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6 Things Every Website Owner Must Know About IPv6

Are You Prepared for IPv6? Relax, you probably are – you just don’t know it. Even though this might sound like the latest pandemic, surviving IPv6 won’t require a single inoculation or even a booster shot. Why are we even talking about IPv6? If you haven’t heard, the last bundle of web addresses was doled out just the other day. Before you panic, the solution, IPv6, is already installed on most computer systems and patiently waiting for activation. To ease your confusion and increase your comfort level, here’s a little more information about this transition:

1. What is IPv6 Anyway?

Have you ever stopped to think about how your browser knows where to go when you click a link or type in a web address? Somehow, this little program performs unlimited feats of high-tech magic to instantly connect your device to the website of your choice regardless of its location. Although we all take this for granted, it’s really quite amazing when you stop to think about it. This magic trick is actually based on something known as the TCP/IP address, and IPv6 is just the latest protocol used to create this unique identifier. If you have a website, you have a TCP/IP address. Don’t be too concerned if you have no idea what it is – you don’t have to! This is what you pay your host to keep track of. If you’re smart, you purchased a domain name that will go with you if you decide to make the jump from one web host to the next. During the move, you can keep your domain name, but you’ll trade TCP/IP addresses.  A great web host will make this change for you, and it will be completely invisible to both you and your dedicated audience. IPv6 actually stands for Internet Protocol version 6. Don’t get confused is someone refers to this new release as IPng or Internet Protocol next generation. It’s all the same thing.

2. What Happened with the Old System?

Our old system, known as IPv4 by the way, allowed for 4.3 billion unique addresses. Back in the day, when the Department of Defense was developing the TCP/IP system for connecting remote computers and transferring data, this number was more than enough. If you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, let it slip that you know all about the migration from IPv4 to IPv6. Although there really was an IPv5, this stepchild of the Internet industry was never put to use and it has simply faded away into the sunset. By the way, that’s another way to sound super techy – sunsetting a program is a cool way of saying it’s been relegated to the app graveyard.

3. How Did We Burn Through 4.3 Billion Addresses?

If you’re wondering how we burned through 4.3 billion addresses, consider this: not only does every web site need an address, but so does every device connected to the internet. This includes not only personal computers and laptops, but smartphones, tablets, and a host of other gadgets. Do we really have 4.3 billion devices plugged in? Probably not, but huge blocks were reserved for research or sold to large companies in times of plenty. Many of these addresses aren’t being used, but they can’t be pulled back into the public pool for a variety of reasons.

4. How Many Addresses Does IPv6 Allow?

Because IPv6 has an impressive 128 bits compared to IPv4’s meager 32 bits, it allows for an amazing 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 different addresses. As a calculation, it’s best described as 2 to the 128thpower.  To impress your friends, casually refer to it as just a shade over 340 undecillion. To put it in more practical terms, read through some of these descriptions:
  • Steven Leibson says, “we could assign an IPV6 address to EVERY ATOM ON THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH, and still have enough addresses left to do another 100+ earths.”
  • According to Wikipedia, “The very large IPv6 address space supports a total of 2128 (about 3.4×1038) addresses - or approximately 5×1028 (roughly 295) addresses for each of the roughly 6.5 billion (6.5×109) people alive today. In a different perspective, this is 252 addresses for every observable star in the known universe.”

5. How is IPv6 Different from IPv4?

IPv4 and IPv6 have a few more differences in addition to length. Let’s take a look at some of the changes:
  • IPv4 format - 123.123.123.123
  • IPv6 format - 4aae:17a1:1a23:45:179:a8ff:12fe:cf67
  • IPv4 uses dots to separate the nodes in the address, while IPv6 uses colons
  • IPv4 uses only decimal numbers, while IPv6 uses a hexadecimal system to conserve space. In hex, a single digit can range from 0 to 15 represented by the symbols 0-9 and a-f.
  • IPv6’s larger capacity make the router’s job much easier and improves performance.
  • IPv6 is designed to work better with mobile networks and with bigger payloads on any device.
By cisco (cisco.com) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

6. What Does This Mean for My Website?

If you’ve chosen your web hosting provider well, it only means that you can expect faster speeds and more flexibility in the future. They’ll take care of any required conversion efforts for you. However, if you’re hosting your own site or your service is behind the times, you could be scrambling at the last minute to make these changes yourself. Sites that aren’t ready for the switch when IPv4 is no longer accepted won’t suddenly crash, but they may go from smooth to glitchy. Everyone does have just a little bit of breathing room, though. This June, the Internet Society will officially test this new protocol and the big boys like Google are announcing they will make a test switch to IPv6 for a day or so to check for problems. Although it’s always considered a best practice to know a little about the details, plan on a smooth transition to IPv6 in the coming year!

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