The world is almost out of IP addresses--or at least it's almost out of the IPv4 addresses that IT admins and users are most familiar with. Fortunately, IPv6 has been developed to exponentially expand the pool of available IP addresses while also providing a few other benefits.
To address issues with the current IP protocol in use (IPv4), and to add features to improve the protocol for the future, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has introduced IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). Let's look at a few ways that IPv6 will come to the rescue and save the Internet.
1. More Addresses. IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses rather than the current 32-bit addresses allowing for an exponential increase in the number of available IP addresses. Network routing experts have been aware of the limitations of IPv4 addressing since the 1980's--before most of the world even knew the Internet existed, and before the Web became ubiquitous.
With 32-bits, IPv4 only allows for approximately 4.3 billion IP addresses. Since every Web-connected device--server, desktop, notebook, smartphone, tablet PC, and more--must have an IP address, and since the Web has exploded in countries like China and India, the world is rapidly approaching the end of the available IPv4 addresses.
With 128-bits to use for creating unique addresses, IPv6 is capable of an insane number of IP addresses far exceeding the demands of today's Internet and Web connected devices. Rather than 4.3 billion address limitation of IPv4, IPv6 has enough addresses that every single person on the planet could have billions upon billions assigned to them personally.
2. Backwards Compatible. IPv6 is backwards compatible with IPv4 so that different networks or hardware manufacturers can choose to upgrade at different times without disrupting the current flow of data on the Internet. Given the world's dependence on the Internet and Web for news, commerce, public safety, national security, and more this is an important feature of IPv6.
Eventually, all IPv4 equipment will be replaced by attrition and IPv6 will be the only address protocol in use. But, that could take decades, so backwards compatibility will be crucial for the foreseeable future.
3. Better Security. IPv6 was designed with encryption and authentication in mind. IPsec is an optional security component of IPv4, but in IPv6 it is mandatory. With IPsec each individual data packet is encrypted and authenticated, making many of the malicious attacks plaguing the Internet today impossible--or at least substantially more difficult.
4. Better Performance. Changes have been made to the way IP packets and headers are formed, and to the way IPv6 routers process the packets to improve performance--resulting in fewer missed or dropped packets, and more reliable and efficient connections. With more people and devices sharing the Internet, and higher demands for VoIP (voice over IP) and video streaming, performance will be more critical than ever.
It has been coming for more than two decades, but the IPv4 address crunch is beginning to get very real. Expect to see a spike in IPv6 adoption in the near future.