IPv6 and the end of the Internet
By Jeremy Smith
Feb. 15, 2011
I keep hearing that the Internet has run out of addresses and that in 2012 the Internet may not work. True?
Many websites are throwing around the idea that the Internet has run out of addresses. That’s not exactly true. Basically, all of the IPv4 addresses have been allocated and we now have to migrate to IPv6 and make sure that all the bugs are ironed out before the government-mandated switchover date. Clear enough? No? Then let’s backtrack a bit.
Every machine on the Internet has a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address. IPv4 (version 4) is the current numerical nomenclature used to identify all of those great websites you grew up with: uaf.edu, hotornot.com, gpfault.org, etc. IPv4 is how all the computers talk using their secret number language, whereas you and I use the easier to remember Uniform Resource Locator (URL), aka the word approach. For instance, the secret identity of uafsunstar.com (URL) is 188.8.131.52 (IPv4).
The biggest problem with IPv4 is the limited number of addresses it yields, somewhere in the 4 billion range. Being the avid web consumers that we are, and the increase in broadband connections that require a unique IP address, all of these addresses have been allocated. Not necessarily in use, but allocated to various universities, businesses and organizations. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean that all of the URLs are gone… I can still reserve nakedwheelbarrow.net just fine. It’s the IPv4 addresses that they link to that have dried up. This is where IPv6 comes in.
New kid on the block IPv6 will give us – potentially – more than 300 trillion addresses in the future. It’s also supposed to simplify the assignment of addresses and provide even more security while we view our LOLCats online. The most apparent difference between the two forms of IP addresses is the code used to identify computers. An average IPv6 address could look like this: 2001:0db8:85a3:8a2e:0370:7334.
By the time we are supposed to migrate to the new standard, which is set in malleable government stone for 2012, all of the major operating systems and web browsers will work with both IPv4 and IPv6. In fact, Windows XP and Mac OS 10.2 are already IPv6 compliant. More than likely, you won’t experience much of anything other than mild inconvenience as web hosts upgrade and move web sites around. The problem is the old routers and switches that make up the Internet. These devices can’t handle the IPv4 to IPv6 square dance.
This concern has been kicking around since the ’90s and companies have been upgrading and modifying equipment for the past decade, albeit slowly. A bunch of big tech companies (Google, Facebook, Cisco, and more) plan to take the new standard for a 24-hour spin on World IPv6 Day in June of this year. This should provide an idea of what, if any, real problems the migration may cause.
Since you remained with me for this long, watch this to see what will really happen when the Internet runs out of addresses: