IPv6: What it is, and What You Need to Know

networking ipv4 ipv6

We seem to be living in an era of ticking timebombs of one variety or another. One of the ones that has caused serious concern in the tech world but is almost unknown outside of it is the exhaustion of IP addresses using the old IPv4 model.

ipv4

At first this seems amazing. There are 232 addresses in IPv4, equal to more than 4 billion available. Then again, when you consider that there are approximately 7 billion people in the world, maybe it’s not so amazing.

ipv6

Learning from the lessons of previous timebombs (remember that little Y2K scare?), IPv6 supports a whopping 3.4 x 1038 addresses, or about 340 billion billion addresses (340 undecillion, for those of you who want to impress your parents). That should hold us for a while. It appears through a few tricks that we’ve avoided the worst of the predictions regarding address exhaustion of the old system, and universal acceptance of IPv6 appears ready to begin at the start of the year.

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The beginner webmaster trying to weave their way through this gobbledegook may wonder exactly what this all means for them.

For once, the answer you wanted to hear

In general, for you this means nothing. These changes are mostly taking place in the “wiring under the board”, so to speak. All of the systems that need to be modified in order to make way for these changes are already occurring, or have already occurred.  Operating systems have been including support for this change for a long time, with Windows support going all the way back to Windows 2000.

Last year a number of major web sites held a “World IPv6 day”, and the results were promising. This appears to be one area in which, for the most part, the problem was identified in time, and the solution proposed and implemented with no significant disruption.

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So really, nothing at all?

Well, do make sure that you aren’t using any IP addresses anywhere on your web site. Consider this a good opportunity to remind yourself that this is a bad idea to begin with. IP addresses change all the time as it is, mathematical constraints or not.

Also note that this will change some of your security protocols.  Not only will you have to update all of your web and email filters, but at least one company is predicting that blacklists will become obsolete entirely.  With that many IP address, the thought is that individual IP addresses to hackers will become like cheap store bought cell phones to various types of ne’er-do-wells: a disposable tool that will make tracking far more difficult.

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In general, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the tech world at the start of the year to make sure that the unforeseen consequences to this change aren’t anything that affects your little corner of the web.  New developments always have a way of doing that.

So then why did you tell me all this?

Nevertheless for the most part, this is one that you can leave to the “experts.”  So why did we even bother writing about it?  Well, it is a big change on a technical level, which means that it’s one that you’ll hear about more and more as the switchover time comes closer.  So since you’ll probably be curious, doesn’t it make you feel good for once to be told that you don’t have to worry about it?

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