What is IPv6?

When you sit down at your computer to access the Internet, whether you are e-mailing a friend or searching the vast wealth of information available at your fingertips, you are communicating with other computer systems using an address schema defined by the Internet Protocol (IP). The Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) is currently the primary means that computers use to talk to each other. If you are reading this article from the ipv6 tools website, then you are on a computer that has an IP (Internet Protocol) address assigned to a network interface card (NIC).

Many of you have probably seen an IPv4 address, but may not have been aware of its purpose. Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses can be likened to telephone numbers. When you wish to talk to a friend, you pick up your phone and dial their telephone number (e.g. 713-555-5555). A lot of things are going on in the background that actually connect your call, but hopefully your friend?s phone rings, they answer, and you can start exchanging information. The format of an IPv4 address consists of 4 fields of numbers ranging from 1 to 255 and separated by decimals (e.g. 192.168.1.1). If you want to ?talk? to your favorite search engine or news site all you have to do is open your web browser, type in the address of the website (e.g. www.website.com), and hopefully it provides the information you?ve requested.

Rarely, however, would you enter a specific IP address into your browser. Most of the time you access a website by a hostname such as HYPERLINK "http://www.ipv6tools.org" www.ipv6tools.org. Following our telephone analogy, entering a hostname into a browser can be compared to dialing from your address book or by voice recognition instead of memorizing the entire number. Much like your phone will interpret the name of the person you say and dial their number for you, the Domain Name Server (DNS) will attempt to translate the website you are requesting into an IP address.

Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the next generation specification that addresses inherent shortcomings in its predecessor, IPv4. The primary objective of IPv6 is to address the exhaustion of available IP addresses as the Internet community continues to grow worldwide. Just like many cities are now requiring 10-digit dialing for local areas and adding new prefixes to accommodate growth, so IPv6 is addressing the limited number of space available to people wanting to surf the Internet! Under the current specification, IPv4, there are 2^32 total unique addresses available ? approx 4.2 billion (not including reservations). The new IPv6 supports 2^128 unique addresses and is exponentially larger and capable of supporting the explosive growth of devices accessing the Internet. Along with the new abundance of address space comes a new formatting schema. IPv6 addresses consist of 8 values of 4 digit hexadecimal integers separated by colons (e.g. 2001:0470:1f01:4057:0000:0000:0000:0001). Do not let the lengthy set of numbers scare you away because compression is available and allows you to strip out the unnecessary lead 0?s. For example, the address above can also be written as 2001:470:1f01:4057::1. The introduction of hexadecimal characters also allows you to incorporate alpha characters A-F into your IP address, along with numbers, which allow for more human readable strings. I could also have an IP address such as 2001:470:1f01::beef:cafe that allowed me to show off my carnivorous side.

When and How will it be implemented?

IPv6 is already being implemented around the world. You are probably not receiving an IPv6 address from your current Internet company, but many service providers have plans to integrate the new specification by 2010.

Now you may be asking yourself, ?If I get a new IPv6 address, will I still be able to talk to other sites that have not yet upgraded?? The answer is simply, of course! Internet Providers run a ?dual stack? that enables them to communicate to both types of networks and they will be able to provide you connectivity to them as well. Most modern operating systems (Windows, Linux, OSX) support both an IPv4 and IPv6 stack that also allow you to assign both types of addresses to your computer. For example, our website, HYPERLINK "http://www.ipv6tools.org" www.ipv6tools.org, is reachable from both IPv4 and IPv6 networks so that you can view our site in your browser no matter which type of address you have assigned to your computer.

The implementation process for IPv6 is very similar to how VoIP (Voice over IP) technology is implemented. VoIP networks operate independently of the traditional telephone services offered by Local Exchange Carriers (e.g. ATT, Verizon). Popular VoIP providers such as Vonage and Skype provide their users with the ability to call friends and family that use the same VoIP service. For others that still have standard telephone lines, they have equipment that runs ?dual stacks? that operate both on the VoIP network and traditional network (Public Switched Telephone Network). These media gateways allow you to call people that receive services from a different network than you and also gives them the ability to call you.

There are also ways to connect to the IPv6 network directly even if your current ISP does not offer those services by using a Tunnel Broker. Many of the current providers already offering IPv6 allow you to create a ?tunnel? to their network equipment where they can then ?broker? IPv6 addresses to your computer or router. A tunnel is simply a logical interface (like a virtual network card) that emulates a direct connection with another IP endpoint over the Internet. Once this connection is established, you are able to configure the IPv6 addresses assigned by the Tunnel Broker to your computer and talk to other IPv6 hosts directly.