IPv6 I: Networking’s Senior Citizen, the IPv4 Protocol!


I grew up during the 1970’s, a period well before the advent of many of the technologies that we virtually take for granted today.  Back then, you often shared a phone line with another neighbor (called a party lin), there were no answering machines, and personal computers simply didn’t exist.  In addition, if you missed a movie at the theater or on television, you were simply out of luck altogether.  Today you carry your telephone with you, can stream movies on that same device, and carry on real-time video conversations with someone literally on the other side of the planet!  The point of this “flashback” is simply to highlight that time and technology marches on, leaving some things in the dust of obsolescence.

This is precisely the situation in which the beloved Internet Protocol (referred hereafter as IPv4) finds itself in today.  Granted, it has not passed off the technology world stage (nor will it anytime soon), but is displaying signs of its definitive sunset years.  In a lot of ways, IPv4 became a victim of its own success, after beating out other routable protocols such as IPX and Appletalk, among others.  Globally routable address space was becoming rapidly depleted, Internet routing tables were ridiculously large, and yet the proliferation of devices continued unabated.  As a result, in the 1990’s, short-term solutions such as Classless Interdomain Routing (CIDR), Private Addressing, and Network Address Translation (NAT), were implemented, but the long-term solution was a newer version altogether.

Enter IP Version 6, typically just called IPv6, designed from the ground up to address all of the shortcomings of its predecessor, the venerable IPv4 protocol.  You may immediately wonder why the version number jumps from version 4 to 6, instead of simply 5, and the answer is simply that IPv5 was experimental and never actually released, similar to versions 1-3.  While not exhaustive, here are some major improvements brought to you exclusively by IPv6:

  • Increased Address Space: Expanding the addressing from 32 bits to 128 bits allows for 340 Trillion addresses!
  • Address Assignment Features: Hosts can calculate their own addresses, as well as take advantage of new DHCP features
  • No More NAT: Due to the vast availability of addresses, having to implement private addressing and Network Address Translation is simply no longer necessary
  • Elimination of Broadcasts: Broadcasts are a necessary evil in IPv4, but no longer used in IPv6, instead using multicast-driven protocol mechanisms
  • Integrated Security: When the now-familiar IPsec protocol first came out, protocol analyzers would label the packets as IPv6, partly because the mechanism was originally designed for it, and is native in IPv6.

As you can see, there are many new mechanisms and features in this up and coming version of the Internet Protocol, which is certainly and inevitably in our collective future.

Next time we will consider address types!

– Joe


One Response to “IPv6 I: Networking’s Senior Citizen, the IPv4 Protocol!”

  1. I wonder how we as Ntwk Admin’s will adjust to IPv6 when we truly have to start using it. 32-bits, 4-octets is relatively easy to say, write & type; however, 128-bits…well…not so much – even w/ the abbreviations. Good article BTW…keep up the good work.

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