NO VACANCY

Over beers and crude jokes about YouPorn, my friends have often humored that I have been to The End of The Internet and back. And the sad part is, they are right. And soon enough, so shall the rest of you, and you wont even notice.

I am not talking about some mythical end where one day all our computers, Blackberries, and iPhones suddenly don’t work. What I am referring to is the end of the 4 octet IP addressing scheme known as IPv4 that was invented in the 1970s.

The End of The Internet

The Problem

By now you have probably heard of IP addresses, to put them in perspective and to sum it up quickly, think of them like a mailing address to your mobile device or modem. A IPv4 Address looks something like 127.0.0.1 in decimal notation, and there is only approximately 4 billion of these to go around… THE WHOLE WORLD! (256 x 256 x 256 x 256) When you go to a website, you are sending a request to them for information. Like any good mailman the internet needs to know where packages/packets are supposed to go. And even then not all of those addresses are publicly usable. They are broken into different classes A-B-C (and more). Explaining IP classification would go beyond the scope of this document.

Now take into perspective all the computers, mobiles, and other nodes attached to the internet, yes sometimes even printers have IPs, and most have a unique number. If your mind is a little small and your thinking 4 billion is a lot, think about Asia, Europe, and North America, and every friend you know with a smart phone. 4 billion should be looking pretty small by now.

Back in the 1970s 4 billion was a massive number considering there was not a lot of internet connected nodes. But people predicted the end of the IPv4 Protocol was near back in the 1980s, and the internet didn’t really start taking off until the mid 1990s. That’s right, even before the big .com bubble we were running out of numbers.

Other than the limitations of how many IPv4 connected devices there are on the internet there was also another flaw in the IPv4 protocol. It was not built with security in mind, though later on it was patched with IPsec.

The Solution

IPv6 Protocol is on the horizon, and has been since 1998. Though adoption of the technology has been slow if else nonexistent, IPv6 will give us a lot more addresses to choose from. And how many is that? Oh lets say about 3.4 x 10 to the 38th power, take 34 and add 37 zeros.

Another great thing is that IPv6 also increases our bandwidth. Today, that might not seem like a big deal as IPv4 on DOCSIS 2.0 can still theoretically give us 42.88 Megabits per second or 5.1ish Megabytes per second if for some strange reason you like to think in data storage size rather than in data transfer speeds, and yes there is a difference. Your ISP will give you speed regulated in Bits not Bytes (8 bits to a Byte).

In theory IPv6 will give us speeds well beyond the scope of IPv4 if you are using a DOCSIS 3.0 compliant network. I say in theory because most ISPs are not giving you a completely unbridled internet. Even with IPv4 I am happy with my 10 down 1 up from Shaw.

A IPv6 address looks nothing like a IPv4 address. This is sad, because for years I have been storing often used IP addresses in my head and pulling them out like phone numbers. But with how IPv6 looks, there is no way I could do this.

Here is an example of IPv4 versus IPv6 in dot decimal notation. All you Network+ people keep in mind I am not talking Hex or Binary to keep this simpler.

IPv4: 127.0.0.1
IPv6: 128.91.45.157.220.40.0.0.0.0.252.87.212.200.31.255

IPv6 also opens the doors to new technologies. You might have noticed certain things in Windows Vista and Windows 7 require IPv6 functionality to operate like Windows Meeting Space. Things like these can not be used securely with IPv4 and Network Address Translation (NAT) as IPsec (That security patch in IPv4) and NAT do not get along well.

What this means to you

As a standard home consumer you really do not have much to worry about. IPv6 has been implemented on all major operating systems in use in commercial, business, and home consumer environments for quite some time. And with a very short life your computer or mobile has compared to a toaster, you probably will have more trouble adopting to HDTV than you will IPv6. In fact you might already be on the IPv6 Bandwagon and not even know it.

You might be given a new modem by your ISP sometime in the near future that is DOCSIS 3.0 or DOCSIS 2.0+IPv6 compliant in the event your ISP runs out of IPv4 addresses and has to assign you a IPv6.

As someone in the IT Industry you may stumble over the concepts at first but it will soon enough become so common you won’t even really care. In fact, you will probably hate working around all the IPv4 stuff eventually.

The end is near

You might be wondering exactly when the IPv4 addresses will run out. Well it is impossible to say exactly, but there have been many scripts made to estimate the end of the IPv4 Internet, And I just so happened to include one in this post for your pleasure. At time of writing the ticker is at 483 days.

There has to be more

Actually, there is a lot more. I left things out and simplified others just for the sake of keeping this within the scope of the average user, and to make this document as short as possible while getting to the point. I left out the parts about how slow ISPs are in adopting IPv6, and I did not touch on DOCSIS too much, or that 4G Phones are all IPv6.

I also did not discuss IP Reclamation Projects going on through out the world, where we are taking back unused blocks of IPs and using existing block more efficiently. There are also many tricks we use everyday with out thinking about it. For example, you might be like me where you have over 7 computers or devices in your house all connected to the internet. By using NAT our home routers are giving our computers behind it IP addresses that are not public while still sharing one public internet accessible IP address from your modem.

If you read this hoping for the Holy Grail of IPv6 information you sure went to the wrong blog. But I do hope this sheds some light on the IPv4 issue.

Wikipedia Links:

IPv4IPv6, DOCSIS, IPsec, IPv4 Address Exhaustion, Chuck Norris, NAT