the internet.
TCP/IP protocol is the standard which most networks and computers on the internet use today. Even your computer has an IP address assigned to it using this protocol.
IPv4 and IPv6 are the two standards for IP addresses and it is most likely that your computer has an IPv4 address — unless you have made a direct effort to switch to the new IPv6 address system.
Over the last few years, and especially in the past several months, you may have started reading news about the waning inventory of IPv4 addresses. The number of those addresses still available hasn’t quite gone to zero, but the writing is on the wall.
According to a report from CBS News, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) is so close to running out of IPv4 addresses that the agency recently had to refuse a request for a block of IPv4 addresses due to critically dwindled supply. There’s no reason to panic, however, as there is a massive inventory of IPv6 addresses that is waiting to be taken up by the world of the internet!
IPv4 — The End is Near
As per ARIN CIO Richard Jimmerson, the shortage of IPv4 addresses is a testament to the success of the internet. IPv4 addresses were established in the early 1980s as per a 32-bit numbering system protocol that allowed for around 4.3 billion unique addresses.
It was clear from the beginning that these addresses would only be deployed during the early growth of the internet across the world. Now that global internet usage has reached staggering proportions, it is nakedly evident that IPv4 is not long for this world, and agencies that monitor the internet have seen the end coming for decades.
This led to the deployment of a new address protocol, namely IPv6, in the 1990s. So you might be surprised to read that we are still calling IPv6 addresses “new” in 2015.
The problem, to date, has been that everyone has continued to use IPv4 instead of adopting IPv6. We’ve all been happy to stay in our comfort zone instead of going for the aggressive adoption of the not-so-new IPv6 addresses.
A few U.S. companies, like Comcast and Verizon Wireless, began their preparations to embrace IPv6 addresses a few years back, so that when the transition happens, their customers can use either address protocol for the internet.
Many tech firms, however, haven’t prepared themselves for this transition and it seems that the need is growing with every passing day. This is because the demand for unique IP addresses has shot up by leaps and bounds due to the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT).
The smart cities, with their smart vehicles, smart houses, technologically advanced drones and numerous other IoT devices are fast snatching up all the available remaining IPv4 addresses. So, the end of IPv4 is indeed near!
If your company hasn’t already planned for the transition to IPv6, you would do well to initiate those preparation. It is not as though IPv6 must entirely replace IPv4 (thought it has sufficient capacity to do just that). They can run in tandem.
It is always better to be well-prepared in advance, however, than to react only when the entire world shouts “fire.” So, let’s start getting acquainted with IPv6 by taking a look at its basics, along with its advantages over IPv4.
IPv6 — The Future of IP Addresses
IPv6 was established using the 128-bit numbering system, as compared to the 32-bit one used for IPv4. This makes allowance for a significantly larger number of possible IPv6 addresses, an approximate figure of 340 undecillion. (An undecillion is a number followed by 36 zeros – 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!)
That number of addresses seems far more than the world will ever require. This is because IPv6 was designed with the aim of connecting nearly every internet enabled device on the planet, both now and in the forseeable future — rather than with the more measured aim of IPv4, which was more to experiment and test the growth of the internet.
IPv6 addresses also come equipped with auto-configuration capability. This feature enables your device to generate an IPv6 address as soon as power is given to it.
So, your device doesn’t need any other infrastructure to allow communication via IPv6 with another local host or router. An IPv6-enabled device, along with an IPv6 router, can generate a local address as well as a globally routable address, leading to wider internet access.
The current shortage of IPv4 addresses has triggered the usage of private address spaces (with the help of Network Address Translation) that cannot be directly accessed (not routable globally) from the internet. With IPv6, you will always have a sufficient address space which will enable direct addressing and will hence not require Network Address Translation devices.
IPv6 contains Internet Protocol Security (IPSEC) built-in, which offers users mandatory support for security. It will make many organizations feel comfortable and relieve some of their concerns about the security of internet communication.
Users will also not be held back by any constraints on network topologies with IPv6, which enables it to offer interoperability and mobility capabilities — unlike IPv4 — that are largely embedded in network devices.
Overall, the ability of IPv6 to support almost an unlimited number of devices for direct connection over the internet empowers users with far more advanced features than IPv4 could ever offer.
IPv6 is here. Are you ready for the transition?