The Internet is set for one of its most radical and massive changes in its history, and you won't even notice.
How many of you know of the coming apocalypse? No, I’m not talking about the zombies. I did an article on that earlier. I’m talking about the global IPv4 address shortage, which should soon become just as irrelevant as the zombies.
First, a little background for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about. The Internet sends signals to servers based on an addressing system. When I say “internet address,” you might be thinking of “www.google.com” or something similar (like this site!), but I’m really talking about 220.127.116.11. That’s Google’s IPv4 address, the actual address of the server housing Google’s webpage. Every DNS server on the web knows where to send a signal when it’s addressed to that specific string of numbers. I covered this a bit in my article about destroying the Internet.
The problem, and thus the coming apocalypse, is caused by the fact that we are running out of IPv4 addresses. This may seem astounding when you consider that IPv4, which creates addresses from four numbers ranging from 0 to 255 (why those particular number were chosen is another article entirely), gives us a total of roughly 4.3 billion addresses to choose from. Even after taking overhead addresses used for network administration and unusable addresses out of the equation, there should be plenty of addresses available. So what happened?
Smartphones, that’s what happened. Over the past decade the number of mobile devices connecting to the Internet has exploded, and each device needs its own address. This is compounded by the rapid expansion of computer use at home and at work, as well as the expansion of data centers and servers to house the growth of the content on the Internet, all of which needs IP addresses.
So now that we know what the problem is, what’s the solution? Well, it’s a little thing called IPv6.
IPv6 is the next version of the IP protocol, and it’s so massive that it’s hard to wrap your head around. With IPv6, we could give each of the 7 billion people living on this planet 4.8 x 10^28 addresses (that’s 48 followed by 27 0s). Think about that for a second. That’s a massive number of addresses.
The address also looks different from IPv4 to IPv6. An IPv6 address doesn’t have just 4 numbers, it has 8 4-digit hexadecimal numbers, written like this: fe80:0000:0000:0000:0202:b3ff:fe1e:8329. The zeros can be shortened to make it easier to read, so it could also be written as fe80:0:0:0:202:b3ff:fe1e:8329, or even fe80::202:b3ff:fe1e:8329. An interesting occurrence, then, is the loopback address (the address where the computer is talking to itself) for IPv6, which is 0:0:0:0:0:0:0:1, or ::1.
Back to the coming apocalypse, or rather the end of the coming apocalypse; at 0001 GMT, on Wednesday, June 6, 2012, all DNS servers across the world will turn IPv6 support on permanently. Most internet users won’t even notice that the change has been made, because home computers have been building in support for IPv6 for a few years now, and most ISPs will take another few years to turn IPv4 off entirely. Even with both IPv4 and IPv6 running simultaneously, users won’t be blocked from certain parts of the web if they don’t meet certain requirements; certain IPv4 addresses have been reserved and are used to “tunnel” requests between IPv6 servers through IPv4 connections.
In essence, this Wednesday should be the biggest day that you won’t even notice.