More recently, there’s been a lot of talk about switching to IPv6 and how it will bring a lot of benefits to the Internet. But, this “news” keeps repeating itself, as there’s always an occasional post which tries to push the Internet to the IPv6 protocol. Why is this theme recurring, you ask? Primarily because the transition to the new protocol is very slow.
However, does it really matter to you whether the transition is going slowly or not? Should you even care? Why is IPv6 better than IPv4 anyways, besides that 6 is bigger than 4? In case you haven’t been asking yourself these kinds of questions, now is the best time to start.
Shall we take a stroll down memory lane? Let’s go all the way back to before I was born – the 1980s to be precise – where the framework of the Internet we know and love today is being developed and implemented. The IP protocol, for those who don’t know, is the main protocol that, along with other services, makes the Internet work. The protocol sets up the entire system of IP addresses and data transfer. IPv4 is just one revision of that protocol, which became a de facto standard in 1981 and has been used ever since.
Back then, the developers couldn’t have possibly dreamed of how many people who will be using the Internet today, so they decided to use 32-bit IP addresses which would yield a total amount of 4,294,967,296 different addresses before the system would be completely loaded. This worked great back in the day and for many years beyond that, but not anymore.
Ever since Internet usage absolutely skyrocketed through simple adoption and the invention of the data-consuming smartphone, those available addresses have been filling up rapidly. In fact, as we speak there are no more IPv4 addresses available today, and we are only able to connect to the Internet because of some very complicated stuff the ISPs are doing temporarily. Foreseeing this problem, developers got to work and released the IPv6 specification in December 1998.
This protocol version, among with other new features, includes support for up to340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 different addresses using a 128-bit system. I don’t even know how to say that number using real words. Simply put, there will be more than enough addresses until we find alien life and invite them to use our Internet.
Now, notice when the IPv6 specification was released – December 1998. 14 years later, about 99% of the Internet is still using the overloaded IPv4 protocol. Progress is a bit slow, don’t you think? But that’s not even the worst part. While ISPs and the world’s websites slowly make the transition to IPv6, ISPs will still have to implement their workaround so that users can still access all websites, no matter if they made the switch yet or not. This workaround doesn’t come without a few issues.
Essentially, ISPs need to make an abstraction layer which will go in between the Internet and you, the user. This abstraction layer is a little picky, however, because when you communicate with an IPv6 site or service (and therefore require the use of the abstraction layer), you’ll have an issue with ports. Ports, in case you don’t know, are simply little “doors” on your machine or a server, where each door leads to the correct program on the machine to work with the data however it needs to. With the abstraction layer, port routing becomes a little simplified, and clogs up very easily.
For example, if you use a service like Google Maps which requires multiple ports, you’ll be fine. However, if two systems in the same house try to access Google Maps, it won’t work for one of the two systems because the other system is using up the needed ports.
The abstraction layer can also become a security concern, because the single IP address you receive via the abstraction layer is responsible for multiple computers, so successful hackers can access more computers with just a single IP address. IP addresses shared with a block of homes will make it difficult to determine where certain traffic is coming from, such as illegal torrents.
Another option instead of using an abstraction layer is to run both protocols simultaneously and translate the traffic between them. While it would work, it would create additional stress for your ISPs servers and add latency to your connection, which can frustrate not only gamers but most common users too.
To summarize and answer the question: should you care about IPv6 as a user? Absolutely! Not only is the transition to the updated protocol long overdue, but it’s becoming rather necessary so that we can continue to enjoy a beautifully working Internet. Feel free to write, call, or petition your ISP into making the switch in the hopes it’ll get them motivated. I mean, they’ll have to do it at some point anyways, so why not now when we need it more than ever? If they respond by saying it’s too hard to accomplish at the moment, maybe they shouldn’t have formed an ISP in the first place.