On your marks, get set, get IPv6

We are at the dawn of a new online era, but you probably won’t notice. Than again, that’s sort of the point.

Today marks the day that participating websites, Internet Service Providers (ISP), and network hardware manufacturers switch on IPv6 permanently in parallel with IPv4.

Say what now? Well, here’s the thing, in order to connect to the internet, each device has to have an IP address — a numerical label which identifies every computer, phone, tablet, ebook reader, etc. IP addresses allow machines to find and communicate with each other online–without them you couldn’t check your email, visit websites or watch videos. But like a telephone network that is running out of phone numbers, the current Internet is running out of IP addresses.

The problem first came to the public’s attention in February last year. The old system had space 2^32 addresses—about 4.3-billion. The new, larger IPv6, says internet pioneer Vint Cerf, “expands the limit to 2^128 addresses—more than 340 trillion, trillion, trillion!”

He reckons that this should be enough addresses “for essentially unlimited growth for the foreseeable future”.

The effort and expense of changing to IPv6 has fallen mostly on Internet service providers, websites and network operators that have to make sure systems can handle the new online addresses and properly route traffic.

Cerf says that a “complete transition will take time”. While most users will be unaffected, he says, some “may need to upgrade their home routers or possibly download updated operating system software to enable IPv6 in parallel with IPv4”.



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