Every computer on a network has an Internet Protocol (IP) address — a set of numbers that provides identification for each computer. This address standardizes the interaction between different machines. The protocol is instrumental in splitting up data streams into packets for faster simultaneous transmission, and in properly reassembling them at their destination. Data packets are used in transfer and load of emails, webpages, and many other webapps. And right now the protocol is switching from IPv4 to IPv6. Let’s look at what’s involved.
The current IP address numbering method uses Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4). Because of the huge increase in devices connecting online daily, available IPv4 addresses are running out. To provide more IPs, with larger address spaces, a switch to IPv6 is underway. Let’s look at the differences between the two protocols.
How they differ
Today, almost all of the IP addresses in use are IPv4, the fourth revision of the Internet Protocol. It provides connection between network devices, but does not guarantee delivery or guarantee against duplicate delivery. It’s flexible, able to be manually or automatically configured depending on the network type. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses.
IPv6 is the sixth revision of the Internet Protocol, developed as the successor to IPv4. It differs from IPv4 in having a much larger address base to draw from, in assigning an IP address to every device — not just to a local router — and also in utilizing 128-bit addresses.
Advantages of IPv6
The key advantage of IPv6 is its much larger address space. Because it gives each device its own public IP address, IPv6 computers can be accessed publicly. In contrast, with IPv4, the router on a user system typically receives just one IP address connecting the user to the Internet, so that it must act as an intermediary between all its devices and the Internet. IPv6 is decidedly the more efficient way of managing this function.
IPv6 also incorporates recent advances in security management. Traffic over this protocol is encrypted, unlike traffic over IPv4. And IPv6 includes measures to ensure the authenticity of data packets in everyday traffic.
Switching to IPv6
It’s important to make the switch to IPv6, though not an emergency. That’s partly because most devices that now connect to the Internet are not directly adaptable to IPv6. Going forward, devices such as PCs, mobiles, and components of network infrastructures definitely need to be IPv6-compatible. Yet, while most of the Internet remains dependent upon IPv4, it can run simultaneously with IPV6 through a process known as “dual-stack,” meaning nodes on the network are geared to both protocols. And since IPv4 and IPv6 can coexist on parallel networks, an IPv6 proxy can manage both protocols. In any case, thanks to these and other advantages, the eventual switch to IPv6 is assured.
If you want to know whether your router and system are ready for the switch, you can follow this link to test your IPv6 connectivity.
What else is coming? Enterprises worldwide need to determine their future IP address requirements in order to survive the inevitable depletion of IPv4 addresses. However, the adaptation of IPv6 depends on the willingness of ISPs, cloud providers, enterprises, and others to upgrade to IPv6 at considerable expense in money and time. For the long-term growth of the Internet, IPv6 is a viable solution for ensuring an adequate supply of IP addresses.