What is it?
Currently the Internet uses IP Version 4. Version 4 is great for the most part but as it was really designed to handle only government traffic it is not ready to handle the massive number of people who are now on the ‘Net. Version 4 is also not optimized for voice over IP and streaming media.Enter IPv6. IPv6 is the standard set down by The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). IETF is a large open international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet.
Why do we need to change?
More people join the online community every day, and spend more time online. This combined with wireless IP and IP enabled appliances mean that there is a shortage of Internet addresses. Currently an IP address is 32 bits 232 computers, routers or IP enabled phones can be online at any given moment. This is expanded some by the fact that many corporations and schools use firewalls or NAT’s to share a single IP to many users, but for the sake of argument 4,294,967,296 people can be on the Internet at once. China has a population of 1,236,914,658. IPv6 uses a 128-bit address so 3.4028236692093846346337460743177e+38 people and appliances can be on-line. The bad news is that the good old days of typing in a 4-octet number as an IP will disappear. The IPv6 standard uses Hex to form the IP so you no longer use a number like 192.168.0.1 but rather FE80::2AA:FF:FE920F1.This is only the beginning. In the past DHCP was required to spool out IP’s to clients. With IPv6 much more of the configuration is handled automatically. Your IP address is tied more closely to the MAC address that is embedded in your Network Card.When you are watching TV, you choose a channel to tune to. The broad caster doesn’t have to specifically choose your TV or the best path to get there. With IPv6 multi-casting is handled much more efficiently. A packet can have multiple addresses, or a range of addresses to send packets to.IPv6 adds security in that IP signing is now 128 bit as opposed to 32 bit, but more importantly the auto configuration that makes IPv6 easy also makes it harder to fake where a packet is coming from. Secure sites may require you to match your Credit card number to a specific IP tied to a web appliance making it harder for hackers to rip e-tailors off. It will also make it harder for hackers to hide where they are coming from on the ‘Net.
This is all nice but will it lower my ping time?
Theoretically maybe. Because the IP address is 128 bits it is 4 times as large, but because many of the IPv4 header extensions have been dropped the total IP header size is only twice as large. This would normally mean that your ping times would go up. Fortunately IPv6 will be easier to route as the built in multicasting in IPv6 should allow a Quake X server to send a single packet with multiple addresses that would get routed by the ISP.Typically, a server sends out a single stream of multimedia or time-sensitive data to be received by subscribers. A multicast-capable network routes the server’s packets to each subscriber in the multicast group using an efficient path, replicating only as needed. When there are multiple networks containing multicast group members, a packet distribution “tree” is created for the multicast group.
Multicast applications have been developed for IPv4 (Windows Media Server, NetShow, and a lot of other Virtual Conferencing software), but IPv6 extends IP multicasting capabilities by defining a much larger multicast address space. All IPv6 hosts and routers are required to support multicast. In fact, IPv6 has no broadcast address as such; it has various multicast addresses of various scopes. The improved scoping offered in IPv6 promises to simplify the use and administration of multicast in many applications.
How long before I have to switch?
Currently the game plan is to run IPv6 over IPv4 for a few years and require the complete switch over in about 7 years. So you have a while. This is a good thing since there are people who are still running Windows For Work Groups, Netware 3.x, and Windows NT 3.51 which will not likely ever have an IPv6 driver.
If I switch now will I still be able to see IPv4 sites?
Yes. IPv6 acts as a secondary protocol currently. Sometime in the future IPv6 will become the primary path to web sites and IPv4 will be kept only for compatibility.
Do I need new Routers? NAT’s? Other Internet devices?
Eventually. Right now there are a lot of sites dedicated to making IPv6 packets pass through IPv4 routers. For more information on what is called 6to4 check out 6bone.net.
Will my favorite sites have to get a new .COM?
Nope. DNS the portion of TCP-IP that handles changing your favorite .COM’s in to numbers like 192.168.0.1 will in the future be handled by a 2 table system. If a DNS receives an IPv4 packet it will send back an old 32-bit address. If it receives a IPv6 packet it will respond with the new 128-bit address unless the site has only a 32-bit address.
Will I have to patch Quake 2 to make it run on the new ‘Net?
Yes, unfortunately. Programs that call upon specific ports, keep track of IP’s, and use advanced packet functions will have to be patched to work with IPv6. GoZilla, Web Ferret and other programs that simply make calls to Internet Explorer’s API’s will most likely continue to work with out being patched.
Upgrading to IPv6 now will only let you see about 100 new sites, and they are all about what IPv6 does, so there is no rush to upgrade unless you want to brag to your friends, start working on optimizing the Multiplayer protocols for a game, or if you think that having a million people download IPv6 will get the powers that be to implement it faster (That last one is my hope). The install was easy enough for both Linux and Win2k, and I have as yet had no ill effects so go get it.