What is IPv6, the system that has revolutionised the internet?

Jun 6, 2012

Google and Facebook switched to the next generation of networking today - but did anyone notice?

MAJOR INTERNET companies and service providers today switched to the next generation of internet networking technology: IPv6. It has been dubbed by Time magazine as "the biggest change to the internet since its inception" – but what exactly is it and did you even notice?

Every device that can access the internet – be it computer, smartphone or tablet – needs an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The naming system for all of these addresses was developed in 1977 and called IP version 4. But due to the limited number of digits made available on the IPv4 system, it is only capable of generating 4.3 million IP addresses.

This might have seemed like enough 35 years ago but with the growth of the internet, the world is already in need of more. According to Forbes, the Asia-Pacific region has already run out of IP addresses, Europe will run out this year, the USA next year, and South America and Africa are expected to run out in 2014.

The IPv6 is a replacement scheme that is capable of generating more than 340 undecillion IP addresses (or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 to be exact), which will enable more people and devices to connect to the internet.

While IPv6 has existed for some time, the Internet Society is promoting the World IPv6 Launch Day as a way to encourage companies to make the switch.

Major router manufacturers, internet service providers and companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft (which owns Bing) and Facebook made the switchover at 0.01am today, enabling IPv6 permanently on their hardware.

However, most users won't have noticed anything. This is because the majority of devices have supported IPv6 addresses for several years. If you find your IPv4 address, you are likely to see a longer string of letters and numbers making up the IPv6 address alongside it.

While trillions of new IP addresses are now possible, it will take a while for smaller companies and websites to make the transition. Both systems will work side-by-side in a 'dual-stack' fashion for the next few years to ensure devices do not stop working.

Mark Lewis, vice president for development for telecommunications firm Interoute, tells the BBC: "The introduction of IPv6 is the IT equivalent of the move from imperial to metric for measurement; the two can run side by side but aren't compatible with each other."

Eventually everyone will switch and as Leslie Daigle, the chief internet technology officer for the Internet Society, tells Forbes: "IPv6 will be 'the new normal'".

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IPV4 allows for 2^32 addresses which is 4.3 billion, not million

Sounds good, but won't more potential IP adresses going spare mean it's easier to conceal your IP number by creating a credible false one?