In just a few hours, many websites will celebrate World IPv6 Day. The global-scale test flight of these new IP addresses starts June 8th, 2011 at Midnight, GMT … and lasts for 24 hours. You can catch your local times here.
Several well-known sites will be participating including Google, YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Akamai. Here's a list of the hundreds of sites that are joining the effort. You may be wondering what these new IP addresses are … and what the hoopla is about? We'll address these questions and much more.
Every machine connected to the Internet has an identifying number, called an IP Address. The more common IP address format is IPv4. These are typically represented as four numbers (called octets), each ranging in value from 0 to 255. An example is http://126.96.36.199/ … this is one Google's public IP addresses (they have several blocks of IP's).
In binary, these four numbers combine to form a unique 32-bit value. Consequently, there are 4.3 billion (4,294,967,296) possible IPv4 addresses. And, several of these are reserved for special, restricted purposes. BTW, domain name servers convert these IP addresses into the domain names that we all recognize.
This system was implemented in 1977, as a part of the Internet's forerunner ARPAnet. In 1982 the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized and the concept of a world-wide network of fully interconnected networks called the Internet was introduced.
For more than 30 years, these 32-bit addresses have served their purpose well. But, now the Internet is running out of space … the supply will be exhausted sometime this year. In fact, back in February, regional Internet registries assigned their last few remaining IPv4 addresses.
The New IPv6 Addresses
The new IPv6 system offers a whopping 2^128 possible addresses. Let's compare the old and new systems:
Total IPv4 Addresses (232): 4,294,967,296
Total IPv6 Addresses (2128): 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456
But vastly increasing the quantify of available addresses is only one component of this upcoming improvement. The new system also has native support for mobile devices. And, IPv6 devices can independently auto-configure themselves when connected with other IPv6 devices.
Plus, the IPv6 protocol improves on IPv4 with increased authentication and privacy measures. This added security is embedded into the IPv6 specification to enable secure data traffic between hosts that is independent of any applications on either host.
Here are some examples of IPv6 numbers:
fe80::200:f8ff:fe21:67cf (zero-value octets can be omitted)
And, when used in the address bar of a browser, they're enclosed in square brackets like this:
This chart from Focus offers a more thorough explanation of what IPv6 is and why it's needed.
World IPv6 Day
Clearly, IPv6 is the long-term solution, but it hasn't yet been widely deployed. One of the goals of World IPv6 Day is to expose potential issues under controlled conditions and to address them as soon as possible.
Even though IPv6 is utilized in many networks, it’s never been used at such a large scale before. The vast majority of users should be able to access services as usual.
But in rare cases, some network equipment may impair access to the participating websites during the trial. Current estimates are that 0.05% of web users may experience such problems with the test sites.
Thirty-years ago, no one expected to run out of 4.3 billion IP addresses. The Internet and devices that connect to it have come a long way. Moreover, many of the devices in use today were only dreamed of back in the 70's.
In the coming months, more and more sites will transition to the new system. And, twenty years from now we'll have commonplace technology that's merely the lore of science fiction today … which relies on these new IP addresses.
So … let's Celebrate World IPv6 Day as the dawning of new technological possibilities.