IPv6: An Introduction

One of the hottest topics in computer networking these days is IPv6. It stands for ‘Internet Protocol Version 6’ and refers to the technical process that computers use to communicate on the internet. The following is an explanation of how IPv6 is different from the current internet protocol and why it’s a major topic of interest for businesses and individuals alike.

Each device that connects to the internet must have a unique identifying number known as an IP (internet protocol) address. A typical IP address looks something like this: There are four chunks of data, separated by periods. IP addresses have looked like this since the earliest days of the internet. This format, with four chunks of data containing up to three numbers each, is IPv4.

The current configuration under IPv4 supports a maximum of about 4 billion unique addresses. That’s a pretty big number, but remember that there are over 7 billion people in the world, and more of them are gaining access to the internet every day. Many people in the developed world have multiple devices connected to the internet (PCs, mobile phones, tablets, etc) and businesses often require dozens or even hundreds of individual devices (servers, routers, workstations, etc.) to be connected to the internet at the same time. So you can see that 4 billion IP addresses simply won’t suffice much longer.

Enter IPv6. The new protocol attempts to solve the address exhaustion problem by exponentially increasing the number of available IP addresses to 2128. Instead of four segments of data, an IPv6 address has eight, with each separated by a colon like this: 2001:0db8:85a3:0042:1000:8a2e:0370:7334. Notice that the new format also takes advantage of the hexadecimal counting system, meaning that each digit can have a value of 0-9 or A-F.

While IPv6 is a promising solution to a pretty major technological problem, public support has been incredibly slow to develop. IPv6 was introduced in the mid 90s, and although most devices being manufactured today are able to communicate using IPv6, only an estimated 2% of internet users are using it. With no immediate advantage or consumer demand to push organization and businesses towards adopting the new protocol, it will be several more years until IPv6 is fully implemented.

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