Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the next-generation Internet Protocol version designated as the successor to IPv4, the first implementation used in the Internet and still in dominant use currently. It is an Internet Layer protocol for packet-switched internetworks. The main driving force for the redesign of Internet Protocol was the foreseeable IPv4 address exhaustion. IPv6 was defined in December 1998 by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) with the publication of an Internet standard specification, RFC 2460.
IPv6 has a vastly larger address space than IPv4. This results from the use of a 128-bit address, whereas IPv4 uses only 32 bits. The new address space thus supports 2128 (about 3.4×1038) addresses. This expansion provides flexibility in allocating addresses and routing traffic and eliminates the primary need for network address translation (NAT), which gained widespread deployment as an effort to alleviate IPv4 address exhaustion.
IPv6 also implements new features that simplify aspects of address assignment (stateless address autoconfiguration) and network renumbering (prefix and router announcements) when changing Internet connectivity providers. The IPv6 subnet size has been standardized by fixing the size of the host identifier portion of an address to 64 bits to facilitate an automatic mechanism for forming the host identifier from Link Layer media addressing information (MAC address).
Network security is integrated into the design of the IPv6 architecture. Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) was originally developed for IPv6, but found widespread optional deployment first in IPv4 (into which it was back-engineered). The IPv6 specifications mandate IPsec implementation as a fundamental interoperability requirement.
In December 2008, despite marking its 10th anniversary as a Standards Track protocol, IPv6 was only in its infancy in terms of general worldwide deployment. A 2008 study by Google Inc. indicated that penetration was still less than one percent of Internet-enabled hosts in any country. IPv6 has been implemented on all major operating systems in use in commercial, business, and home consumer environments.