IP Version 6

The short sequence of numbers that uniquely identify each PC or Internet device belong to a protocol known as IP (Internet Protocol). The current version of IP (IPv4) has existed for about 20 years, and is now more widely used than ever. The result is that the world is running out of IP addresses. As each device on the Internet requires a unique address, this presents an obvious problem.

Currently the mathematical limit is around 4.1 billion addresses worldwide. However, like phone numbers, address blocks are assigned to ISPs which dole them out to users, and not all possible addresses are currently in use. Some time ago the concept of Network Address Translation was implemented, which allows many PCs to share one public IP address. While this extended IPv4's life significantly, we are again running out of addresses.

IPv6 will be the next generation of IP addressing. In development since the early 1990s, this new version has only recently been formalized as an international standard. IPv6 promises a significantly larger address space (3.4 x 1038, or 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses) along with improved security and the ability to route traffic based on priority to aid in streaming multimedia or voice connections.

Currently development is underway for integration into many operating systems, software, and hardware devices such as Internet routers. Eventually the world will transition to the new standard, requiring users to deal with up to 32-character hexadecimal addresses (separated by colons) rather than the current 12-digit dotted decimal address range. We expect this change will take quite some time however. IPv4 is expected to interoperate with IPv6 so there is no hurry to upgrade without a specific need.

May 2002

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