The governing bodies of IP address assignments conducted a press conference this morning to announce the assignment of the last available IPv4 addresses; This meeting also provided an opportunity to discuss the major global transition into the next generation IPv6 addressing.

Today marks a significant point in the movement towards the new system, known as “IP version 6” (IPv6).  This is a result of the last unassigned major blocks of IPv4 addresses being assigned, and available for use.  This means the true push forward for IPV6 worldwide support and transition starts right now.

You can catch the press release: Free Pool of IPv4 Address Space Depleted , and view ICANN’s: Available Pool of Unallocated IPv4 Internet Addresses Now Completely Emptied (PDF).

This press conference was brought together by The Number Resource Organization (NRO), along with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).

Ok, so what’s the big deal?

The evolving issue with the current IPv4 system is that there are severe limitations on the number of usable IP Addresses for devices that need to utilize the Internet.  This IPv4 addressing system has a maximum of 4.2 billion available IP Addresses. Thus, with the rapid growth of internet-enabled devices, which now even includes late model televisions, the number of IP addresses left for future additional devices is rapidly declining.

This is where IPv6 comes into save the internet (so to speak).  The next generation IP Addressing system, takes the problem of only having 4.2 billion addresses maximum and transforms the system to make an infinite amount of IP Addresses available. The new system ratifies this address storage problem, and most likely will never have to be switched out again for address limitation issues.

A couple of prime examples to really grasp the addressing space available;

  • For every square meter on Earth’s surface there would be more than four million unique IP Addresses available. This address space is so mind boggling, that it is quite literally, astronomical.
  • Like the numbers that describe the stars in a galaxy, another way to think about this is there will be more than 250 IP Addresses for every star in the currently known universe.

What does this mean for me?

For the average Internet users the only thing that might temporarily affect your internet usage during this transitional period in the near future is that some websites might not be available for short periods of time.

The current overall plan for this transition is to run what is called a “Dual Stack” IP Addressing. Until the majority of the world is in compliance and running on the new IPv6 addressing system, the “Dual Stack” IP Addressing system will be running. This means you would effectively have both IPv4 and IPv6 based addresses in your devices. Therefore, you will have the ability to utilize both systems at once.

The majority of computers, cell phones, and any brand new technology devices already have IPv6 support built in. This system was originally designed, tested and approved more than a decade ago, the main concern currently is with your routers.  Routers do not seem to have much support for IPv6.  However, when it comes time a simple Firmware Upgrade should solve that problem.

So in a nut shell, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about…

I’m not the average internet user! Now what?

If you are an IT person, such as a Systems Admin, Networker, Server Admin, Programmer or anything in between those fields of expertise, this means that you are going to need to become IPv6 aware.  You will need to become familiar with how it differs from IPv4 and understand at least the basics of it. In addition to this, you will need to be getting your systems ready to use IPv6 addressing.

On top of preparing your software, operating systems, network and devices for IPv6 address usage, you should also consider getting a block of IPv6 addresses right away. Having your websites and related be supported on both networks will help you during this transition.

Most modernized Data Centers already not only support IPv6, but actually have fully routed IPv6 addressing space available to their customers. In fact, some Internet Service Providers are already trialing this Dual Stack network addressing system.  A quick Google Search for “Dual Stack” reveals the Internet Service Providers offering Dual Stack.

For those of us not directly in an up-to-date data center, or want our home PC to have IPv6 connectivity, you may use such services as the Hurricane Electric’s Tunnel Broker. The Hurricane Electric Tunnel Broker simply routes IPv6 to your network via your existing IPv4 address via a Tunnel protocol.

In order to keep the planned “Dual Stack” transition period working, the Domain Name System (DNS) added an official new type of record for IPv6 replies. This is called the “AAAA” record entry type. The IPv4 DNS records are stored under the “A” type (A is short for address).

This means that you can have your website supporting both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses at the exact same current URL and domain name. The devices which are IPv6 enabled will attempt to look up the IPv6 address first, and then default back to the IPv4 as needed (assuming you are on the Dual Stack setup).

Quick  facts about IP Addressing

IPV4 actual usage began in the late 1980’s. It is a 32-bit based addressing system, resulting in a maximum of exactly 4,294,967,296 unique IP Addresses.  Today, all available blocks within this system are now assigned and used by everyone and there is no spare space.

The next generation IPv6 system, which has been in tested for a decade now, provides a new 128-bit based design, along with a staggering number (see infinite) of available IP addresses.  There basically won’t ever be a shortage again.

IPv6 Addresses Available: 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000; or three hundred forty undecillion, two hundred eighty two decillion, three hundred sixty six nonillion, nine hundred twenty octillion, nine hundred thirty eight septillion!

Where can I learn more?

Amongst the many resources available on IPv4, IPv6 and this transition, I found the following to be the most resourceful and updated information:

So, in conclusion, are you ready for IPv6?